Now that the ghost light is all that is left energised in unoccupied theatres, one might ask: What is the stage now? How do actors work on their craft? As we head into the Hilary season in Trinity, performers of DU Players (Players) would normally be dropping their scripts, and students would be skipping yet another lecture to attend a lunchtime show at the Samuel Beckett theatre. Players and theatre companies all across the world, however, are in a historical pause. In the effort to keep the art form alive, actors and creatives have been taking to the screen. Speaking with theatre-makers Faith Jones and Morghan Welt on their upcoming virtual Players production was an exuberant performance in itself. Their piece, Stuck Somewhere New, is an interactive online show about the relationship between space and emotion. It explores the emotional connections people have with rooms, locations and places, while taking the audience on a theatrical treasure hunt.
As seasoned directors, Jones and Welt know that auditions can be intimidating enough as it is without throwing in unstable internet connections and the anxiety of waiting to be admitted into a Zoom meeting. They were conscious of this as they began searching for performers comfortable with improvisation, and had auditionees write and perform a short monologue. “We thought this was the best approach as it allowed us to see who the person was as a writer, which is something very intimate and personal and says a lot about them. We also wanted to see how they interacted with other group members,’, Welt says. Jones similarly comments on this shift towards virtual auditions: “I think that there’s some very telling things you get from online auditions that you don’t get in person, which is funny because all we’re doing now is looking for positives online. Someone’s behaviour when they join a call is interesting. It shows a different side of them I think, and it can work in your favour.”
Another prominent feature of life via Zoom is one’s background—whether it’s a white wall with a few plants looming or a bookshelf behind you letting everyone know you’re an intellectual, a lot can be said of someone from what they’ve chosen to present in their camera view. Jones expresses that this is something she loved about the Zoom auditions and points towards the tapestry hung behind her so people know she’s indie. “I have a painting of a naked woman behind me just so people know I have tits.”
“I think the fact that we are online with no set design or new form or stage puts so much pressure on editing.”
As Drama students, both Jones and Welt naturally live in a social sphere of creatives. Be that as it may, they still face some obstacles in the virtual production side of things: “I think the fact that we are online with no set design or new form or stage puts so much pressure on editing. These departments are quite new to us, so we had to search for a crew who can do HTML and it’s exciting working with computer science students,” Welt admits. When asked if the idea for the show originated purely as an online performance, the pair laugh: “Yes. It would be impossible to do this show in person, and I think it’s fun that we made something completely dependent on being virtual…we both thought: how immersive can an online show be?” Welt then revealed that they both initially hated all things online theatre: “It started off as a joke, but here we are creating a cast-of-twelve show”.
With all rehearsals being held remotely online, there is a feeling of lost communication and intimacy typically shared between director and actor. However, Players’ directors are finding upsides to these misfortunes. “There’s a new intimacy that comes with Zoom that I really enjoy because it’s that vulnerability and being in that virtual space with this new way of communicating that creates close intimacy,” Jones remarks. “The connection between cast and director is definitely less tangible, which is sad. But we still have intimacy in the sense that we’re spending so much time together, and seeing peoples’ homes,” Welt asserts. The two have arranged individual weekly rehearsals so they can “re-meet” people in the virtual space: “Our cast is so willing to make everything as positive and commutative and as nice as possible. We also have the best-looking cast, there’s a bitta something for everyone,” Welt alleges.
“There’s a new intimacy that comes with Zoom that I really enjoy because it’s that vulnerability and being in that virtual space with this new way of communicating that creates close intimacy”.
In regards to what they themselves feel is the biggest challenge of creating a virtual show, Jones and Welt both agree on the technological side of things: “It kind of freaks us out. I think it’s also challenging that we can’t picture the stage anymore. We also won’t have that immediate interaction with the audience; we won’t hear them laugh, cry, applaud, or boo. Any reaction is from the audience’s private homes,” Welt mentions. In terms of costumes, with a sizable cast of twelve there will be varied decisions: “Overall there will be a check of everyone’s wardrobe…Costume is definitely valuable throughout the whole piece, but there are certain scenes with higher currency,” Jones says.
Stuck Somewhere New is to be streamed live on the Players Youtube March 17, 18 & 19 as part of Players Week 7 Millenium Festival. The virtual performance may not transport you to a seat in The Abbey or The London Palladium, but it will most definitely take you to a dimension of bizarre and delightful entertaining madness. “We really want the audience to immerse themselves and get stuck somewhere new.” Don’t miss out. Theatre is still alive.