by Raphael Badagliacca
This is experimental theater with a capital “E.” On second thought, maybe we should give it the lower-case “e” of e-mail, e-commerce, e-books, and anything else with ancient roots that has assumed an electronic aspect.
Using face-to-sync technology through a real-time augmented reality app, Technodramatists Performance Laboratory offers us a moving picture of the future — but like the mask of Janus, this production looks both ways, illuminating the past.
The evening is made up of four performances, each with its own special focus. “Error: A Comedy of” dramatizes selected scenes from the Shakespearean play, with every part played by the face of an actress (Claire Tyers) with the help of her cell phone. Her body does not come into play, except to support the extender coming from the vest she wears that holds the cell phone steadily in place.
She creates the different characters by changing facial expressions as she delivers her lines staring into the phone. The programming inside the cell phone projects her changing expressions rather beautifully in the image of a mask on a hanging, sheer swathe of material where the audience’s attention is focused.
Character is consistency. It always has been. Consistency of expression defines us. What we project is who we are. Here the technology has brought us back to the bare essentials of character in a dramatic way – the ancient mask has been given a new, electronic face. Even though the characters include two sets of identical twins, this works.
One of the evening’s four performances combines live music, dance and electronics. Lights flicker and change color. This is synesthesia embodied and expressed, where colors have sounds and sounds have color. There is no eye contact between the saxophone player (Johnny Butler) and the dancer (Alex Jenkins). They are isolated characters on the electronic landscape, yet they are synchronized by the sound of the music. Her movements inspire a string of gerunds: being, living, suffering, dying, rising, falling, becoming.
Another of the four performances is a play, (Not a) Kids Play, in which we see two live actresses (Elizabeth Saunders and Gretchen Poole) interact with each other while their avatars appear on separate screens. This play becomes a tutorial of electronic possibilities. The audience shuttles back and forth from the live actresses to the avatars tracking how facial emotional attitudes and even body language translates. In a telling moment, the actresses meet some 20 years later, and while the women on stage look as they did at the start of the performance, their avatars have aged two decades appropriately.
The last part of the evening is Autokorrect a set of two traditional improv scenes done untraditionally by the introduction, again, of an avatar. A live interlocutor interacts with the avatar. We see an actor on stage responding as any actor would in an unscripted improv scene but this time the actor is ignored by the audience whose focus falls on the avatar, yet it’s clear that the words and facial expressions of the actor are controlling the avatar through the app on the cell phone.
The guide for this evening is an emcee (Bess Miller) who playfully reminds us that what we are about to see is all highly experimental, which it is, and not to be concerned if something does not work. But everything did work, including the opportunity at the beginning of the evening for audience members to experience some of the controls themselves.
If you are intrigued by technology, or have an interest in where things are headed for live performance, including the performances we all put on with our own electronics every day, see this show.
“Error: A Comedy Of” by William Shakespeare / directed by Noa Egozi / with Claire Tyers / AR designer Robert Lester / Set/Projection/Lighting/Design by Kris Stone.
“(Not a) Kids Play” by Reese Thompson / directed by Kristin Heckler / with Gretchen Poole and Elizabeth Saundersn / Director of Technology Lorne Svarc.
Musical Experiment: with Johnny Butler and Alex Jenkins / Choreography & Direction ANA Collaborations
Autokorrect Improvisers: Donald Chang, Emily McKeown, Sarah Sixt, Anne Veal, Patrick Williams / assembled by Deby Xiadani
Emcee Bess Miller
TECHNODRAMATISTS PERFORMANCE LABORATORY will be at TheaterLab (357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor) from Thursday, June 6 through Saturday, June 22. Tickets are $21 and available at technodramatists.com.