Livestreamed on this page on Tuesday 11 August 2020 at 9 a.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 10 a.m. EDT (Boston, UTC -4) / 15:00 BST (London, UTC +1) / 16:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC +2).
A Conversation with Igor Golyak and Wang Chong (ASL-interpreted)
Discussing the online performance State vs. Natasha Banina and the state of online theatre
ArtsEmerson presented A Conversation with Igor Golyak and Wang Chong livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Tuesday 11 August 2020 at 9 a.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 10 a.m. EDT (Boston, UTC -4) / 15:00 BST (London, UTC +1) / 16:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC +2).
Arlekin Players artistic director Igor Golyak and Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental’s artistic director Wang Chong join us to discuss State vs. Natasha Banina and the state of online theatre. “The online world is not a mirror of the world,” Chong recently wrote, “It is the world. In this world, theater artists can start from scratch with just their bare hands.” Golyak and Chong will unpack this idea of starting from scratch as well as taking questions from the audience.
Susan Chinsen: Good morning, good evening, and thank you for tuning in. My name is Susan Chinsen and I am one of the producers at ArtsEmerson in Boston, Massachusetts on the unceded land of the Massachusetts Wampanoag and Nipmuc peoples. Before we begin Adrienne Wong of SpiderWebShow in Ontario, Canada has written this digital land acknowledgement, which I'd like to share. Since our activities are shared digitally to the internet, let's also take a moment to consider the legacy of colonization embedded within the technologies, structures and ways of thinking we use every day. We are using equipment and high speed internet not available in many Indigenous communities. Even the technologies that are central to much of the art we make, we have significant carbon footprints contributing to changing climate that disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples worldwide. I invite you to join me in acknowledging all this as well as our shared responsibility to make good of this time and for each of us to consider our roles in reconciliation, decolonization and allyship. One of the privileges of working with artists from around the world is finding opportunities to connect with them. Today we'll be hearing a conversation between Boston-based Igor Golyak and Beijing-based Wang Chong to discuss their experiences making online theatre and the opportunities they see as we navigate making theatre while we are unable to gather in person. If you have questions, please feel free to submit them using hashtag the future of online theatre. If you're watching on Facebook, feel free to chime in, in the comments. Now I'd like to introduce our moderator today, Annie Levy. Annie is a theatremaker and director whose work often revolves around mythology, historical turning points and scientific breakthroughs. She has worked all over the world from Brooklyn to Taiwan. She is a founding member of the World Wide Lab, a member of the Lincoln Center Director's Lab and associate member of SDC. Currently she is the artistic director of Emerson Stage at Emerson College. Take it away, Annie.
Annie Levy: Thank you so much, Susan. Before we start today's conversation, it's my honor to introduce our guests and to share a brief glimpse of their work. Igor Golyak is the Arlekin Players Theatre Artistic Director and he's directed the New York Times Critic's Pick, the "State vs. Natasha Banina", which carved out a new live performance genre in the age of virtual theatre, performing to a worldwide audience in 40 U.S. states and 60 countries. Igor received the 2020 Elliot Norton Award for outstanding directing for Arlekin's "The Stone" and was also nominated in the same year for his direction of Arlekin's "The Seagull". He is an associate professor at the Boston Conservatory and has spent over a decade teaching the art of theatre. He is the founder of the Igor Golyak Acting Studio and artistic director of Arliken Players Theatre, which has won numerous awards in the United States and internationally and he has received an Elliot Norton Award for his production of "Dead Man's Diary" at ArtsEmerson. Arlekins Players Theatre is a multicultural, multinational collaborative that is growing year to year in the number of audience members, company actors and volunteers. His theatre has been invited to perform on famous stages at world renowned festivals all over the world, including Moscow Art Theatre, the festival of Yerevan in Europe in Armenia, New York City, Chicago, Lviv Ukraine, Monaco and many others. Wang Chong is the founder and artistic director of Beijing-based performance group Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental. In 2008, Wang founded Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental and in 2012 he started the Chinese New Wave Theater Movement by presenting a series of new performances with innovative use of body, live video and sound. In April, 2020, he directed an online performance of "Waiting for Godot" with four actors performing live from three cities including Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19 that was still in lockdown. The performance attracted a record breaking 290,000 audience members. With his unique touch, he has also translated and directed Chinese premiers, including Müller's "Hamletmachine", Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" and Woody Allen's "Central Park West". He has been noted by The Beijing News as a New Artist of the Year and has received the Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University, the Asian Cultural Council Fellowship in New York and the Han Suyin Award for Young Translators. Now let's take a moment to get familiar with their work. Take it away, Travis.
[A pre-recorded video plays.]
Actor: Man, it was like I knew something was gonna happen. Natasha, you're the baddest damn chick on earth. Would you marry me? He's mine, he was mine. I had no intention of giving him away and then she comes and voila. And then Valery asks me, Natasha, what is your dream?
[A different prerecorded video beings playing.]
Wang Chong: Okay. Dear friends from North Rhine-Westphalia and friends from all over the world. Hello, I am Wang Chong, a theatre director based in Beijing. I am here now in Beijing and today is June 19, 2020. What I really wanna share with you guys is the situation of theatre and cinema in Beijing. Cinema has been shut down since early February. Vice president of a big cinema chain just committed suicide, which is a huge tragedy. He must be very desperate to see this situation. This situation might not be caused by COVID-19 only, maybe the authority doesn't think cinema and theatre are essential parts of this society anymore. You can't watch it at home, you can't do it at home, maybe you don't have to exist, that's the attitude I guess. Anyways, cinema workers and theatre people are suffering in China. As of my practice recently in early April, I staged online theatre performance "Waiting for Godot" with four actors performing at home in three different cities, including the epicenter of the pandemic, Wuhan. Our "Waiting for Godot" performed through two nights, Act One in the first, Act Two in the second. We had nearly 300,000 audience in total for one performance "Waiting for Godot”. [Performance recordings invariably play as Wang continues speaking.] This is a record-breaking number in Chinese theatre. This is very inspiring process for all of us because when you are hit by COVID-19, theatre cannot be theatre anymore. But at the same time, our innovation may open up a new space, which could be online theatre performance, could be virtual reality, could be anything. Our creativity has no boundary. After the success of "Waiting for Godot", I published online, the "Online Theatre Manifesto". I wish more artists and theatre practitioners could be part of this. We have to face the new reality and traditional theatre might not be that solution. Currently I am preparing our next online theatre performance, "The Plague 2.0". Obviously it's going to be an adaptation of Camus' novel. I wish to have six actors from six different countries performing in their own cities. So "The Plague 2.0" is not going to be a plague in one North African town. Instead, it's going to be about the pandemic that we're facing. I hope that more partners could join this project so that we can create it together. I know we're not as big as the stars of the One World concert, but our hearts are no smaller. I wish you guys get a chance to see this upcoming online performance, "The Plague 2.0" and I wish the best of you guys. Take care.
[The video ends.]
Annie: Thank you. I want to invite our two guests to join us and let's start talking about this new form of theatre that we're all on the forefront of. Good morning, good evening. Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation. I wanna start by defining our terms. When people hear the phrase online theatre, they often think about prerecorded performances from before the pandemic that different artists and companies are now sharing out from their archive. But that's not what we're talking about here. So to start us off, how do you both define online theatre? What do you want your audience to anticipate when they get a ticket to an online theatre performance? Igor, would you like to start?
Igor Golyak: Sure. Hello, everyone. Very nice to be here with all of you. Hello, Chong. Hello Annie. You know, I was brought up in the Russian school of directing and one of the first things that they taught us was the fact that when you enter a new space, a physical space, you have to, you have to understand what is the energy flow. What is the best way to affect audience from this stage using this architecture, if it's round audience seating or is it just direct? It's completely different ways to affect audience. And as a director, as you come into a space, you have to understand what are the best uses for the space. How can you use it the best way possible to ignite the material that you're staging and with, when the pandemic hit you know, with our new virtual space, it's the same process for me, anyway. You come into a space, this time it's virtual space and you try to understand what's the best way to affect people, to ask the questions and be effective in asking those questions and getting those, getting the response from the audience that you need in this virtual space. So be it virtual space or in-person space, I think the approach is exactly the same for me.
Annie: Chong, what about for you?
Chong: Yeah, as I wrote in the "Online Theatre Manifesto", recorded videos of theatre is not theatre, it's merely bad copies and passing shadows of theatre. It definitely has academic value and historical value, but it's not a performance here in the sense that it's happening now, it's happening in this shared virtual space. It's like we can have a conversation right now, 12 hours apart and we can have this conversation in very different locations, but this conversation has to be here and now. Here being in this Zoom room, being in this streaming, being, but it has to be like theatre in this way. So you can have definitely different definitions of theatre, but online theatre, but my definition would be it's created online, it's created for an online audience, it's live, it's in this shared space, shared online space, be it Zoom, Facebook, virtual reality, other forms, in text forms, but it has to be here and now. This is the essence of theatre.
Annie: Thank you. Yes, the importance of that ingredient of liveliness is something that is such a huge part of online theatre, even when we're using technology in a different way, which leads me to my next question. I'm curious, what was your company's relationship with incorporating digital components into your work before the pandemic? Did you or your company frequently utilize digital technology in your work or did you avoid digital technology?
Igor: We had used digital technology, "The Stone", as you mentioned this year, we had eight television sets and it was live and it was altered, it was two realities. I think it fit the play very well, where there is a reality, there's the truth reality that people are digging up from the ground there. And there's the reality that's kind of mirroring this reality at the same time. And those two realities can be completely different. What's interesting when there is a combination of live theatre and this screen reality is that although the camera and you see the same things, you actually see different things. So the camera could be used as an additional reality that's created, that's also absorbed and used for the themes of the play. That has been my experience.
Annie: Thank you. Chong, what about for you?
Chong: This is a great question because I've been doing it since the very beginning of my career. I've been doing it actually since my pre-career years. You know, when I was a graduate student at University of Hawaii, my very first directing work was "Hamletism", it's a adaptation of Hamlet, but I used heavily recorded videos and digitally created videos in that work. And in my third work "e-Station" I started to use live video, later on I used 13 cameras in one work, for example, in this "Constellations" that we just presented in Under The Radar festival in 2020 in New York, we had 13 cameras, 12 of them form 12 o'clocks around a round platform and the other one was in the audience. So the two actors only needed to remember where they should walk to and where they, which camera they should be performing to, so that they can walk out a cinematic visual presentation on the stage and at the same time, you get to see their physicality, their relationships with cameras and so forth. So I was a big fan of video-based theatre when I, before I studied theatre, then I very soon adopted this approach as a director.
Annie: Great, it sounds like you were both in a position to really embrace this opportunity of utilizing technology in this different way. Igor, you already mentioned a little bit about the questions that a director asks themselves when they move into a space. And I'm curious, what questions do you both find you need to ask yourself when you embark on creating a piece of online theatre? You know, how is the way of making work online different? What has stayed the same? For example, in the "State vs. Natasha Banina", the role of the audience is very, very specific and it's such a large part of the, of the way to experience the piece. I'm curious if figuring out a role for the audience is now a much larger part of your thinking as a director, or what questions do you find that you need to ask yourself now that you're working online?
Igor: In my opinion, in a lot of ways, European theatre or theatre in general is going, is revolutionizing again and changing. And I think one of the revolutions that has already started in theatre is the role of the audience, the role of the audience is no longer, it seems like generally in theatre, is no longer a buyer of art, it's more of a collaborator, where the theme or the message of the play almost depends on the audience. Where the audience is absolutely needed to make the play work. So the audience is a co-conspirator or a collaborator of the piece where they make the piece, the audience make the piece. And I think it's a general, generally what's happening in theatre right now where it's going, because being a buyer of theatre, it's no longer, it's no longer interesting. It's very traditional and I don't think it speaks to today's world. So the questions that I asked myself are exactly the same as how do we take, how do we take this play and how do we effectively, professionally effectively use the medium that we have be it a physical theatre or a virtual space. But the role of the audience is very important no matter where you're staging, virtually or in person.
Annie: Thank you. Chong, what about for you, questions that you ask yourself specific to audience involvement or otherwise?
Chong: Yeah, what's specific of this year's theatre practice is that online theatre is not just another technological gig, if you create such a work in 2019, it might have been. But this is 2020. We have a very heavy context in this world that every audience knows. So every audience comes to your online performance knowing that theatres are closed. How can you, you know, still create a work using this platform? So you have to keep that in mind as a creator. In our "Waiting for Godot", definitely the whole interpretation of the Beckett's text has been directed at the current situation of the world. You know, we have the two leading characters talking to each other in different homes. They are obviously, you know, separated by the COVID and they are waiting for something to happen so that they can free themselves. Some, this something might be the end of lockdown in their community or in their city or the invention of the vaccine or the zero number of weekly increase of patients. It could be anything. It's more specific than the grand philosophical Godot that Beckett has imagined. And in our version we definitely used all sorts of spaces in the actors' homes. And what's so different from creating a work on the stage is that the actors were on their own. They had to manage where they move their iPad or MacBook, they had to manage what light should be added over, what over where and how do they smoothly move such a camera to the next scene? How do they make the transitions, is the time enough? And they lead the audience, explore their own living and now artistic basis. These are very new creative experiences for us. And it's also very new for our audience.
Igor: Can I just say, can I just say something? I think I just find it so incredibly interesting and I don't think there is a better way if there's, I don't think there's a better way to stage right now "Waiting for Godot" than from Wuhan. In-person theatre cannot compete with this idea of "Waiting for Godot" from the epidemic from the center of this epidemic. I think just this idea, directorially, just blows up the content to a completely new level where there's nothing that can compete with that right now. Because this is theatre because it's taking a point of pain and it's taking, and it's taking the, you know, the epicenter of all of the pain of this world and bringing something to us and we're all waiting for Godot right now. All of us are waiting for Godot, right? But it's coming from Wuhan. It's, there's nothing in theatre that can compete with this idea, I think right now. There's no better way to stage "Waiting for Godot" right now, in my opinion. Then unfortunately I don't see the production, but the idea is just incredible that the dramaturgy is inserted in this idea and it has to work. And I think that this is real theatre. It's no matter if it's site-specific or it's, I don't know, documentary or inclusive or whatever, it's all theatre. And this is I think very important that theatre has different representations. Unlike a book or a movie, a movie is just, you watch it on one screen. If it's two screens, that's already video art. With theatre you can have the representations of it in so many different, with actors, without actors. But the main question that theatre asks, is what do you express right now? What's the point of pain you express right now? And what's the best medium to express it? And I think in this idea, as I'm hearing about "Waiting for Godot" from Wuhan, there's nothing better in theatre that can out-think this idea, I think, so.
Annie: Our current limitations—
Chong: Thank you very much for your comments.
Annie: Our current limitations are freeing and sort of helping us create the most truthful ways of telling these stories. I'm really, I'm curious and just from the clip, it looked like for "Waiting for Godot", you see a lot of online theatre right now, trying to make it seem like actors are all in the same space and it looked like in your Godot that you embraced the fact that each actor was in a different space entirely. With the "State vs. Natasha", the use of space and the sort of magic that can be created in a confined space is a very active part in the, of the performance. I'm curious, how has your thinking about space and its limitations and its freedoms changed as you continue to work in the online theatre medium? Has anything, have you noticed a shift in how you're thinking? I'm just curious of how that's all changed over the course of a couple of months. Have you gotten a chance develop this? Chong, do you wanna start us off?
Chong: Oh yeah. I think a big realization for us is that what is, what is presence? What is here and now, you know, what is here for example, what is the here in our conversation now? Is it in my room? Do we have to be in my room to be here? Or do you have to be in your rooms in order to be watching us? No, we're all part of this. We're all here in this virtual space, we're all here and now. This is the big realization. So when you create a work for online theatre, you don't have to be pretending that the audience and the performers are in the same room and you don't have to be pretending that the performers are in the same room, because they are not, there's no way that you can create such a, you know, a reality, the real reality is that we're in different cities, we're in different homes, but we're here and now in this conversation.
Annie: Thank you. Igor, what about for you? Any discoveries about the use of space that evolved over the course of working this way?
Igor: Well, when I started again, we started rehearsing "State vs. Natasha", we rehearsed it and then about two, three days before the opening, we understood that it's not working. None of it is working because for the issue that the audience didn't take part in it and it was we were just competing with film and this medium is completely different, we can't be competing with film, film has much bigger budgets than me in my living room. So we had to create, we have to insert something where the audience takes part, in that the audience plays a role, the audience is active, it's happening here and now, live. And the audience knows that it's, that they can be called upon to participate. Therefore, you know, some audience start out with a drink like this and then by the end, they move in because they know that they can be, they're needed for the production. Unlike when you're watching Netflix, you're not necessarily needed for the film to work.
Annie: Thank you. So I want, I know the audience hasn't gotten a chance to see this yet, but Chong, you created and released an Online Theatre Manifesto, which I encourage everyone to sit down and take a look at. And in the manifesto you state that theatre has been, big surprise, revealed to be nonessential. I'm curious, what are your thoughts on how theatre can become essential again?
Chong: Yeah, I think every artist right now is trying to answer that question and we see a lot of just by looking at the theatre section of New York Times, I can see a lot of answers, including the performance of "State vs. Natasha Banina" and some other online theatre works. We're all answering this question. This is really good, we haven't stopped. We haven't been waiting for the miracle to happen. We all provide what we think about the current situations. And we are all in a way, creating something like what Peter Brook has coined as Immediate Theatre. We have to, you know, make something happen. We have to make it work. And my version, my answers are "Waiting for Godot" in April and "The Plague 2.0" in 2021. In that work, I'm imagining a performer in Wuhan and a performer in New York and a performer in Europe and three other performers in three other different countries, so it's gonna be really about this pandemic, it's about here and now, it's about the problems we're facing and the problems that theatre artists are facing. So this is definitely, as Igor has said, this is definitely not film industry, this is what theatre people can do.
Annie: Thank you. Igor, what about for you? Do you, I don't know if you agree that theatre has been revealed to be not essential in these times, but you know, what are, what do you think needs to happen for theatre to become the essential force that it potentially could be in the future? Is there any steps that you see being taken collectively or individually to make theatre much more essential to a larger perception?
Igor: It’s a difficult question. I don't know. I don't know what it needs to do. I think what theatre needs to do is relate to people, as Chong said in today's world here and now and speak to them about today's truths. And in the forms of today's language, where theatre has to have the breath of today, the intake and the, the inhale and exhale of the atmosphere that we live in today. We can't just, the worst thing that can happen is we reopen theatres and somebody finds a vaccine. We reopen theatres and we go back to, you know, traditional theatre as is, then it becomes irrelevant. It has to stay relevant, look at how, you know, the weapons of the world have changed so much since the fifties, but theatre, a lot of times has remained the same. Weapons that kill each other, you know. So has to stay today, it has to be relevant. Then it becomes essential, if it's relevant. If it's a relic of the past, if it's a museum, then it's harder to raise money for that.
Chong: I totally agree. If you look at the major theatre movements in history, you know, it's all about the here and now in their times. Theatre is never the same after World War II, for example, and theatre shouldn't be the same after and during this pandemic.
Annie: Yeah, we're going to move to a new genre, new ism after we come out of this, we're going to need to. Another question that also comes from our audience is what do you wish to see incorporated into theatre in the future? What if we created an experience now in online theatre that we hope we continue to carry over, I suppose, both philosophically and perhaps practically and technically? Igor, do you wanna take the first crack?
Igor: Sure, sure. I think the main thing, the main approach, I also teach at Boston Conservatory Acting Laboratory. And one of the main takeaways I think for last semester for my students was to remain flexible, to remain creative in any circumstance, because we have to be generative artists. We can't be theatre, okay, this is the way we've been doing theatre, theatre has to be reinvented every day for it to be alive. And that's the main takeaway I think for my students and for me and it should be for the rest of the theatre world. Theatre has to be relevant today and flexible and express today's world with today's media, not complaining, but using it as a springboard, using it as a springboard for new inventions, new inventions of theatre where it speaks to me. Where Godot never comes to Wuhan.
Chong: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think what we have to note is that it's not easy at the same time to make your theatre practice flexible. It's not easy as a theatre artist to make yourself immediate and that's a big challenge for any of us. It's not that I'm speaking right now. It would mean that I have, you know, I have solved all the problems, no. I also have my artistic past. I also have that tradition of theatre heavily in myself. In my brains, in my everyday practice, but we have to question ourselves every day. We have to, you know, ask again and again, is it current? Am I innovating? Are we speaking the immediate truth to the audience? We have to ask ourselves a lot of questions like that in order to be here and now.
Igor: And I think, can I just mention one more thing? And I think the worst would be two possible bad outcomes would be to do theatre as it was done before the pandemic. And the second one, no, it's exactly the opposite. We should do a lot of cameras in our productions. Maybe no cameras in our productions, but it's the approach that's very important. It's not about using more technology or less technology. Technology is very difficult to use and very difficult to make it relevant because technology in theatre, you know, it has to be just perfect in a in-person production for it to work because it has been done so many times, it's also become somewhat of tradition. So the takeaway is in no way, okay, let's use more technology in our productions. It's only a way, it's only a tool to express something meaningful. Only if you cannot live without it, then you should use it. But the takeaway is in the flexibility, is in the approach, is in sensing, is inhaling and exhaling today's world.
Annie: A question that I hear a lot floating around when different theatre practitioners get together is once it's safe to assemble again, will online theatre continue to exist as its own art form? Or will it be folded back into theatre that happens in a theatre space? Igor, I've heard you speak in the past a little bit about where you might see the future of online theatre specifically for your company. Would you speak a little bit to that? Do you see online theatre sticking around as its own entity or being folded in completely to theatre, as we used to know it?
Igor: I think it's definitely here to stay. It's the proof of concept, look at 300,000 people came to see, that's a pretty good house.
Igor: It’s a pretty good house. I don't know many theatres in Boston that have that large of house and you know. So the proof of concept has happened. I think we like it or not, it's gonna exist. You know, there's gonna be better versions of it and there's gonna be not so great versions just like in live theatre, there's better versions and not so great. I think this is gonna to continue, I think it's convenient. I think it's equitable and I also think that it's another door to the theatre, you know. In one of our productions of "State vs. Natasha", we had an audience member mention that, you know, I have a young daughter, I have my wife and it's very difficult for us to get out to see a theatre in Downtown in Boston where ticket prices are hundred bucks each, then we have to hire a babysitter, then we have to hire, get there, get back, find parking and so forth. And it's, the commitment is so big for us right now to go to the theatre and for me to just, oh and I haven't been to the theatre in a while and it's just for me to open up a computer and see a show, the commitment is so small because I can close the computer. So as one of the another audience members formulated it, it's a new door to the theatre. I think it's a new door to the theatre where people can exempt and she also said, you know, now I'm interested in your aesthetic I want to come to see your in person shows. Otherwise she would never have made her way out to Needham, Massachusets, if anyone knows where that is.
Annie: Chong, what about for you once there's a vaccine and we're in the future, do you see online theatre as becoming part of your practice separate from theatre that might happen in a, live in a theatre, or is this something that you see yourself folding together in the future?
Chong: I definitely see a future of online theatre because we can do so many things in our lives online. We can manage work online. We can talk to people in another city online, we can, you know, save our most precious data, pictures, memories online. We can do so many things that we cannot do offline in the manner of the online, so it's the same. We can do so many theatrical things online, which we cannot do offline with some things. For example, you can talk to the audience in theatre, yes. But you can talk to the audience in another way in online theatre, just as we saw, just as I saw in "State vs. Natasha Banina". The work talked to the online theatre audience in a way that cannot be done in a real theatre. So definitely online theatre has a future. It has its own aesthetics, but maybe not in 2020 yet, but with more artistic practice from all over the world, I can see that.
Annie: Great, a question came in from the audience. Both of you have already spoken to this a little bit, where do you see online theatre in five years? And are there, what are the barriers to getting there? So this is, this is online theatre not in the immediate future, but with real staying power, do either one of you wanna take a stab at imagining what that future online theatre looks like?
Chong: I just, I cannot address that question directly, but I cannot get rid of this image from my mind from time to time that one day performers, an online theatre performance may happen in the space. Whereas the audience are watching it from this planet or another planet or the online theatre happened somewhere and the audience are watching it in the North Pole. I seriously have these images in my mind and we're at the beginning, perhaps of World War 2 and we don't know how long the war will last. Maybe the vaccine would come early '21, maybe it comes the effective one comes out 10 years later, you don't know. So you don't know the development of online theatre. If the worst scenario happens, then online theatre might be the only legitimate theatre form for several years, which is sad, but it's an opportunity of online theatre. And again, this is only an opportunity for online theatre, without this opportunity, I would still imagine that there's a big future for online theatre because it has its own aesthetics.
Annie: Thank you. Igor, what about for you, five years in the future? What is online theatre?
Igor: I started dreaming to Chong's idea and I already, so I had to come back to earth a little bit. But you know, I think it's a beautiful point that Chong made but also, I think you know, our theatre, our small theatre company is based in Needham, Massachusetts, which is outside of Boston. And, you know, the "State vs. Natasha" again in a lot of ways deals with systems failing young people and you know to speak to that and have a person not from a North Pole and thankfully even Chong came to see, but from Dorchester, you know, or from Roxbury, people that maybe don't drive that would never have come to see that show from nearby and that maybe can't afford to see the show, this makes it much more equitable. And I would never have these audiences from you know, 15, 20 minute drive for us. I would never get these audiences from Dorchester, from Roxbury that come and see something new. It makes it equitable, which is something that I hope this type of virtual performances will bring attention to.
Annie: Right and it's something that the theatre is actively always trying to work towards and now it might actually achieve it in a different way. The audience member was also wondering about barriers to success of online theatre and you know, other than hardware software technology, do either of you get a sense of just attitudes and disbeliefs of the art form as a barrier to the success of online theatre as an art form, as a medium, I'm sure all of you, or both of you have encountered conversations about people who do not believe that online theatre has value, it's just a placeholder. So do you have any sense of the barriers of what audience members need to embrace in order for online theatre to thrive and to flourish?
Igor: Chong, do you want to try?
Chong: Yeah, as Igor has said—Seriously, online theatre is breaking class barriers and very often, especially in the West, you see not only class barriers in theatre, but also a very specific age group and ethnic group are watching theatre, but maybe not other age groups and other ethnic groups are watching theatre. Online theatre might be an opportunity for more audience to be involved and it may open up new spaces, not only the aesthetic ones, but also, you know, viewership, participation, democracy in the art form. It has a lot of opportunities.
Annie: Yeah. Igor, what about for you? Any barriers that you anticipate philosophically?
Igor: As Chong said, there's a Russian fable when one, nevermind . So I don't know barriers. I, you know, there's so many barriers for artists in life. Like it would be strange for Chong and I not to have barriers, like it's impossible. So, and you know, the proof of concept 300,000 people came to see, what else do you want to, like, when are you gonna have a house like that? Like, so the proof of concept has already happened. The people that don't believe in it, that's fine. It's not about belief, it's about what you want to do and how you think, what do you think about expressing the play in the specific, with using a specific medium. It's like making, it's about making an artistic choice and it's my artistic choice. I don't have to have people tell me that it's a good artistic choice or not, but it's my artistic choice to express this point of pain through or love or passion through this medium, so.
Annie: Thank you and another amazing thing about the online theatre art form is it allows for connection and community between artists that otherwise may not have crossed paths. With that in mind, I'm curious. Do you have questions for each other that you want to voice in this space? I know Chong has had an opportunity to watch the "State vs. Natasha", we just saw clips from Godot, so there's not been a lot of time to really study up on each other's aesthetic, but just in hearing each other speak, do you have questions about process for each other?
Chong: Yeah, Igor what's next?
Igor: What’s next? So it's a secret. No it's actually, I'm really, and I just heard that you did this play recently or assembled recently. I'm really curious about "Hamletmachine" by Heiner Müller and I think it's very timely and it relates with the civil unrest that's happening today in our society and it's kind of grassroots, grassroots, you know, upheaval of some sort. It also is, you know, in the "Hamletmachine" there's a character there Hamlet that takes off the masks and says, you know what? Hamlet no longer expresses me. And I think doing it, especially with the Shakespeare company in partnership would be ideal. What about you, Chong?
Chong: Yeah. Besides this, "The Plague 2.0" for '21, I'm also preparing a cyber performance also online using the hottest game of the year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I want to tell a story about class and consumerism in contemporary China using this very lighthearted, cute world of Animal Crossing.
Igor: It’s beautiful, it's a beautiful idea. I went and researched it after you mentioned it in our talk, because I had no idea about this game. I think it's a great idea. There's a virtual theatre attempt by a company in Russia that did, I think they did The Cherry Orchard using Minecraft.
Chong: I saw that news.
Igor: So it's all the characters and you kind of, they build this, their own theatre virtually. So you go into your theatre, into this theatre, this actual theatre, model of this theatre. You roam around, you can roam around with just like in the game and then you can pick a seat for yourself and you're watching, I think the idea is interesting, I don't know if it worked all the way, but yeah. Yeah, it's a great experimentation.
Annie: Great. We're almost out of time. I wanna leave a moment to see if there are any other questions from the audience. While we wait for any questions to come in, I'm curious throughout all of this, what has been the most surprising? What has been the most surprising thing that has happened in both of your journeys in making online theatre, both positive or problematic? What is a surprise that has revealed itself to you in the past couple of months since we went into lockdown? I don't know if either, I'm looking for the light bulb over either of your heads for who to throw that to first, but Igor, do you feel like you want to take that one on surprise?
Igor: Sure, well the surprise was of course when you put on a play you never know what's gonna happen, you never know how the audience is gonna, usually it seems good to you but you never know. And with this, you know, with audience members and Chong has much more experience in this, but with audience members, you know, they start chatting in the beginning of the show and hello from China, from Australia, from Egypt, from what time is it in Egypt? It's 4:00 AM. And then pay tune in to see your show. And it's just an incredible feeling. And the thing is that I see, you know, a lot of YouTubers have already gone much, you know, past through this because they do their live feeds and live things and people appear from different parts of the world, but in a theatre production to have audience from all over the world, this is just a completely new feeling for me and such a huge surprise. I mean, logically it's not surprising because okay, if people are interested, they're gonna buy tickets, but it was just to see people from all over the world in my show and saying hello from Cairo and from Mexico City is just an incredible feeling.
Annie: Thank you. Chong, what about for you? Something that's been surprising in the past couple of months of making art?
Chong: Yeah, especially in the creative process of "Waiting for Godot", you know, I have this vague picture of what our live theatre could be and what our "Waiting for Godot" could be and we stepped into this exploration, but in that creative process we found so much pleasure in creating stuff, using this platform, you can do all sorts of things and the actors, they transformed their own homes into performing areas. And we rented two cars to capture what's special on the street and what's special in Wuhan. And we really captured the vibe of April, 2020. And we really enjoyed that creative process. This is really something besides, you know, all the audience member and audience participation and so forth. I found something that has been missing for a period of time in my career.
Annie: And to end things, any brief pieces of advice you wanna give to young or established artists who have been a little nervous and trepidatious for attempting to make work online? Any piece of advice you can give them to at least dip their toes into the water of online theatre?
Igor: I would, yeah, I would suggest try it, approach it. It's, but forget everything you know about theatre and kind of relearn things as you go. Don't try to put in theatre into this. It's not gonna work, the acting is different, the directing is different. And the thing is that you have the tools that you've been given by your studies and your experience, but you kind of also have to forget it and relearn things, reapproach things, question things that you already know, see, forget that you're a theatre artist, you're an artist. Go forth and create.
Annie: Thank you.
Chong: I just want to say, be bold and be wild.
Annie: Be bold and be wild. I think that's a great way to end things. Igor, Chong, I wanna thank both of you for taking the time to share your experiences and your journey with us. I wanna let everybody who's watching know that you have an opportunity to catch the "State vs. Natasha" tomorrow night and Sunday night, tickets are available at artsemerson.org. Thank you so much everyone. Go out, be brave, be wild, make art and have a good rest of your day.
Chong: Thank you, Annie
Igor: Thank you. Thank you very much, Annie. Bye, have a good day.
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