The Revolutions breaks ground in the world of theatre

Union Gallery

SpiderWebShow connects six actors in four different cities

Credit: 
Image by Mariah Horner, supplied by SpiderWebShow Performance

When I entered Studio Theatre at the Isabel Bader Centre on Thursday, it was like walking into someone else’s home.

Three actors sat at a table, sipping wine and making idle dinner conversation, while the audience found their seats. The show began and, under the warm stage lighting, the improvised dinner dialogue about Indigenous land acknowledgment felt simple and intimate.

 However, this performance was anything but.

The Revolutions, A SpiderWebShow Creation written by Rhiannon Collette and directed by Kathryn MacKay, meanders between reality, virtual reality and fiction. Actors Anne Hardcastle, Jim Garrard and Daniel David Moses play themselves as they discuss issues such as politics, gender and identity at the dinner table.

They then slipped into character to convey the story of a family mourning the loss of their family dog. However, the three elders at the dinner table make up but half of the cast.

The remaining three actors deliver their performances from across Canada in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. This collaborative performance is made possible through CdnStudio, a digital tool that merges several livestreams, allowing the actors to interact with each other live from various cities. Green screens are used to complete the illusion that six actors from four different places are in the same space.

Although this innovative use of technology in theatre was intriguing, I found that it hindered the overall performance. The live interactive scenes were projected on a screen upstage and had all the qualities of a Facetime call: grainy image, hollow audio and lots of lag. This lag became especially distracting when I could hear the actors on stage deliver their lines in real time, only to watch their delayed movements on screen.

 

Image supplied by SpiderWebStudios

In addition, at times the actors on stage would address cameras to deliver their monologues as opposed to the audience. Hardcastle and Moses in particular delivered dramatic, philosophical monologues that simply lost gravitas through the gritty camera quality.

That being said, the play featured several powerful moments. Most notably, the character Margaret, played by Hardcastle, addressed the audience and declared she was fed up living inside boxes constructed by society. This gut-wrenching yet liberating monologue about personal revolution commanded the room, and even brought some to tears.

Although the use of technology often distracted from the story, the show wasn’t conceived for the soul purpose of entertainment. After all, the play is aptly named, The Revolutions. It addresses revolutionary topics such as evolving gender identity, features millennials as the revolutionaries of the present and elders as the original revolutionaries. The use of technology and CdnStudio makes the show in and of itself a revolution in the world of theatre.

The show’s Creative Director Michael Wheeler stressed the importance of The Revolutions as an experimental piece.

 “If we don’t take these [technologies] as artists and make art with them, Pepsi will figure out what to do with it,” Wheeler said on the role artists should take in shaping technology as opposed to business tycoons. “There has to be an artistic engagement for it to be beneficial in a societal sense.”

Wheeler also addressed the issues of lag and picture quality, saying that the technology is developing at a rapid pace. Within six months to two years, these problems will improve or cease to exist, he said.

The Revolutions was a new theatre experience. It was messy and unpredictable as revolutions often are. I left the theatre pondering the ever-changing social climate and the exponential rate of developing technology. I thought to myself, and wondered if I had just witnessed the new standard for theatre.

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