By PATRICK LEE
“At this point, the video projections will go there, across two cabin doors,” says Paul Zimet, founder of the theatre troupe Talking Band and writer-director of their latest show New Islands: Archipelago.
He’s pointing to part of a cruise ship set that doesn’t yet have any have any cabin doors, and hasn’t yet seen the light of a video projector.
At this rehearsal, in one of the three performance spaces at the 3LD Center for Art & Technology, Zimet is directing his cast as the scenery is built and the multimedia is installed around them. It’s like watching the entire production spring from the ground at once.
The contained chaos underscores that New Islands: Archipelago cannot tell its story without technology. The show follows the passengers and crew of a cruise ship who begin entering each other’s dreams, and multimedia evokes their slide from one surreal world to another. While Talking Band, now in its 35th year, has used video elements in previous shows, they have never used them as extensively as this.
“This kind of work is becoming more important”, Zimet says. “3LD felt we could benefit from their resources.”
3LD (short for 3 Legged Dog) is a non-profit media and theatre group whose residency programs connect experimental theatre artists, like Talking Band, with the tools and the personnel to execute ambitious multimedia theatre projects. “We find a way to provide artists with the time and space to finish,” says 3LD curator Kevin Cunningham. “What we had heard from our advisors over and over again was that the experimental work in New York was interesting, but it usually looked unfinished.”
Of course, during its six-week residency, Talking Band has to do more than make its multimedia elements look finished. They must also guarantee that the technology feels assimilated into the rest of the show. Otherwise, the videos and projections, no matter how sophisticated they are, can distract from an audience’s experience.
“The trick of working with media is how you integrate it into the fabric of the work,” Zimet says. “For me, it has a very specific function in this piece, which is about these people who are stuck in their lives in some way.”
Simon Tarr, the show’s video director, has a slightly different perspective. “The media is punctuation,” he says. “The vast majority of the play is physical, and the projections only come alive at moments, when the dreams intrude on real life.”
For Tarr, video should always be a seasoning to a theatrical experience. “If it’s something that could be a movie, don't do it as theatre,” he says. “The whole reason to be in a space with human beings is precisely not to be at a movie.”
Patrick Lee is a regular contributor to Theatermania and has written for various other theatre sites including BroadwaySpace. He blogs at Show Showdown, which he co-founded, as well as at his own site, Just Shows To Go You.