All the World’s a Futuristic Stage

Death and the Powers

The plays that are challenging the future of the theatre


WORDS: SAMUEL FRY

From the destructive Futurists of the early twentieth century to the gritty In Yer Face theatre of the 1990s, people have always looked to challenge the way that audiences experience theatre. Yet, it is no longer just writers, directors and actors that are looking for ways to disrupt theatrical conventions. Now the technologists are putting their hat in the ring.

Here are a few plays that have used technology to challenge their audience’s experiences. Some of them are already on tour:

Death and Powers

Death and the Powers is a very different kind of opera. Created by composer Tod Machover, with the help from the MIT Media Lab, it is a one-act show which tells the story of Simon Powers, a successful and powerful businessman and inventor. Reaching the end of his life, Simon questions what will be his legacy.

His final experiment means he projects himself into the future. Now himself a System, Simon’s friends must decide whether or not he is actually alive. This show uses everything from robots to sound-producing Hyperinstruments and received warmly by audiences during its runs in 2010-2011.

Shadows Follow

Shadows Follow was the first production from ambitious theatre company Splash & Ripple. Held in Bristol, 130 participants came along to see this psychological thriller which tapped into people’s fears.

The audience was instructed to aid Dr Winterwell in his search for his missing daughter Persephone and to investigate a series of recent disappearances. The production created an intensely cinematic world across a number of incredible locations.

This piece of interactive theatre also infused elements of gameplay into the action. The audience didn’t just passively watch the events unravel – they were able to affect them. Other layers of the story also unfolded over @splashandripple‘s twitter feed during and after the game and players added their own interpretations of the story along with photos using #shadowsfollow.

Punchdrunk

Punchdrunk describe themselves as proud to be creating theatrical experiences of the future.

Their current production, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, is their biggest so far. Showing at the National Theatre, this is a promenade piece where the audience is encouraged to explore a story that unfolds across four levels of a vast central London location.

Their productions focus as much on the audience and the performance space as on the performers and narrative. This means that their audiences are encouraged to explore the unknown and experience a real sense of adventure. So every audience member will encounter the show differently to one another.

Jekyll 2.0

This is one of the most exciting plays currently being developed. Asking, “What makes us human?” this show will use its participants’ bio-data to shape their experience.

Developed by Games Company Slingshot and Anthony Mandal of Cardiff University, this play aims to recreate the pace and fear that exists in gothic novels. This show will literally raise its audience’s heart beats and send shivers down their spines. Keep an eye out for it – I know I will be.

 

What do you think the future of theatre will involve? What would you like to see? Join in the debate by tweeting me @samueljfry #futuretheatre

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