The bird of wonder and her ashy heir
By Dermot Daly
In the space of a few hours my industry stopped. It will restart, but in the interim is replaying past glories the best that it can offer?
On March 20th theatres and cinemas were ordered to close but four days before audiences were advised to stop attending. The stasis in darkness began that night and will continue, ghost lights, and finances, permitting for as long as it needs to to ensure that there is sufficient time to halt the spread of coronavirus.
But the fact remains without an audience, theatre doesn’t work.
Some of the ensuing vacuum has been filled by ‘streamed’ or ‘at home’ theatre, giving audiences the chance to see shows that may have passed them by and theatres a chance to offer a product which it is hoped will be rewarded with donations to keep the ghost lights burning. But do you clap at the end? Where do you buy the programme from? How can you order drinks at the interval?
At the time that the industry was getting ready to hibernate, I was working with Freedom Studios on a new project which was looking at the intersection between ‘live,’ ‘digital’ and ‘theatre’. The project saw us develop a new prototype of an app which would allow an audience to experience live stories and interact with them digitally. The ultimate aim is to make this app available to other theatre companies but I’ll sell that at a later date…
That process, juxtaposed against the subsequent boom in live streaming, got me thinking – is ‘live digital art’ a new genre, a new way of experiencing stories? It’s certainly not as simple as pointing a camera at a stage and pressing the red button because that misses the ‘liveness’ of the experience, but how can that energy and live essence be captured digitally? Does it need to be captured or does it need to be engendered? I would argue the latter and I would suggest that the makers and visionaries in the industry need to live up to those monikers – make the visions which will take us away from the cannibalisation of two mediums and find a middle ground that is dangerously thrilling and potentially groundbreaking.
There is a rich theatrical tradition to re-imagine the form and what it can and should do and be and this is a great time to explore what can be made, who can make it, what audiences can be reached and created, which voices can be amplified, what stories can be and what they can do.
Now is the time to find an heir to our bird of wonder.