Culture№ 3 December 2017
Theatre. Version 20.17
Digital technologies have firmly established themselves not only in our daily lives, but also in all kinds of art. How is digital technology influencing the development of the theatre?
Theatre has always been open to technological innovation. The idea of digital representation was born long before the invention of the first computer. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the German composer Richard Wagner formulated this in his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (the ‘total work of art’). He proposed the harmonious coexistence of various forms of art (music, theatre, dance, poetry, light and design) in a single artwork, to allow viewers to completely immerse themselves in events onstage.
The only decoration used within the Hamlet/Collage performance – a specially-programmed cube-constructor
Today, it is perhaps more difficult to surprise an audience with interactive installations, audio-visual special effects and other pieces of theatrical wizardry. And yet some performances still manage to surprise their viewers, causing genuine interest among both the general audience and critics, and continue to be discussed even a few years after their premiere.
In Russian theatre, one truly innovative performance comes to mind: Hamlet /Collage, which premiered at Moscow’s Theatre of Nations in 2013. In this Shakespearean tragedy, the first play by the iconic Canadian playwright and director Robert Lepage staged in Moscow, the artistic director, Yevgeny Mironov, plays all of the characters. All of the play’s events take place in a half-open cube and is the only decoration on stage. Rotating, it transforms into various interiors using multimedia effects. All of this serves one purpose – to portray a human being left alone with their own consciousness.
The first multimedia theatre appeared in 1958 in Czechoslovakia, announcing itself at the World Exhibition ‘Expo’ in Brussels. Its founders – stage designer Joseph Freedom and director Alfred Radok – received a grand reception. The theatre was named Laterna Magika, which in Latin means ‘Magic Lantern’ – a fitting name. The scenography in Laterna Magika is as important in the productions as the performance of the actors. For greater effect, video projections and other special effects are actively used here. The theatre is still in operation and is one of Prague’s main attractions.
Creators of the play Do Not Leave Your Planet also set themselves a difficult challenge: to tell the story of awaking in a dream world. This 2016 interpretation of the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupe‘ry, starring Konstantin Khabensky, was staged at the Sovremennik Theatre in Moscow, with the support of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation. In addition to classical music and unusual stage direction, director Victor Kramer made use of kinetic art and the latest developments in video art. The result was a stunning fantasy play, colourful, moving and very beautiful.
Technical innovations help to make theatre accessible to a wider group of people. For instance, an initiative called the Special View by the Art, Science and Sport Foundation uses audio descriptive commentary as part of its programme for visually impaired people. This technology helps blind and visually impaired spectators ‘see’ theatre performances as sighted viewers would. Using tools for simultaneous interpretation, specialists narrate everything happening on stage, such as scene changes, the activities of performers, and their facial expressions and gestures. This is similar to radio commentary on a sports match, where listeners can visualise everything that happens on the field, thanks to the commentator’s narration.
The use of video art helped the Sovremennik theatre take a fresh look at the story of ‘The Little Prince’
According to Maria Melnichenko, director of the Special View initiative, through audio description in 2017, eight performances were adapted for people with visual impairments in the Sovremennik Theatre, the Moscow Provincial Theatre, the Helikon Opera and Stanislavski and in the Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre. Work is underway to adapt the productions in other regions of Russia.
Experts have varying opinions on how modern technological progress will be used in future in the theatre. Some of them are difficult to imagine. Some, for example, predict a new theatre genre associated based on holograms. Given the experience we already have, we can hope that in the future new technologies will be introduced only where they are needed, to help to communicate the playwright’s ideas more vividly and expressively.
• Video mapping (other names: projection mapping, 3D mapping) – the creation and overlay of three-dimensional projections onto physical objects, taking into account their geometry and location in space. The most famous example of the use of this technology is light shows on buildings.
• Installation – spatial composition, created from a variety of real objects, fragments of text and visual information, united by a single artistic idea.
Hopefully, the theatre will maintain its unique and alive immediacy, retaining its original mission to evoke human emotions, discuss painful topics, promote independent thinking, and save audiences from spiritual emptiness.