Zoom participants shared smiles and laughter with familiar and new faces. Photo by Heidi Randhava

Rethinking Thanksgiving this year led Fleetwood-Jourdain Artistic Director Tim Rhoze and University of Pittsburgh Professor Bria Walker to make new traditions, using technology to expand, rather than downsize, their gathering of family and friends.

Mr. Rhoze and Ms. Walker were among the Americans who chose not to gather with family and friends outside their household to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. To be clear, the couple did not cancel their Thanksgiving plans. Instead, they invited colleagues, friends and family near and far to join them on Zoom for a “heartfelt 15 Minute Virtual, Day of Giving Thanks Party.”

It was a virtual gathering with a twist that made it memorable and inclusive. The invitation encouraged attendees to invite and share the Zoom link and passcode with people they know and trust. In the utmost of caution, they asked that people not share the link on social media to prevent Zoom-bombing, a term for the unwanted intrusion, generally by Internet trolls, into video-conference calls,

“We simply want to gather as many friendly faces as possible on this Zoom thingy and use it to share what we all can be thankful for, even during this difficult time. Many of us have lost loved ones this year, suffered untold setbacks, and are away from friends and family during a time we would normally be together. For 15 minutes, let’s share this day with one another, albeit virtually, and use it to make each other smile and laugh, and simply be happy, if only for a brief moment,” wrote Mr. Rhoze and Ms. Walker in their invitation.

“On Thanksgiving,  I loved the ‘Day of Giving Thanks Party’ on Zoom. With Covid keeping me in, this led to a connection with others on this day. I hope Tim and Bria make this an annual tradition,” participant Brenda Harris told a RoundTable reporter who also joined the call. Ms. Harris, currently a resident of Zion, Ill., was born and raised in Evanston and remains active in numerous Evanston nonprofit organizations.

Jazz vocalist and actress Mardra Thomas and her husband, pianist/organist Reggie Thomas, both of DeKalb, IL were also among those who celebrated Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season with Mr. Rhoze and Ms. Walker.

“It was great to join Tim Rhoze and Bria Walker for the ‘Day of Giving Thanks Party’ on Zoom. My Husband Reggie and I have had the pleasure of doing several productions with Fleetwood Jourdain. Tim and Bria are now like family to us and we would have loved to be seated across the table from each other to pass the turkey. It was heartwarming to see some familiar smiling faces as well as new acquaintances and to raise a toast in appreciation of friends old, new, and to those who will be missed but never forgotten,” said Ms. Thomas.

The virtual party included many aspects of a traditional, in-person holiday get-together, including a warm welcome from Mr. Rhoze. At 11 a.m. CST, there was a 30-second moment of silence “to honor our loved ones who have passed away in 2020, the beloved people ‘whose shoulders we stand on.’

The moment of silence was followed by “an uproar of verbal ‘Thanks’ for 30 seconds. Yassss! Let it all hang out with everyone who is hanging out with you during this ’15 Minute Virtual Day of Giving Thanks Party,’” just as the invitation promised.

Dozens of people shared smiles and laughter while flipping through the pages of participants and sending messages through the ‘Chat’ feature for 15 minutes of safe, joyful holiday fun.