DC-based Irish arts organization celebrates its 15th anniversary with a commissioned series of digital plays
“Our language is the reflection of ourselves.” (César Chávez)
The past six months have changed the way we live – eat, shop, work, and play. It has isolated us within our homes and, at the same time, brought us closer to loved ones or colleagues who are geographically far. It is now standard custom to attend Zoom meetings, weddings, baby showers, and happy hours – our life cycle moments pared down and created for the smallest of screens. This change in the way we communicate has led to more and more of us adopting the use of GIFs and emojis to express ourselves over these digital platforms. Is this pictorial language an extension of our pre-existing language? Is it its own distinct language? Who controls it? Who can access it? Can it be standardized? In a world where a text message is more common than a phone call, do these tools offer some compensation for that tiny piece of humanity that we lose without a voice or a face to focus on?
In a time that has seen an immense disruption and upheaval in the arts community, Solas Nua has commissioned a series of digital plays from African-American playwright Jeremy Keith Hunter and Irish playwright John King. Their first collaboration, , asks us to examine our own answers to these questions and begins to reimagine how theatre might survive, even thrive, in this new digital realm. As the audience, we join Cormac (Cormac Elliot) and Da’Von (Da’Von Moody), two friends who are teaching a digital language class. When an ex-boyfriend continues to text him following the break up, Da’Von, aided by his “students”, must find a way to explain the situation.
Known for their site-specific productions, including last year’s The Smuggler, which was staged inside a DC cocktail bar, Solas Nua is now bringing that same sense of placemaking to each audience member through their personal devices. The process, explains Artistic Director Rex Daugherty, is always to first look at the space, to observe how people are already interacting with it, and then to create theatre to match. It is no different with a Zoom screen. While most recent digital productions have been created or revised for “the box”, the creative team behind are devising for the device.
This approach opens up a world of possibilities that would not be workable in a traditional black box theatre. The magic of live theatre comes from the palpable energy between the actors and the audience, something extraordinarily difficult to recreate on a digital platform. This production is meant to be participatory, using the audience member’s laptop and smartphone. It takes our natural inclinations to passively consume and to multitask, usually a detriment to digital theatre, and turns them on their head.
“If you are curious about how to communicate in today’s world and what that means, you need to come see this show,” says writer Jeremy Keith Hunter. “If you’ve got young people in your life and you are getting lost in the wave of ‘what did they just say to me?’, you need to come see this play. If you are digitally illiterate, you need to come to this play. Most importantly, if you miss interacting with people, if you miss that feeling of ‘theatre’ that comes from being in the room with somebody and hearing the reactions and seeing reactions, then you need to come to this play because this play is unlike anything that can be done virtually right now. It breaks so many rules. Our actors talk to the audience and we expect you to talk back to us. It propels the story and it helps you connect to us. It helps you go beyond the limitations of digital theatre so that you feel like you’re doing ‘theatre’ again.”
runs October 1-11, 2020. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit solasnua.org. This participatory production utilizes a laptop and smartphone for optimal experience. Headphones are recommended. All proceeds will support the artists in this production.
For those who may be experiencing Zoom fatigue or who tend to be more introverted (this writer included), here are a few things to know about this experience:
- Your level of participation is completely up to you
- Cameras are off for most of the show
- The cast will teach you HOW to participate as the play goes on
- Run time is approximately 45 minutes
Cast and Creative Team
Da’Von Moody – actor
Cormac Elliot – actor
Jeremy Keith Hunter – writer
John King – deviser
Mekala Sridhar – assistant producer/assistant director
Navid Azeez – audio/video designer
Rex Daugherty – director/co-creator