Reinventing theatre for a post-lockdown world
- Credit: Mike Kwasniak
The pandemic has brought about the longest closure of live entertainment in history. Theatre, concerts, comedy, cabaret and circus are all currently enduring an extended creative hiatus – which occasionally prompts worried headlines asking whether theatre and live music can possibly ever recover.
The answer is clearly, 'yes, it will' – people love live entertainment, there’s nothing like it but I suspect that the live performance art-form will have significantly changed when it does return. During lockdown creative minds have been hard at work researching ways for theatre to reach out to new and existing audiences during this enforced period of closure.
Just as the looming threat of World War II inspired aircraft engineers to turn plodding bi-planes like the Tiger Moth and the Swordfish into the sleek, super-fast, mono-winged fighters like the Spitfire and Messerschmitt, so the Covid-quarantine has enabled theatre-makers and live performance producers to develop multi-platform, digital-based audio and visual technology which can be utilized alongside live performance to give our creative industries not only a wider reach but also a broader canvas to work with.
Touring company Eastern Angles has been working with Suffolk-based producer Matthew Linley and has been helping to fund research and development into new technology which is being pioneered by BBC 6 Music Poet in Residence Murray Lachlan Young, who last year developed a Virtual Reality ghost story centred around Butley Priory called The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps.
His latest project sees him teaming up with musician Paul Hartnoll, from Orbital, to harness Pokemon Go technology to create a multi-platform digital story experience which is part story performance, part game which is atmospherically pulled together by Paul’s music.
Murray’s latest project is the wonderfully named Quest for Old Mother Redbeard which will form part of a larger digital/live performance universe which has the umbrella title The Chronicles of Atom and Luna which aims to bring to life the magical world of Atom and Luna across a range of forms.
The Quest for Old Mother Redbeard is a ground-breaking augmented reality story game for families and is free for everyone to play. The new story centres around heroes 11 year-old twins Atom & Luna who are left home alone in the care of their magical childminder, Iffly Sney. When Iffly falls terribly ill, only the twins can save him by seeking out the mysterious Old Mother Redbeard in the heart of a magical forest. A journey which will change their lives forever.
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“It has a similar feel to Raddlesham Mumps but this is less Gothic and more traditional folk-tale. It focuses on the idea that children can shape their future whatever life throws at them.”
Writer, performer and storyteller Murray Lachlan Young says that by using Pokemon Go technology he hopes that this will result in storytelling for a tech savy younger generation.
Currently, six audio tales are available now to listen to free of charge (visit funnelwicklimb.com) and will be followed in the autumn by a book and, hopefully, some live performances.
Murray Lachlan Young said that the genesis for this latest show started on the road. “During The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps my fellow performer Joe Allen would constantly play Pokemon Go! whilst on tour. I became fascinated with the potential of this technology as a storytelling tool. As a result The Quest for Old Mother Redbeard a kind of traditional story telling ballad told in the form of an AR game where players get to go ahead of our heroes into a mystical forest. Ultimately, I am interested in inspiring in young people a love of language, of storytelling, of rhyme and rhythm and what better way to do that then by using tech.”
So is this the future for live theatre? Murray believes that theatre will continue to evolve and lockdown has given theatre the opportunity to experiment with new technology and to utilise different approaches to performing.
He believes that theatre will blend elements of different art-forms and will integrate elements of digital audio-visual technology to engage audiences through a variety of different media.
“The initial idea was that we were going to take it out on the road as a piece of live theatre, as we had done with Raddlesham Mumps but lockdown put paid to that and because we had done Mumps as a multi-platform experience with audio and VR technology we thought could be employ those skills to take this new show into people’s homes.
“I believe as we become more experienced in handling different technologies and more adept at combining different elements then we will expect that shows will have different aspects to them and different audiences.
“It may possible to experience a live show in a theatre which has digital elements designed to reach out to a digital audience who witnessing the same performance. That same show may have different lives with some only existing online or as a VR game, a soundtrack or an outdoor, site-specific performance. They all will combine, music, visuals and the spoken word to create a world that people can lose themselves in.
“What is exciting is that we are just scraping the surface of what is possible and I think it has the potential to grow quite quickly. The future will be exciting and it will be very creative.”
The Quest for Old Mother Redbeard, six audio adventures by Murray Lachlan Young and Paul Hartnoll, is available free of charge from funnelwicklimb.com