In keeping with Duke’s ongoing commitment to multidisciplinary performance, the Department of Theater Studies will host two theater groups that combine digital technology and interactive media with live performance.
The first residency, Anonymous Ensemble, is a theater company led by Duke grad Eamonn Farrell. His ensemble integrates theater and film using live cameras, green screens, projectors and real-time video to superimpose live actors onto an already-made film. In addition to conducting workshops and speaking with theater classes, Farrell will conclude his residency with a two-night showing of LIEBE LOVE AMOUR!, a “live film” inspired by the black-and-white Marlene Dietrich movies and set against director Erich Von Stroheim’s silent film imagery. The production, which will run September 14 and 15, evokes the nostalgia of old Hollywood romances while fusing together theatrical performance and the silver screen.
“Humans are becoming more and more screen-based,” Farrell said. “It’s a more comfortable medium than straight live theater.”
The incorporation of technology into theater can also increase audience participation and enhance the theater experience, said Farrell.
“Technology empowers viewers to become participants. We wanted to make a live film that could actually draw the audience into the narrative.”
Chair of Theater Studies Jody McAuliffe is one of the faculty members responsible for Theater Studies’ exploration of technology’s role in the performance arts. Duke is a recent recipient of the Humanities Writ Large grant, which is designed to discover the ways in which live performance and integrated media intersect in the undergraduate humanities. As part of the working group of faculty, MFA candidates and undergraduates involved with the grant, McAuliffe’s investment lies in showing students that technology is another medium of performance that brings its own ethical questions.
“One of the goals of our working group is to create courses, including a FOCUS program, that will deal with the theoretical and practical issues of performance and technology,” said McAuliffe. “We want to push Duke into the vanguard. Institutions are already really innovative in this area, especially on the undergraduate level.”
Cloud Eye Control, the second group that the department will host this year, also combines media and live performance to explore how humans adjust to an increasingly technology-driven world. On December 1, the three-member group will present their latest work, Half Life, a film/theater hybrid based on original blog posts that Japanese women made during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Unlike LIEBE LOVE AMOUR!, the work examines the negative consequences of innovation. Using pre-rendered animation, digital stagecraft and live-feed video, Half Life creates new, unexpected ways of storytelling. The production blurs the distinction between virtual and physical reality, all while subverting our very definition of theater.
“We’re all very conscious of the relationship between a live performer and the projected image,” McAuliffe said. “That tension is something that can be explored in an interactive way in theater.”
McAuliffe isn’t the only professor who is pushing to include interactive media. Other faculty members of McAuliffe’s working group in the dance, music, art history and visual studies departments have been working towards the same goals.
“All of the faculty has done performance with media and we just want to find a way to teach it to undergraduates in a new and compelling way,” said McAuliffe.