By Thea Rodgers
As our world of technology progresses, artists are pushing the boundaries of what can be done in theater. At the beginning of the season we watched Charleroi Danses create a film even as it was being projected live onstage in Kiss & Cry; then, in House / Divided, we got to see The Builders Association pioneer new uses for augmented reality technology and integrate complex projections into their work. While some of their projections were pre-recorded video, they also projected live feeds of the actors’ faces directly onto the set as they worked.
In The Wholehearted, we get to see this live-feed video technology integrated into the theater experience in a different way entirely as fictional boxer Dee Crosby records a video message to her ex-lover.
“We were talking about self-portraiture and the framing of the self,” Deborah Stein, the director of The Wholehearted, says. “To think about those things in the 21st century is to think about Youtube and to think about selfies and to think about how easy it is to just put yourself in front of the camera and talk.”
Because The Wholehearted is a collaboration between Stein, actress Suli Holum and a talented team of video designers, sound designers and songwriters, the process of integrating video into the piece has been an experiment.
“Sometimes it’ll look better on stage than it does on screen, and sometimes it looks better on screen than it looks on stage. It’s something that we’re crafting now with the camera,” Stein says. But even that is part of the story that they’re telling.
“She was someone who was a celebrity,” Stein says of Dee Crosby. “So the camera was her best friend and her greatest enemy.” The camera becomes a second character in the piece with whom Dee has a very specific relationship. “The camera becomes intrusive and looks at her when she doesn’t want it to look at her and then leaves her, and that’s–crushing.”
The character of the camera–and the live feed that the audience gets to watch as she creates it–not only represents Dee’s relationship with celebrity, but lets the audience into her mind, so we get to see what she sees. The projection becomes more than who she is now; it becomes who she was when she was great.
“What we can do on camera is shoot her and edit her and soundtrack her like she’s in Rocky or Raging Bull,” Stein says. “Sometimes what you’re seeing on video is this selfie that she’s making and sometimes it’s the movie in her mind–how she remembers it. To me feels in those moments like we’re giving that character a gift.”
All of the video–with the exception of footage of Dee Crosby’s interviews with ESPN that The Wholehearted team shot separately–will be shot and edited live in performance in the Jackie Liebergott Black Box when The Wholehearted premiers at ArtsEmerson in April.
The Wholehearted will play at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box at the Emerson/Paramount Center from Apr 17-27. For more information and tickets, visit our website here.