The Guardian noticed it in 2008: “Recently, I’ve seen a lot of shows which make inspired use of projection, AV, techniques and tricks filched from film and TV, pushing the limits of what’s possible on stage while never letting you forget you’re in a theatre.” In ArtsEmerson’s eight-year history, these kind of technological marvels have always found a place in each of our seasons. Perhaps you recall being wowed by Ada/Ava, Historia de Amor, The Old Man and The Old Moon, Needles and Opium, Kiss & Cry, and House/Divided, to name a few.
But far beyond our own programming, audiences everywhere are seeing an increasing number of productions that embrace the intersections between drama and technology, creating ever deepening layers of artistry; the use of multimedia in theatre is quite literally transforming how stories are told on stage. In ArtsEmerson’s 2018/19 Season opener, Hamnet, we’ll see this transformation in action as Ireland’s Dead Centre troupe employs a subtle but wildly impressive use of multimedia effects as an anchor for their story. On a bare stage, young Hamnet appears and addresses the audience, asking if his father is out there. Where and when are we? It’s hard to say. Hamnet wears a modern hoodie, references contemporary events, and does his best to cover a Johnny Cash song, and yet, unmistakably, his father is indeed one of the greatest writers of all time. On one level, Hamnet is a simple monologue delivered by William Shakespeare’s only son, but through the use of a stage-wide screen that, at first, appears to be functioning merely like a mirror, audiences become enveloped in the unknown mysteries of the prolific writer. Not much more can be said about what is achieved without spoiling the wonder of the trick; you have to see it to believe it!
Ava/Ada and Cold Blood, both from our 2017/18 season, are two recent examples of contemporary theatre which not only embrace multimedia storytelling, but reach new heights by combining the cutting edge of technology with lo-fi visual stunts; the end result is something that feels both homegrown and high-tech at the same time. For example, Ada/Ava made use of shadow puppetry and overhead projectors—not exactly the kind of strategies you’d find in use at Pixar. WBUR declared it was “like nothing you have seen before” and was a “mesmerizing hour of theater, a collision of fired-up imagination and deftly deployed low technology.” Manual Cinema’s savvy production left audience’s breathless, so much so that they’ll return to ArtsEmerson with a new enchantment called The End of TV in January 2019.
Cold Blood, from Belgian company Astragales, implemented live filming on miniature sets wherein audiences could witness the end result up on the screen or see the film being made below in real time. This was not a side effect of the production’s quirks, rather, it was part of the whole point of the show. As The Boston Globe noted, “It’s the kind of ephemeral film you cannot make in cinema. It has to be onstage.” Surrounded by expensive video cameras and lighting rigs, the bulk of the story was communicated via nanodancing—i.e. human hands standing in for the entirety of the human body. While Ada/Ava and Cold Blood integrated different aspects of technology, it is clear that employing multimedia effects can add a new dimension to staged productions that might not otherwise be accessible.
Dead Centre’s Hamnet provides you with an exciting opportunity to see this innovative collaboration between tech and text live in action, creating worlds outside of actuality and yet something totally grounded in our reality. Join us SEPT 20 – OCT 7 at the Robert J. Orchard Theatre in the Emerson Paramount Center for a story of Shakespearean proportions and multimedia wonder.