Watching Me, Watching You:
Moving Performance Online
Friday, July 9, 2021 | 9:30 - 11:00
(CHAIR: KATHRYN PRINCE) GRAHAME RENYK, ILANA KHANIN & TOM DRAYTON
Live panel on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event.
“You have to move on… line”: Innovations in adapting popular music theatre productions for digital streaming
Adapting music theatre to online performance is uniquely difficult given the limitations that signal latency and/or social distancing put on musical collaboration. In this paper, I will discuss three examples of music theatre that managed to successfully ‘move online’ during the pandemic in ways that somehow preserved the aesthetic spirit, if not the actual aesthetics, of their original productions. These adaptations emerged, to coin a music analogy, as fascinating variations on a theme - supplements and partners to, rather than substitutions for, the live originals.
The first example is the Crow’s Theatre adaptation of their 2019 production of Ghost Quartet. Professionally filmed, mixed, and edited as a socially distanced concert evening, it takes full advantage of its theatrical setting, lighting, and scenography to transfer its otherworldly tone to the digital streaming format. The second is Toronto Fringe hit Life in a Box. Reimagined as a series of episodes performed live over Instagram by its quarantined creators in their basement apartment, it adopts the formal vocabulary of social media and infuses it with the DIY aesthetic of fringe productions. The third example is do you want what i have got? a craigslist cantata. To meet public health restrictions, performers were livestreamed from separate ‘pods’ within Vancouver’s Cultch building. Ironically, this ‘pandemic aesthetic’ suited the production exceptionally well, given its content (a series of songs and scenes based on personal ads culled from Craigslist) and its themes of isolation and loneliness.
Grahame Renyk is a Lecturer in the DAN School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University. He has recently returned to PhD studies at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto where he is working on his dissertation: “From Green Gables to Gander: Canadian musicals since 1965.” In the ‘beforetimes,’ he also worked as a director and actor, most recently for Lethbridge, Alberta’s New West Theatre. While digital streaming has had its delights, he really misses the live experience.
New (Plat)Forms: Playing with Chekhovian Sims
“We need new forms!” Konstantin famously tells Sorin early on in Chekhov’s The Seagull. The pandemic made this our reality too and Zoom became that (plat)form.
Celine Song, a New York-based Korean-Canadian playwright, plays a different game. Song takes to Twitch for her adaptation of The Seagull, performed with a cast of Sims, aptly named The Seagull on The Sims 4. Over two evenings (and for over five hours), Song casts her production, designs the costumes, customizes the set, and guides them through the four acts of Chekhov’s play.
The fact that Twitch is primarily a gaming platform positions “play” centrally– it both is, and fails to be, The Seagull. It’s in the moments when Song’s intentions brush up against the limits of the Sims design that things get interesting. And Song’s performance offers a radical rethinking of auteurship: while she is the singular controlling force, her time is mostly spent wrangling “actors” who have their own agendas. The Seagull on The Sims 4 becomes a perfect case study of how aesthetic structures are entangled with institutional arrangements, in digital and physical space.
Ilana Khanin is a PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Center for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. She holds a MA in Performance Studies and BFA in Theatre, both from NYU. She works as a freelance director and was recently an artist-in-residence at Montclair State University.
Meet Me Through the Webcam: An Ethics of Participatory Performance Practice in the Age of Zoo
Project Phakama are an international arts organisation whose ethos of ‘non-hierarchical collaboration [in] dialogue with local performance traditions’ (McAvinchey et al, 2018, p.3) manifests, in part, through site-responsive participatory performances built on their ‘Give and Gain’ framework; promoting ‘community, cultural equity and shared responsibility’ (McAvinchey et al, 2018, p.54). In 2020, during a time of imposed seclusion in which the passive ‘pseudo-contact’ (Collard, 2020) offered by video conferencing software often increased isolated individuals’ feelings of disconnect and loneliness, Phakama were quick to set up a Digital Artist Bursary that enabled funded artists to ‘move their practice to digital formats and to reach out to participants who are feeling isolated’ (Phakama, 2020).
Echoing an increasing contemporary concern with the ethics of participation in contemporary performance practices (Lavender, 2016), this paper will develop previous understandings (Breed, 2008; Beswick, 2016; McAvinchey et al, 2018) of Phakama’s methodology by focusing on how two of the projects supported by this fund were able to effectively translate Phakama’s ethos of participation to online platforms; Jessica Starns’ ‘Virtual Walks’, in which participants took each other on virtual journeys around places of personal significance by using Zoom and Google Street View as a conjoined performance medium; and Django Pinter’s ‘Four More Walls’, which integrated live video manipulation to actively insert Zoom participants’ into a live, participatory performance space online.
By taking the word ‘hosting’ to mean both the act of holding a Zoom call and in reference to the ethics of ‘mutual, reciprocal […] protection, shelter or companionship’ (McAvinchey et al, 2018, p.41), this paper investigates how these artists pave the way for new forms of non-hierarchical, virtual participation in which ‘everyone has something to give and everyone has something to gain’ (Phakama, 2020).
Dr Tom Drayton is Senior Lecturer in Acting, Performance and Directing at The University of East London. His research concerns metamodernism in performance, the theatre of the millennial generation, political theatre and theatrical activism. Tom is also director for Pregnant Fish Theatre and an associate artist for Project Phakama. https://tomdrayton.weebly.com/research.html.