Directing Digital : Uniform

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By Rena Bryson

The clothes line is down, the costumes in storage and the stage/screen empty. That’s curtains for Uniform, something I somewhere deep down didn’t think I’d ever be able to say! For several reasons, check out the video above for the full story. Such a big chapter deserves a proper closure, so for this month’s blog I thought I’d reflect on the process of creating digital theatre, what I learnt and how the experience has affected my view of digital theatre. I hope this article will be useful for other artists creating digital work.

The right story to tell digitally

One woman theatre show Uniform
Photo Credit: Catriona Bonner Photography

Overall I think the method of digital theatre worked, not as a piece of theatre but as it’s own thing. I think this was because of a few reasons. Firstly Uniform was a contemporary play, I feel this translated better to screen. For example our previous production Starseed which was more abstract would not have worked in the same way. Audiences in a physical theatre are very accepting to a change in lighting signifying a dream scape. Screen audiences are used to seeing these themes conveyed in hyper realistic manners through the magic of film. As there was nothing otherworldly or abstract within the world of Uniform I believe it suited a digital presentation better than other texts.

Lights camera action!

Once it was decided that Uniform would become a piece of digital theatre I found myself at a crossroads. Do I decide to lean into all that film can bring and begin storyboarding and have Hazel switch from theatre to film acting? (They are two very different things!) Or do I continue directing Uniform as it was intended to be, a piece of theatre on front of a live audience. I choose the traditional theatre root, but some compromises had to be made. I wanted the show to be captured all in one go in order to keep the essence of a live performance. This was not always possible due to different technical issues that naturally arise during filming. In this case it was mostly the mic being affected by the costume changes. However, we were very fortunate that our theatrical lighting did not have to be changed to suit the camera, this had been our most preempted issue. The multiple camera and editing showed the audience the full stage and close ups of Hazel. The capturing of these close up moments was a real unexpected treat and something that could not be seen by an audience in such detail during a live theatre show. When viewing it on the night I was pleased with my decision to keep Uniform as close to a traditional theatre piece as possible. Although I could not help wonder how the performance would have changed if given the energy of an audience to play off of.

Digital Audience

One woman theatre show Uniform
Photo Credit: Catriona Bonner Photography

On the production side of things the most difficult part was not interacting with the audience. We don’t know how many were in the audience or what they thought. As it’s a digital ticket there is no way of knowing how many people were actually watching the one link, I’ve heard of five people watching one ticket link together and for all I know that could be the case for each ticket bought. I’ve also gotten apologies from people who bought a ticket but something came up. So the number of tickets bought for digital show doesn’t reflect the amount of seats filled. After attending or being apart of a live show you can feel the energy in the room following the curtain. When Uniform ended I didn’t clap but I was delighted with how the show went and wondered how it had been received. I couldn’t tell and that was a bizarre feeling.

Overall it was a great experience and I always love experimenting with different approaches to art. I’m now diving straight into directing a very different piece of digital theatre ‘ It’s True I Love You All So Much’ by Jenni Nikinmaa. The upcoming play is presented as a theatrical digital experience, it was written with intention of being presented digitally and could not exist any other way. Through this process I’ve become very interested in the relationship between the performer and audience within the digital realm and how it differs from live theatre. I’m excited to explore this and many other themes within the world of the play.

I’d love to hear from Uniform audience members to gain a better understanding of the digital theatre experience from an audience POV. If you attended Uniform and have a few minutes to spare I’d really appreciate it if you answered this short survey.

One woman theatre show Uniform
Photo Credit: Catriona Bonner Photography

The Curse of the Clothes Play

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By Hazel Doolan

So, last year I wrote a play. For the reasons of the events after writing it, I shall no longer call it by name until post-production. Now I shall refer to it as ‘The Clothes Play’. Anyway, after writing ‘The Clothes Play’, we set out our rehearsal schedule, meetings, key dates, and any other things that go into production. We were all set and then these things happened; 

Rehearsal 1: The Storm 

Due to a sudden storm, we no longer had a rehearsal space. We resorted to rehearsing in a team member’s house as we could only watch the trees bend like rubber throughout. Thankfully, it didn’t last too long and we were back in the rehearsal room the following week. It was an interesting start but we thought nothing of it. 

Rehearsal 3 – 6: Ever Changing Rooms

Whatever it was, whether it be simple mistakes with the booking systems or something else, we were constantly moved to alternative rooms throughout. I made a joke that ‘This is the show of moving rooms, it’s like Alice in Wonderland!’ 

Rehearsal 3 – 6: Too Good Rehearsals

Rehearsals at this point seemed to be going too well. We were half way blocked, I was half way off book and everything was great. I didn’t want to jinx it (maybe I did!) but I couldn’t help but feel that this would be a great show. I went home happy that weekend looking forward to the next week. 

Rehearsal 7: End/Cancelled  

I think we know how the rest goes. The 12th of March 2020 will always be a date that will stay with me. After getting the news at work my first thoughts were of ‘The Clothes Play’. Rena and I talked that evening, we were confident that all will be fine and planned for online rehearsals. We didn’t even get that far in the end. 

With 2020 going down the rabbit hole, we were hopeful and planned our programme for 2021. ‘We’ll be well over it’, we thought. ‘Theatres will be open’, we said.

Why is The Clothes Play cursed?

Similar to The Scottish Play, a string of strange and unlucky events occurred throughout. Thinking back, I’ve asked myself why and how is it possible? 

The Faces of Eve

Using this trope, I narrated the lives of numerous women. I portrayed them all at different stages of their lives; Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Firstly, they say things come in threes and – Well ok, more than three things happened but three things did happen before the 12th of March. Secondly, perhaps I enraged a deity or possibly Hecate for using this trope so they facilitated these events. I’d rather not make a third point, see point one. 

Angry Nuns? 

‘Uni-’, I mean ‘The Clothes Play’ narrowly revolves around the women who all happen to attend this religious secondary school where nuns would’ve had a close connection. Whether they be passed/present teaching staff and or fellow residents with the borders in the convent. Maybe some nuns’ spirits didn’t like what I wrote?

For these reasons and more, I have strong thoughts that ‘The Clothes Play’ is possibly cursed. Once we’re in the theatre I won’t dare say the name, or light three candles on stage or wear blue. Wait, one of the costumes is blue. Dang. 

Join us for ‘The Clothes Play’ at the Town Hall Theatre from the comfort of your own home May 22nd at 8pm → https://tht.ie/3586/uniform