FoldA blazes a new trail for digital theatre

Queen’s Drama Professor leads local festival with global reach 

Audience at Choir!Choir!Choir!
Photo supplied by Madison Lymer

Kingston’s very own Festival of Live Digital Art burst onto the stage last year with its innovative integration of digital technology into theatre

Now in its second year, FoldA is hitting the stage from June 12-15 out of the Isabel Bader Centre.

Drawing together tech-industry professionals, creators from across Canada, and local talent, the festival is layered, multifaceted and proudly collaborative. It’s built a platform to launch a new era of show business designed to draw the rapidly changing world in, rather than keeping it out.

Taking inspiration from national theatre festivals such as Vancouver's Magnetic North, FoldA seeks to bring Canadians across the country together to celebrate revolutionary theatre. They’re curating a diverse selection of performances by creators from coast to coast.

“We’re trying to use technology to bridge the gap of this enormously small country called Canada,” Artistic Director Michael Wheeler said.

As an adjunct instructor and researcher of New Medium Performance at the Dan School of Drama and Music here at Queen’s, and as the artistic director at SpiderWebShow Performance—a national performing arts website—Wheeler has focused on developing new mediums in the theatre world.

Wheeler’s classical theatre background was influenced by an education at McGill, Harvard, and even the Moscow Art Theatre in Russia. With FoldA, his team now looks to join the old to the new, and give the borderless internet a local stage.

This year’s goal is accessibility for Kingston locals and to find the talent within our own city.

In one performance, audience members are invited to a silent disco. Wearing synchronized headphones, the music plays to each individual participant, rather than blare aloud.

Another show, the ambitious Choir!Choir!Choir! creates a community engaged concert, where 400 attendees are given lyric sheets and are led by performers to learn a song together. Their performance will be live streamed to theatres in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where people learning the same song will join them, sparking simultaneous song to break out across the country.

With shows like these, Wheeler sought to expand the industry focused mould of the previous year, and encourage "everyday people" to participate, whether they are "tech-heads" or not.

FoldA blazes a new trail for theatre festivals everywhere with its dual focus on digital development and performance. Workshops and expert panels take up daytime slots as the festival welcomes industry professionals interested in engaging in the world of digital theatre.

Their unique Alpha Beta Go program helps creators grow their shows from idea to performance-ready, with access to funding and test audiences, which is especially important in the collaborative world of digital media.

“If you consider for a second that digital technology is almost always interactive,” says Wheeler, “that means that to fully test a piece you need to actually test it on live people.”

“With digital work, people come and engage, they have to use an app or they have to tweet in.”

The program has seen success even in its second year, with many Alpha Beta Go shows moving up the ranks to the bigger stages.

Among these is, ‘Pathetic Fallacy,’ which will move on to be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival July 31st to August 25th—the world’s largest arts festival.

The show, one of The Guardian’s Top 50 picks from the festival, centres around climate change, and exemplifies the ways that technology can help adapt art to a changing world. Anita Rochon sought to create a performance about climate consciousness with a low carbon footprint. From Vancouver, she joins the show via video streaming—with herself in front of a green screen—and passes her central role along to a local actor, displaying new ways to create art that can break down global barriers, while bringing local communities to the forefront.

Above all, FoldA seeks to create theatre for a tech savvy future.

“Digital as a concept has transformed almost everything,” Wheeler said. “If you think about anything in your life, it’s likely that it’s changed from an analogue method to a digital method in the last 20 years. We really tried to keep the theatre a place that is non-digital, but that can’t last forever. This is what human life is and art is to address human life.”


This article has been updated to correct the full name of the Dan School of Drama and Music, and to specify Michael Wheeler's correct position within the school.

The Journal regrets the error.

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