Guest Post by Howard Gayton
Hello, it's Howard here, inviting you to the online live premiere of my theatre company's new play, Theatre is Dead! -- an absurd dark comedy for the times we are living in. Live performances are running every Thursday and Friday night on Zoom throughout the month of June -- but this week, Myth & Moor is hosting a "Watch Party" for the Friday performance, June 19. (There's more information on how to join in below.)
About the company:
Peter Oswald and I created Columbina Theatre in 2016 to present new works rooted in verse theatre, mask theatre, Commedia dell'Arte, clowning, and tomfoolery. My own background is Commedia (I co-directed a touring company, Ophaboom, for twenty years), while Peter was Writer-in-Residence at Shakespeare's Globe (working with Mark Rylance), and has had his work performed at the National, on the West End, off-Broadway, and other venues around the world.
For Theatre is Dead!, we're joined by actor Alice Welby and stage manager Patrick Collins.
About the play:
Theatre is Dead! began life in my work space here on Dartmoor: a small cabin at the end of our garden (pictured above). Peter and I had been developing the piece as a stage play when the world was turned on its head by Covid-19 and theatres all across Europe went dark.
I'd also been exploring the art of Foolery through the international Nomadic Academy Fools -- and when the pandemic hit, I helped to take NOA's training sessions online, working with Fools across Europe for hours each day via the Zoom platform. Through this, we discovered a way of performing on Zoom that seemed to reach through the computer screen to give a "live performance" experience to our online audience of Fools. I began to wonder if this could be applied to other areas of theatre.
Meanwhile, Peter and I had a Zoom meeting to discuss the future of our company. Like many theatre practitioners whose work has been ground to a halt by Covid-19, we were asking the question: What now?
Looking again at Theatre is Dead!, it dawned on me how relevant to the pandemic lockdown it is: two theatrical clowns isolated inside the belly of a whale, wondering if their profession will survive. We staged a reading of the play over Zoom for family and friends, and their reaction was the same as ours: that it's both prescient and timely. "Get it out there," they urged us.
We quickly began work on adapting the play for this new form of … well, we’re not sure what to call it. It's not traditionally staged theatre, of course -- more like a hybrid mix of a radio play, a theatrical reading, and Zoom. It is also an experiment: can three actors, locked down in three separate locations (Bristol, London, and rural Devon) bring the energy of a live event to the rectangular box of computer and tablet screens?
The shows we're presenting this month will not be filmed -- the gathering of the online audience for each live show is an integral part of what makes this theatre, not film or tv. We’re trialling the name Screen Plays Cloud Theatre to describe what we believe could develop into a new form of online live performance -- allowing companies (particularly small companies) to present new works and trial new plays, especially now when the future viability of traditional theatre spaces is still uncertain.
Peter and I adapting Theatre is Dead! to Zoom during the Covid-19 lockdown
We are working on Zoom, despite its limitations, because it is so familiar to many people now -- but our aim is to develop a custom platform for theatrical performance, tailored to the needs of theatre practioners, and with more flexibility for audience engagement. If we can develop such a platform, then perhaps more companies will be able to develop shows. And perhaps this will be a life-raft for theatre, taking us through these trying times until we can all meet together in physical space again.
Is theatre dead? We don't think so. We think it's still very much alive.
Information on the Myth & Moor Watch Party:
Although you're welcome to come to any of the June peformances, Terri and I are inviting the Myth & Moor community to join us online for this Friday's show, June 19, at 7:30 pm (UK time). The show itself is about an hour long, and you're welcome to stay afterwards to have a chat about the play with us.
Tickets are free, but please book your ticket as numbers for each show are limited. You can do so here. The show is performed live on the Zoom platform, so if you are new to Zoom, you'll need to sign up (for free) before the event.
On behalf of Columbina, Terri, and myself: We hope to see you there!
If you'd like to know about future Columbina shows, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. (We'll also be on Instagram soon.)