In times of crisis, establishment attitude towards the arts seems to be non-existent more than dismissive. Often treated as a luxury, the true healing power of art is ignored despite a constant need for cultural remedy. The theatre industry has suffered tremendously because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with theatre spaces barely managing to stay afloat.
But art persists. Theatre production companies around the world have survived by streaming productions via Youtube or Zoom, attracting younger audiences more familiar with digital platforms.
Space Girl, a Hyperloop Theatre production, takes the Zoom call play to another level. Originally created for the Notable Acts Theatre festival in summer 2020, Space Girl tells the story of a girl who discovers she can float above the world. Escaping the earth, she broadcasts her message down to earth’s citizens.
Armin Panjwani, one of the actresses in Space Girl, says the play is unlike other Zoom productions.
“Something like this, it makes you really relate to the content. In Space Girl, the concept is about escaping the world, and during a time like COVID, you want to escape the world,” says Panjwani.
To get the inside scoop, The Brunswickan spoke to the play’s writer and director, Jean-Michel Cliche.
What is it that makes Space Girl unique, different from other Zoom shows?
Digital theatre has become a bit of a placeholder for what we want theatre to be. So a lot of the shows taking place on Zoom are being pre-recorded. At Hyperloop, we wanted to challenge ourselves and create something that was a bit more – pushing the boundaries of what digital theatre can be.
Because of the approach that we’re taking, it is a little more interactive with the audience. We wanted to use the connectivity of the internet to our advantage. So the audience is taken on a choose-your-own-adventure path.
The audience gets to create their own experience. At the end, there is a major choice that needs to be made for Space Girl, and the audience gets to vote what that is.
What are some of the unique challenges you’ve encountered putting on a play during a pandemic?
In theatre, we’ve all gotten used to the process. So one of the biggest challenges is just recreating what that formula looks like. We can’t just throw everything in the regular order.
It’s a lot of recalibrating and constantly thinking of things that we haven’t thought about. Internet connection speed. What happens if a camera breaks during the performance?
Of course, performing during a pandemic is a challenge in itself. Creating a sense of community and the sense of cohesion in a theatre when all the actors are six feet apart, with most wearing masks during the show.
It feels like we’re in a giant playground where we can just try anything. There’s a huge amount of fun, despite all the logistics.
Space Girl is a pandemic play in its form, but can you tell me about how Space Girl addresses the pandemic in its themes or content?
The play takes place in our modern time but never directly addresses the pandemic, although it’s alluded to.
It’s more about how things are just weird and unusual right now, so this character is experiencing the global anxieties of the world.
One of the main themes of the play is that if the world is so strange, so surreal, the rules of the world have been rewritten. Because of that, Space Girl is able to float up into space in a sort of magical realism way.
Do you have plans to take Space Girl further outside the Fredericton region?
The show on Friday [February 26] is sort of our launch of Space Girl. The hope is that we get to work with other festivals and companies throughout Canada, and maybe across the world, that want to produce Space Girl. But we can do that remotely. We just have to set up in our local theatre and give the company the code and the link so they can distribute it to their communities.
Are the theatre pandemic adjustments here to stay?
I certainly hope so. People have been forced to be really creative in the way they approach theatre and to also broaden their concept of what theatre can be. I certainly hope some of the elements stick around.
Tons of people are doing really neat things. TNB, Theatre New Brunswick, is delivering a whole play via postcard. I think we’ve learned a lot and hopefully will make theatre more resilient and less fragile in the future.
What can we expect next from Hyperloop productions?
Right now, our focus is on Space Girl. We want to get it to as many festivals and companies as possible. One of the big interests right now is creating a live experience that is COVID-safe, that would be more of a site-specific experience, putting somebody in a location where they’re interacting with the space.