Starting the Experience at the Door: Theatrical Hors D’oeuvres

You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening –  best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.

The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths. IMAG1951

Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.

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Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.

Oh, Digital Age

connect

Reaching out to touch someone is different than it was before.
In a matter of clicks we are displacing electrons.
Instead of misplacing hand-drawn ‘do you like me’s,
A page (in a book with no pages) allows us to affirm or deny:

Leaving digital trails, crumbling microchip cookies.

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World’s A Stage: Spotlight on New Zealand

Because you can’t take me anywhere without me clambering to check out a show, New Zealand has become the next stop on our global theatre tour.

The day before I left for the trip, I scoured the theatre results in Wellington until I happened upon the title “Chekhov in Hell.” Intrigued, it only took a quick description to sell me on a Saturday night ticket:

“Anton Chekhov, playwright, author and pitiless observer of Russian society, awakes from a hundred-year coma and finds himself in twenty-first century London”

That, and the promo photos:

This show at the Circa Theatre, one of the seven professional venues in New Zealand, takes a careful lens to our modern day habits. Illuminating without criticising, it asks the audience to consider how we may be inhibiting our lives by trying to add more to them. Obviously this applies to the technoaddiction many face, but the more interesting discussions were those of gastronomy and fashion.

Chekhov tries to get a bite to eat at a restaurant and is presented with an assortment of molecular gastronomy “delights” and deconstructed food items. The chef seems stunned when the Russian passes on a dish of chicken sashimi. And while this plate of raw chicken is a hyperbole on what’s found in mod restaurants nowadays, it still begs the question of where to draw the line between food that’s an elevated art form, and food that’s simply no longer food.

The show’s playwright shows a bit more teeth during Chekhov’s encounter with the high-class fashion world. A designer invents sexist outfits on the spot for some of his models as Chekhov stands by and wonders aloud how he gets them to adopt such trends. The designer launches into a self-assured monologue about how he can suggest a look, and consumers will lap it up. Further, he suggests that people like being told what to do, making them easily dominable as very few want to take authority over their own lives.

The play itself had some very thoughtful moments and the show does not offer any prescriptions in its prose. Leaving the audience to decide for themselves whether our modern ways are inevitable, worth amending, or simply not up to Chekhov’s standards.

While I left wishing could hear more from Chekhov, this show still makes anachronism undeniably hip.

Image Credit: Circa Theatre