“How are we going to be relevant in 20 years’ time?” This question is posed by James Turnbull, Creative Producer of #TOMtech at The Old Market, who goes on to explain that “theatre audiences, generally, nationally, are declining. It is probably led by the idea that people don’t want to sit in the dark for two and a half hours and be told something. Audiences want more agency: it’s linked to the rise of escape rooms and immersive theatre. How do you make work that gives people a more personal experience?”
A lab space for artists is one way to explore potential answers. The labs have been created to build bridges between small to medium scale theatre companies who use some form of technology on stage, with technological companies who can offer expertise and advice. “We put all these creatives in a room and ask them to find a common language, and to explore the tech around what they’re doing.”
A motion capture-focused lab resulted in Fatherland for example, a premiere this season. “One of the audience members is selected to sit on stage, and that person is kind of your guide and camera position. The performer acts in front of them in motion capture. So you get to see the working of it and the computer-generated image on screen.
“Justice Syndicate is a piece exploring confirmation bias and groupthink. It’s a show for twelve people at a time: you are a jury and you discover elements of a trial. There are no actors, there’s no audio or anything guided for you. You have an iPad in front of you, and you are led through individually, and as a group, to read and review evidence.”
vrLab meanwhile, offers VR makers of all sizes the opportunity to try out their work in front of an audience. I have had a lot of fun trying wildly different experiences over the past few years of vrLab. I've sat opposite Sir David Attenborough and handed him objects to discuss, relaxed with a guided meditation while observing a computer-generated image of my own heart beating, and investigated a room in a fun adventure game, using my hands to open drawers. This year, James is introducing a zone focusing on creation. “You can create objects, paint walls, play with space and time, colour and light, things like that. And Sheffield Doc Fest will bring their 360° film programme.”
James returns to the theme of agency when discussing this year’s programme. In Choreocracy, “you can control a show from the stalls. You download an app and guide a laser, which draws a pattern on stage, which will guide a dancer to perform something unique based on your choreography. It’s democratic choreography.” Democratic tomfoolery is welcome. “It’s really fun to do and the lasers are great to see. It’s not as po-faced as a dance show: it’s very much a comedy gig.”
12-20 Sept, theoldmarket.com