Digital theatre? A temporary fix or exciting new art form?
// SEED is a form of digital theatre. It owes a considerable amount to the current difficulties in staging productions in theatres, and while the idea of fusing digital interaction with theatre is not new, the growth in new forms is exciting.
Initially, I tried watching online films of productions which were in buildings. However, without being in the auditorium experiencing all the senses around me, I found I couldn’t engage with what was happening on screen, and with lavish National Theatre productions that seemed well, somehow disrespectful. Still, while I was happy I could see the great costumes of Amadeus, I missed the sense the opulence of the production.
This was one of the reasons my starting point for // SEED was in the senses – I wanted participants in some way to be immersed in something tangible, to literally grab hold of something that had weight, temperature and texture – so you plunge your hand in cool, dense, black soil. For me, the most effective digital theatre is interactive. In a space where you are not constrained by the behavioural norms of sitting and being quiet, distractions and interruptions are all over the place, so it needs to actively recognise this.
Early on, I watched The Tempest by Creation Theatre, who were admirably quick to translate their show into Zoom, where the audience became audience-participants. It was the first time I’d felt that sense of community of being in an audience for a long time as the images flicked between people on their sofas holding up their pets or shaking their screen to wake Caliban. There are lots of great shows where makers joyfully accept the offer of interacting with a worldwide audience, for example Coney’s Telephone, which is written about the idea of communication and gently involves the audience-participants in telling various stories (as well as hearing theirs.) There is a sense of care for those engaging with this piece that I have attempted to thread through // SEED. However, even if a piece of digital theatre isn’t presented live, there can still be a liveness about it. The Believers are but Brothers, part of The Electric Dreams festival, was recorded, but was told in a uniquely theatrical register, with one person in a room. Participants were also sent messages on Whatsapp, recognising the second screening that we are prone to when watching on another. For // SEED, It was important that I created something where the participant was actively engaged, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of reflection – those are essential in a piece which has the potential for participants to talk about things which can be difficult.
While I feel disappointed at the current lack of live performance I can watch, I am also excited by the potential for using digital technology which genuinely helps tell a story or capture an audience’s imagination.