Usually this time of year I have packed up my life into a suitcase and I’m sitting on the floor in a friend’s living room surrounded by magazines, reviews and lists of everything I want to see at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
But thankfully in times of adversity and disappointment there is always one group of people who step up the plate: Students!
Unjaded and enthusiastic, a group of students from East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex launch what I hope will be a new yearly event: Command Fringe Festival. An all online, all experimental, all awesome internet theatre extravaganza!
The incredible array of ideas and variety of software used can give all arts organisations food for thought when navigating the storm that is this pandemic.
Here are my highlights from this ticketed event: an array of companies, training and professional and a myriad of ideas you can bring to your own company.
Rainbow Socks by Maryam Noorhimli
This Bunker Theatre Monologue was reinterpreted for a zoom screening showing a pre-recorded film edited like a YouTube influencer. The piece discussed what it means to be LGBTQ+ and Muslim with camera angles changed to reflect positives and negatives in an almost Golem and Smeagol way reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. Fundamentally it is about how it is ok to be an individual with your own views and your own story. It ended with Maryam dancing all over her apartment in her rainbow socks! Something I think we should all be doing more of during this pandemic!
Each arts business is ultimately about the people who built it so think about the short form content you could write and produce autobiographically and how it could appeal to your audiences using different camera angles, props and simple costume to explain the story.
MAN By George Hargreaves
Think Radio Play come dramatic podcast. A short monologue following a young man and his brush with drugs. Simple but effective, the great music choices and realistic sound effects (from playing Call of Duty on your games console to the soothing timbre of background birdsong) is what brought this piece to life, with excellent writing and performance pulling it all together
Creating drama through podcasts could be a cheap yet effective way of introducing new work during these bizarre times. There are loads of websites, like FreeSound, that offer free sound effects and royalty free music for you to use in your pieces or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could go out and record your own!
The Many and Varied Lives of Rock by Sisu Theatre
A lovely concept, Sisu Theatre have created a modern-day epic poem following the story of a rock from it’s creation on earth and throughout history. Again, taking place as a live event on Zoom the story was passed between different voice actors with subtle filmed loops of different landscapes from flowing rivers to ebbing waves cleverly designed to universally resonate with the subject matter.
A continuing saga like this could easily be developed and marketed as something to dip in and out of, easy listening to do your work to or go for a run with. Each section could act as a mediation session, something becoming more and more popular in the current climate. It felt good taking some me time whilst listening to a tale about time.
Caged Bird Sings (an extract from The Dripping Mirror: A Burlesque Musical) by Runt Theatre
Runt Theatre are embarking on the epic task of devising a new musical during this pandemic! Set in the 1930s and combining live music, sketch comedy, dance and burlesque this production looks set to reimagine the boundaries of musical theatre. You can check out their awesome acapella music video on Facebook.
There are plenty of music groups, from Broadway to bands, choirs to orchestras, professional to amateur and everything in between, all over the world who have used this technique. They create video content using Zoom (or similar apps) for rehearsals, individually recording their parts, mixing them together and creating music videos in the comfort of their own home! So, get on it!
Good Day Gone Bad by Jonathan Bensusan Bash
A live zoom performance which is incredibly relatable in lockdown telling the story of a man struggling with anxiety and, let’s be honest, who isn’t struggling with mental health problems at the moment! Clearly filmed at home but with lovely thought to the LED lighting which changed colour and intensity dependent on the mood and location of the action.
This beautifully presented story, driven by individual experience and told through simple direction would be easy to replicate. With Amazon Prime to hand for your next day delivery LED strip lights and majority of houses painted magnolia you can achieve some great special effects creating a perfect environment for your performative content.
The Curse of Being a Pisces by Jean-Paul Mark Shlom
I’m a sucker for anything remotely sci-fi so I absolutely loved this interactive zoom performance. Set in a slightly alternative universe there were similarities to our world but lovely nods to differences told through the set and lighting alongside Athena, a more advanced and sassier Alexa. It also included chatting to audiences via Zoom having them shout out answers and choose the direction of the piece.
To make something like this work it would need to be performed to small groups but with a length of around twenty minutes, you could perform it multiple times a day to make it feasible. Kinda like a small-scale escape room business model. It is a really clever way to keep the live, interactive nature of theatre alive during this pandemic!
Aidy the Awesome by The Gramophones Theatre Company
The Gramophones Theatre Company is one to watch and, though nothing can replace the real deal, Aidy the Awesome reignited the spark of my love for Children’s Theatre. Through this YouTube Video Aidy the Awesome, with help of the Super Nana Network, sets out to defeat Ron De-Chocolate who has stolen stories from the world! It packs a punch of Girl Power with simple cartoon video effects, bright costumes and excellent multi-roleplaying this could have stepped straight of the CBBC channel.
If you are looking to create work the whole family can get involved in, then take notes from The Gramophones. With a fun, superhero warm up routine in the middle and a special mission for viewers to contribute their own stories they encourage online interaction and provides parents and grandparents with a great lock down activity to do! So, think about how you can improve online engagement and provide content suitable for the whole family to enjoy!
Thoughts of an Incoherent Mind by Puro Caos CT
This piece is European Fringe Theatre at its best cleverly reimagined for the online realm. This is what I had been missing and it felt like being back at Summerhall sipping Pickering’s sitting in Anatomy Lecture Theatre. Puro Caos cleverly entwined a plethora of multimedia on Zoom: some live elements, some pre-recorded, all feminist. They interwove multilingual performances, charcoal drawing, stop motion and live polls all tied together with matching lipstick.
This is a performance BE (Birmingham European) Festival should check out. Not only is it edgy, experimental and ever so slightly random but it perfectly demonstrates how work like this can be built for an online medium. Hopefully this will encourage you to try new things, mix together art forms, film them from different angles and get them on Zoom.
Global Enhancers by Global Enhancers
A masterclass in how to interweave different online platforms and media to create a performance. Global Enhancers began with a Facebook live countdown to a product launch of the ‘Global Enhancer’, a product which records and archives your memories. The website launched (built with Wix) and included videos, images and text content beautifully formatted and presented. This had an ‘advert’ to the anti-business website with even more content and concluded with a live Zoom, which was hacked into by a previous employee, who asked you to turn on your cameras to stand up to the revolution.
I felt like a treasure hunter as I explored the websites! The videos were brilliant parodies of News Reports, Documentary, CCTV Footage, Online influencers, Brand Ambassadors and Staff Interviews with excellent attention to detail. I especially loved Teenie and her Pops, a social media influencer offering 20% off your purchase with the code TEENIE20.
We see inspired Sci-Fi like this all-over streaming sites from Mr Robot and Upload on Prime Video and all over Doctor Who. But this piece was special, complete genius, and amazing inspiration to people looking to create work online by utilising a multitude of platforms and content to create a performance. If this is the future of site-specific work, then it is bloody exciting!
Crap Art Club by ShowUp Productions
A prerecord online readthrough which, with a little adjustment, could easily be a lockdown story. Broaching themes of religion and mental health the overall message I took from the piece is: It’s ok to be happy when you’re happy and it’s ok to be sad when you’re sad. We all have a huge amount of pressure put on us to achieve our dreams but what it we’re just happy with a normal life?
This performance had been rehearsed and recorded on Zoom then edited for YouTube. ShowUp Productions have created a full-length online play, showing that new work can still be put on during lock-down, just maybe not in the way it was originally intended. Are there new writings in the works for your company? Have a think about how these could be filmed responsibly under Covid-19 guidelines to enable an online performance.
Is this the future of the creative industries? Who knows. But if it is, it ain’t looking so bad!
Have you been inspired to create online performances or exhibits? Let us know in the comments below.