This is the second addendum to the Digital Theatre Manifesto I wrote back in January 2021 for Intermission Magazine.
I just had the honour of being involved in Wil Knoll’s digital production of David Ellis Heyman’s one-act play Digby & Glass. Wil’s bold concept, imagined the play as a site-specific, lived streamed performance, for a 4-night run. The show was presented live each night from a public park in Calgary, AB, overlooking the city.
The ‘Tech Stack’ used was completely mobile, no external plugs or extension cords needed, as it ran on its own small power supply. The show was streamed through a dedicated internet hub and all sound and video were mixed live. The actors wore wireless mics and there were two camera operators, also wireless, covering the performance so that the stream could cut back and forth between the two on the fly. Wil’s innovative show design, having the tech be completely mobile, allows creators to imagine any story in any space.
All these moving parts, all these devices, have to work just right to make the show feel smooth. And that is not always easy. On top of all that tech, there was the weather to factor in, dropping temperatures, chance of rain, strong wind gusts, a quickly setting sun and since this was a public space, the public. Out of the 4 performances, only one went off without a hitch. Those are the risks.
But… Without those risks, without the creative choices to ambitiously follow the vision set forth, the show could have ended up being just another piece of content, another ‘play’ on your computer. The willingness to take those risks allowed the work to exist confidently in that hybrid space between theatre and film. In this ‘new’ performance category that is still being figured out.
We’re still being offered ‘filmed plays’, in the same spaces and presented/filmed as it would be in a traditional theatre. Yes, there are some new and innovative works being released, but many of those are with companies that have budgets. The small companies and collectives (most of these ramblings are directed at you) need to use their lack of budgets as a built-in excuse to go after big ideas, to explore and experiment, and hopefully make a lot of mistakes in the process.
Now, connecting this to the original manifesto, the choice to do this play in this way made precise sense. The material drove the choices. The casting, the specific site chosen, the camera angles, all made the play come alive because the creative choices and the story were in-step with each other. In this new category of live-streamed performance, this new creative space, not every script is going work, not every space will enhance the material, not every play should be done this way.
As stated in the manifesto: “Now is the time for risks!!” Be ambitious with your choice of material and with your methods of delivery. Try to move past gimmicks and reach a little higher. Try to create a unity between the material and the container, let them influence each other and influence you. Try not to force things into old boxes, don’t be stubborn with your ideas, let them evolve as the work does. Take the big swing, risk those mistakes because there’s always going to be another show, another idea, another collaboration to address/improve the things that might not have worked the way you imagined them, so, be ambitious, now.
**But… Now is also the time to change the way we do things, change the culture. Ambition does not give you permission to treat anyone working with you with less than fairness, kindness and respect. Your vision is not more important than the well-being of those who are helping you achieve it. More on this in addendum #3. The team assembled for Digby & Glass understood this and it was joy to be a part of.
Full Streamed Performance: COMING SOON.
Digby and Glass, By David Ellis Heyman
Presented by studio.unit2
2021 September 15-18
Streamed Live from Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Director and Technology – Wil Knoll
Actors: Angela Glass – Val Duncan, Scott Digby – Deimon Slagg
Cinematographers: Chelsea Yang Smith, Jenna Turk
Stream Operator – Savanna Harvey
Performance Manager – Mike Czuba