NIDA Digital Theatre Festival

NIDA Digital Theatre Festival
Tuesday 4 August - Sunday 9 August, 2020.

In response to the devastating effects of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on live performances, NIDA has pivoted to a digital theatrical response. The festival includes a collection of original works designed especially for a digital context and are all performed by 2020 NIDA graduates.

The result is an imaginative and novel approach to the live theatrical experience. The technology is present not only in the execution but also in the content of the productions. Each is acutely aware of the ubiquitous presence of media technology in our everyday lives and the way it has infiltrated into our most intimate and private spaces. The commentary on our increasingly virtual existence is witty, insightful and frequently incisive. 

The six shows are performed across seven days each lasting around 30-60mintues and each with a different director: Roundabout (Sean Stewart), Lunacy (Pierce Wilcox), Ghost Lights (Katy Alexander), Lockdown: Love and Death in the Age of Covid (Nigel Jamieson), Six (Leticia Cáceres),  A Pox on Both Your Houses - in three parts - (Deborah Pollard). The shows embrace a variety of digital platforms and include clever Zoom performances or live YouTube events. They incorporate all the interactive elements of these digital platforms to engage the virtual audience. 

A Pox on Both Your Houses tells the story of three couples each of whom are star-crossed lovers. They have all been separated by circumstances beyond their control, including war and pandemics. While the three stories are inspired by the tragic turn of events of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the universal nature of the themes are strongly reiterated in the various historical settings. Those familiar with Zoom will delight in the inventive and uncommon use of its features: viewers are invited to create sound effects, use emoji reactions, replicate the menu in the show and even to meet fellow audience members in breakout rooms. This was a stroke of genius as the encounter wonderfully replicated the spontaneity and joy of going to the theatre and striking up unexpected conversations with fellow patrons.

In Lockdown: Love and Death in the Age of Covid five fictitious, final year acting students meet on Zoom. The performance has been created through improvisation giving it a very raw and edgy quality. The self-reflexive nature of this piece is evident and potentially a risky one, but absurdity is well married with the real world, especially one dictated by invasive technology and rigid COVID restrictions. The themes covered in this performance are varied and range from the dark web to the rise of racism, especially anti-Asian rhetoricThe power of this show is in the way it captures the present moment and all its anxieties in such a comprehensive manner. The performance has a seamless command and execution of the technology and the narrative and easily passes as non-fiction.

Some performances lend themselves better to the technology than others and the handling of Zoom is especially striking, while the YouTube live channels lack the vibrancy of a more interactive platform. However, each show succeeds in carefully exploring the unique excitement and thrill of being part of a live performance and the increasingly central role of technology in our very uncertain future.

Patricia Di Risio

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