Recently a well-respected theatre critic wrote that:
Technology is the lifeblood of the Wooster Group company, whose members frequently make clear their scepticism about, and in one case “allergy” to, the theatre.
I have kept this quote floating around as I wanted to respond, but wasn’t quite sure how. I have seen a couple of their shows and I know what the critic is getting at – their interpretation of The Emperor Jones left me a little cold, not to say perplexed. Not an easy one to stage at the best of times with its mix of realism and expressionism, but I found it hard to find meaning in what they produced.
All this is a bit of a digression really from what I wanted to write about today, but you will see why. Those of you that follow Theatre Room regularly will know I love the use of technology in performance. The opportunities it affords for enhancing meaning, for making meaning and layering meaning are immense and was why I was fascinated by the discussion between the designers in my post, Making Space.
However, the embracing of technology by theatre works on so many fronts and I thought it would be good to share the impact it has had on a show I have been following on social media – which is a great place to start.
So I am writing about a play that I have not seen and will not be able to see – It is happening thousands of miles away – yet I feel I have a very clear understanding of it and why it is being performed, even what it will look and sound like thanks to Twitter. Two of the three producing companies are tech-savvy, multi-platfrom theatre companies who have been tweeting through the development and rehearsal processes as well as during the run. Through these I have seen images of rehearsal, learned of problems faced and solved, seen costuming fittings, technical explorations and so on. Of course this also acts as promotion and I am sure is one of the reasons for the play being a sell out before it began its run. In addition, the majority of the cast are drawn the local community and Twitter has allowed them to be part of the process in a different and inclusive way.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the play yet. I will, but not just yet.
Secondly, they have produced a beautiful filmed and edited trailer for the play. A ‘trailer’ for a piece of live theatre was unheard a few years ago. Trailers were for cinema, not theatre. Of course the internet has changed all this, but, I would argue, more so YouTube. This allows for free promotion to a much larger audience, and an audience that goes beyond the place where it is being performed.
Thirdly, there is the use of technology in the performance itself, which is promenade and takes the audience on a journey through an historic city centre. Not only are they using a range of filmed and projected sequences and images, the audience members have a set of headphones allowing them to hear live and recorded dialogue, music and sounds to accompany the live action. It has been described as
theatre as you have never seen, or heard it before…….theatre on an epic, cinematic scale…..
Finally, (and great news for me) they are live-streaming a performance on Thursday so I can watch – I can watch 2 continents away – and of course they have made a trailer for this too and I will watch the performance on their own live streaming channel.
OK. The play is called Blood and Chocolate and uses the City of York (UK) as its backdrop to tell a story inspired by the employers and workers of the Chocolate factories in York during the First World War, their sense of duty towards their beliefs, each other and their commitment to defending their homeland. It is produced by three companies – York Theatre Royal, Slung Low and Pilot Theatre with a cast of just under 200 actors, professional and from the local area.
The webstream trailer below give you a clearer idea of what the show looks and feels like.
This video, from a local news report, give you a further idea of how technology has been embraced in the production..
So theatre on a grand scale, and brought to local and world-wide audiences through technology. The reviews tell you it has been successful. All of this has left me wondering about the Woosters and their employment of technology in telling stories, if the stories they are telling are obsfucated by its use?
The other point is how technology, in all its guises, is changing every aspect of theatre making and how exciting that really is. I wonder what comes next?
If you are interested in catching the webcast of Blood and Chocolate, it starts at 6.30pm UK time and you can see it here.