Amy Liptrott, 27 January 2013

Who was there:

Amy (I called the session), Mary, James, Ilinca, Jess, Kate, Caroline, Verity.

Reason for the session:

I am researching the use of technology in theatre and have concerns about how and

why it is being used. Technology has been used in theatre for a very long time but with

the recent boom in technology in society, there has been a knock-on effect to its use in

theatre. My concerns start, but don't end, with how it is being used. Is it an add-on or is

it becoming integral to theatre performance? Is it making audiences passive and

responding to theatre like it's film? Is it affecting the liveness of theatre performance

and straightening the fuzzy edges that theatre has? Is it creating a gulf between those

that can afford to use technology when creating theatre and those who can't? Is it

becoming expected? Where is it going from a practitioner's point of view? Lots of

questions - and lots of really stimulating issues, points, examples raised by the lovely

folk who came to have a chat.

What was said:

The main issues we raised and more questions! I love them…

It works best when there is a reason to use the technology. Add-on technology seems

to be more about showing off and status than adding something to the performance or

the piece. There is a decision when devising work about the use of technology - does

the company want the polished feel technology can create or will the work benefit from

the more ‘charming’ feel the use of old technology (or no technology) can bring?

There is the worry that performers can be dwarfed by the use of ‘big’ technology and

they become unimportant and make what is going on on stage look cheap. Performers

become dependent on the technology and marionettes when they have to hit a

mark/spot to fit in with it. As performers, we shouldn't feel ashamed of this sort of very

prepared performance when it is integral and part of the style being created. It is only

when technology forces that it becomes an issue (lots of other issues here about

genre, style and the need for certain methods being used…).

Things going wrong when dependent on technology brings into focus the liveness of

performance. Various examples were raised of technology going wrong and

performances having to be cancelled because of that. Technology can be frail and

fragile and the performers become powerless because of that. When technology goes

wrong, there is no show because it can make the performance inflexible.

Technology is a tool - and one of the many tools available to theatre makers. We have

a responsibility to use everything around us and not ignore it because of the potential

‘issues’ that can arise. (Adding my own thoughts here - the issues that arise are

interesting and practitioners can gain from exploring these rather than ignoring them.)

There should be a need for it to be there, as with everything else on stage. The

questions about why the things being used have been chosen are integral to making

good pieces of theatre. Technology can be part of the language of the show and what

is ‘allowed’ within that. It can enable or be limiting.

Do theatre practitioners feel they need to use it? Is there pressure from Arts Council

and other funding bodies? Is there peer pressure? Does it become about money and it

being a neat way of getting around needing set/lighting?

Does the space dictate the use of big technology? In a big space is there the feeling

you need to fill it?

Technology and the use of multimedia rather than text-based performances can cross

cultural and language boundaries and make work transferable not just between

venues but between cultures and countries. It can work especially well in work for the

young and in non-verbal and sensory environments.

A really interesting idea for me is that theatre makers are making a conscious move

towards lo-fi options and exploring the mechanics of how technology can be used - for

example with OHPs - to explore the craft of the technology. This helps join up the live

performance and allows the performer to manipulate, be haphazard and control it. Is

there the feeling that lo-fi stuff is more clever because it isn't wizz-bang? There is the

feeling that an audience is delighted when their minds are allowed the freedom lo-fi

technology gives them to use their imaginations and not be passive. There is a worry

that theatre audiences are losing theatre literacy and, because of passive engagement

with some technology, can't join the dots.

After discussion about lo-fi, the idea of the other end of the spectrum was raised.

Where does the performer involve themselves with photography and film? Are there

companies doing this as integral to the performances? It'd be great to know!

My thanks to those who raised examples including:

Proteus, Paper Cinema, Complicitee, The Waves - Katie Mitchell, Lepage, Unicorn

Theatre, The Contact Theatre - Manchester. There are many more! Any other

examples people can add or suggest as useful to see in this area would be gratefully


The session was a real treat.

Comments: 1

Katie Day, 4 February 2013

If you're not already familiar with them, do take a look at the Theatre Sandbox scheme and projects run in 2010 by

Watershed in Bristol -