Technology makes a lot possible in theatre. As a staff and ensemble member of a theatre company based in a city I do not currently reside in, I can certainly attest to that. Without e-mail, Skype and cheap calling plans, I could literally not be doing the job that I’m doing right now: telegrams and pony express do not a dramaturgical foundation make. Theatrical administrative practices have been changing massively and– for the most part– positively in response to technology, just as administrative practices in all business everywhere have.
Where it seems like theatre occasionally has a harder time relating with technology is in the actual, y’know, theatre that we produce. A lot of times, adding Twitter or other mediums to performances can feel a bit more like a gimmick than anything else; we’re still negotiating how it all fits together, and sometimes don’t really go for it.. Which is why this article by Jo Caird is exciting to me: it’s talking about a genuine attempt to use social networking and internet response to create a new event:
You Wouldn’t Know Him, He Lives in Texas / You Wouldn’t Know Her, She Lives in London, which is performed simultaneously at theatres in the two eponymous locations via Skype, is a collaboration between London-based Look Left Look Right and The Hidden Room, a company based in Austin. The premise is that transatlantic couple Liz and Ryan have brought their friends and family together so that everyone can get to know each other and make the pair feel less like their relationship exists only in virtual reality. The audience, both those physically in attendance and anyone who’s following the performance on Twitter (by using the #texaslondon hashtag) and Facebook, are encouraged to take part by asking questions and posting comments during the show.
There have been a lot of shows that use/incorporate Twitter or, as Caird points out, are performed entirely on Twitter as a platform. But what makes You Wouldn’t Know Him… stand out for me is the fact that it is literally weaving the experience of twitter, Skype and the like into the premise and experience of the show, instead of just grafting them on. Caird acknowledges that there are some issues with the outcome, but from this article the use of technology in the show strikes me as something other than a gimmick.
Everybody always talks about how one of the biggest strengths of theatre is its immediacy. “You’re right there in the room as it happens!” they enthuse. Or, at least, I do. It’s one of my favorite things about the stage. But in this crazy modern world, the baseline definition of what “in the room” means is changing. We can take part in conversations we’re not physically there for, so why not theatre?
Often, attempts to film plays and post them online (or display them in movie theatres) can feel alienating, but what seems so brilliant about this attempt is that Skype/Twitter/etc. isn’t the sole experiential medium of it. Instead, it’s the connective tissue of the experience: it’s being used to link two performances together, along with their own two live audiences. It’s almost more similar to The Norman Conquests or other plays that can occur simultaneously, except each audience gets a technological window into the half of the show they’re not there for. It’s pretty ingenious, and even if it isn’t perfect, it feels like something very much on the right path to figuring out how theatre can blend with all the communication methods available to us these days.