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“The future of theatre cannot be narrowly defined”

Helen Lawrence Stan Douglas & Kim Collier The Banff Centre 2013

Stan Douglas and Kim Collier (far right) work with the “Helen Lawrence” creative team in the Eric Harvie Theatre.
Photo: Donald Lee.

Stan Douglas and Kim Collier are exploring the boundaries of live theatre this week at The Banff Centre. They are here with a crew of 13 actors, designers, and technicians to workshop Helen Lawrence, a new Canadian Stage multimedia theatre work. Set in 1948 Vancouver, Helen Lawrence intertwines theatre, visual art, live-action filming, and CG to tell a post-war story of murder, hidden identity, and reinvention.

Douglas, an award-winning visual artist, is the creative force behind Helen Lawrence. Collier, winner of the 2010 Siminovitch Prize, will co-direct. Despite their hectic schedules, and the temptation posed by 15 cm of fresh snow, they graciously agreed to discuss the project over lunch.

This work has been described as groundbreaking. How so?

Kim Collier: One of the extraordinary goals of Helen Lawrence is to incorporate continuous live filming into a work of theatre. Stan and I are going to attempt to construct a film, continuously, shot by shot, during the live production. So instead of doing a month-long film shoot before the production, carefully setting up each scene; we will be filming live with four cameras, and choosing the shots as we go. That live film will materialize in front of the audience, allowing them to choose between watching the constructed (film) world or the constructing (live) work.  Continue Reading →

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Where ART + IDEA intersect: Merging digital media with performance

Digital flames paint Don Giovanni’s demon lovers during the opera’s final scene. Image: Meghan Krauss.

Picture this.

A lone actor on stage, the video game world of Froggy projected behind him. As he begins to run, his loosely choreographed movements interact with the citybuildings exploding around him. The actor turns left, momentarily saving himself, and the audience, from a falling pillar.

Or this.

It’s the final scene of Mozart’sclassic opera Don Giovanni. Instead of imagining Don Giovanni’s descent into hell, the entire stage, including all the singers, bursts into flames and is consumed by a projected inferno.

Both are examples of The Banff Centre’s IDEA initiative in action.

The IDEA initiative explores the integration of digital media projection into the world of theatre. Consisting of four themes: Interaction, Design, Experience and Audience, IDEA is a multiyear applied research initiative focusing on how, why, and where of using digital media to enhance storytelling.

Nicholas Mills, director of Digital Media Research at the Centre, describes 2012, the first year of the IDEA project, as the “possibility year.” The year began with a think tank exploring the major challenges in the field, and culminated in the first annual IDEA Summit in October. Continue Reading →

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Kevin Cunningham: “I don’t have an interest in storytelling”

IDEA Summit keynote speaker, Kevin Cunningham, explains how integrating projection can help us move away from linear storytelling. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

At the recent IDEA Summit, which convened artists and thinkers leading the way in digital media projection for theatrical performance settings, I caught up with New York City-based keynote speaker, Kevin Cunningham. As founder and executive artistic director of 3-Legged Dog Media and Theater Group, as well as 3LD Art & Technology Center, Cunningham is known for his radical multisensory productions. Below is an excerpt from our conversation in which he discusses an aspect of his cutting-edge practice.

Your keynote at the IDEA Summit was titled, State of the Art/State of Projection. What are some of the prominent questions you’ve been exploring at 3LD?
With multi-channel, or immersive video projection, we can mimic reality in a way that is a little bit richer than just telling a linear story. Part of that is an effort to enhance people’s ability to perceive more than two points of view at a time. In deploying multimedia with live bodies, the audience becomes a part of the artwork and a completely different kind of dynamic comes out. We end up frequently misunderstood in our efforts because in the United States we are so used to the formulaic and pervasive Disney story structure where there are very few surprises.

This pursuit of new narrative possibilities is emphasized in 3LD’s mission statement. Could you talk more about what you mean by this?
I don’t have an interest in storytelling, that’s the first thing. I think my favourite quote is one from Donald Barthelme, which is, “Fragments are the only forms I trust.” If you look at recent research in neuroscience, the way that we perceive the world is that we gather, or are bombarded by, scintilla – just little impressions. Our eyes are constantly moving in very fast little saccades, picking up things. It’s even more complex when you start talking about smell and olfactory functions. The way that we encounter the world is so complex –  but it doesn’t have anything to do with telling a story. Continue Reading →

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Reflection on an I.D.E.A.

Interaction Design Installation – all photos are video still frames. Joan Karlen, video, choreography. Kenny Lozowski, software developer. Courtney Holcomb, dancer.

I’ve just completed an amazing six-week Film & Media residency at The Banff Centre. As a dancer and choreographer I’ve been creating dance and multimedia projects for 15 years and was thrilled for this opportunity to branch out into interaction design. My goals were to create choreographic work in three areas – for iOS /touch, for interactive installation, and for interactive performance contexts. With Nik Mills’ and Jean Macpherson’s invitation to work with Banff software developer, Kenny Lozowski, my interaction design planning took off. Together Kenny and I focused our work on creating a video, poetry, animation installation that users control with a Kinect. Nineteen video scenes move through the projection frame in a randomized order while users control video size, cursive and block text overlay, and leaf animation. We were elated to present our work during the IDEA Summit 2012 October 19 on the Eric Harvie Theatre’s 30-foot screen.

Funniest videotaping moment
For one of the scenes I wrote single words from Rumi’s poem The Flap of the Wallet on many aspen leaves. Videotaping these poem-leaves blowing around in my Lloyd Hall bathtub while focusing my camera, holding my wall-mounted hairdryer in one hand and sprinkling leaves into the tub with the other was amusing. If only the hairdryer cord had reached just a bit further! However, the shot turned out really well and made it into the final installation. Continue Reading →

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At the intersection of theatre and projection

Jennifer Haley (left) speaking to the process of bringing her interactive, multi-media play to life. Beside her is fellow panelist and theatre director, Kelly Robinson. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

Theatre performance and digital projection are art forms that can exist quite beautifully without ever coming together on a stage. That’s one reason a powerful marriage of the two in live theatre can present wildly imaginative, creative works, and also why artists from these two disciplines have so much to talk about when they get together.

Jennifer Haley is one such artist, a Los Angeles playwright who says she’s “not interested in projection for the sake of projection,” but rather, keenly interested in how the two art forms can play together.

Haley was one of the invited panelists at The Banff Centre’s recent I.D.E.A. Summit (Interaction, Design, Experience, and Audience), which brought together a community interested in exploring digital media projection in theatrical performance. Haley was joined by theatre director Kelly Robinson, graphic designer Sasha Stanojevic, and assistant video designer Jordan Dowler-Coltman on stage of the Margaret Greenham Theatre to discuss the creation of Froggy, an interactive multi-media play that Haley had written based on a concept from a graphic novel.   Continue Reading →

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