Immersed in a Pandemic - Environmental
In the first episode of the second season, IMMERSIVE.WORLD acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on new immersive works that have been created or modified during the pandemic and use nature as their main environment and medium.
It's really exciting to, as an audience,
enter a space you might be familiar with,
and because of the creation of performance within it,
see your everyday surroundings in a new light.
And I think it's really exciting and freeing for artists
to respond to environments.
MUNRO: People who come along to these installations
are actually fulfilling the circle of it,
you know, if you think of it as a cake.
The visitors are an essential ingredient
to the whole of the cake.
We all had those memories of going to that sort of
fuel oil tank in the neighborhood
and imagining that it was some kind of, you know, secret base
or a castle.
That's sort of like the purest form of play
that I can remember.
And so devising a work in this way,
responsive to a site, really feels the most like that.
But now we are able to have that kind of play,
the purity of that play, with all the skills
that we have as adults.
ARDEN: It's really exciting taking an audience on a sonic
and visual journey that confuses reality with a dream.
I wanted to do this project not only at this time
when people were locked alone in their rooms
to, like, let people come and view theater safely,
but also view theater in a new way.
I thought there was an opportunity to expand the idea
of what performance can be as we enter this new world
and grapple with the reality of not being able to sit
in a theater next to someone for perhaps a long time.
SCRIBNER: We've seen some really creative ideas come to life online,
and in that regard, it's been very successful,
and theater continues even through the pandemic,
but it really isn't the same theater,
that live in-person experience that you get.
And I knew that I was missing it.
And when I spoke to Michael about his ideas,
I got very excited about what can happen.
JAMES: We started doing the Zoom calls together
leading up to meeting in-person,
and we had very intimate conversations about
difficult subjects with people we didn't know very well.
The thing that was most remarkable about it
was how vulnerable everyone was willing to be with each other.
And we instantly had a community.
And by the time we came together in person,
it felt as though I knew some of these people
even more deeply than cast members of shows
that I'd been in for years and years.
SCRIBNER: It wasn't like the other Zoom calls we were having,
it wasn't, "are you okay" conversations about the wild,
crazy things happening in the world, the news.
It was actually "how are you doing,"
and a real holding of space and listening.
And it fostered a community over
this video conferencing that was more intimate
than most rehearsal processes.
People were really listening to one another
and feeling comfortable to share about many topics and prompts
that Michael came up with art and commerce,
relationships, COVID, dreams, our rituals.
From those conversations which we recorded,
we started to kind of shape an idea
that this piece might have something to do with
what is happening in the world and potentially our dreams,
our dreams for what we want
and our dreams that come to us subconsciously
in the day or in the night.
MIENTUS: We wanted to really find all the different ways
we could think of to safely make theater.
And so we came to these three different modes
of making theater, the first of which was drive
through where you would stay in your car,
and the technologies that we worked with
would guide you to sites,
and you would sit in your car and watch something
and maybe even hear it by using your radio.
The second mode was this walking section where you
and only the pod that you came with
would walk guided by similar technology,
but on foot around to various sites
where you would watch something from a safe distance.
And then the third was getting out of your car,
walking and being in a safe distance,
but with other audience in view, also in a safe distance
to watch something completely unamplified
and without technology of any kind.
As our protagonist is sort of going deeper and deeper
into her dream and into her subconscious,
she kind of goes back in time in terms of technology,
or at least in the audience's experience of the play
via their technology,
and there was something in that of returning to something primal
as we are examining ways to save this, like, primal art form.
HARRIS: A big part of my job through that process
was beginning communications with an app that Michael found
that allows you to stream Netflix or Google Drive videos
or things like that with your friends
and watch it simultaneously with them.
This has been a really great way to start using technology
in theater and explore the process of,
you know, really integrating and making an app
or a piece of technology a piece of theater.
ARDEN: Letting an audience actually move through a space
and stumble upon scenes, dances,
moments with such a personal and private sonic experience
is really, really thrilling.
We want to empower the audience
to, like, be an active participant in the piece.
I think that's what is fun for people.
It's, like, part scavenger hunt, part play, part concert,
all of the above.
Peter and Van, who are video and sound designers,
were able to fill in the structure
of how we were going to be filming,
providing sound, a soundscape for the videos
that each audience member would go through.
That process, that logic puzzle was basically 16 cars,
all in different locations, simultaneously moving
with no one ever interacting with another car,
unless they were pulling up at the same time
to see a scene simultaneously.
Providing driving directions
from each location to the next,
providing walking instructions from each to the next.
We didn't have much time to do it, so we threw it together,
and sometimes that's the best way.
With limitations comes maximum creativity and problem solving.
HARRIS: For me, the biggest thing was not only the collaboration
and the camaraderie created within our company,
but also just charging forward and creating theater again,
to be able to create and think through
and devise a new form of theater
is really important for this time,
because we may be doing this for a little bit
before we get "back to normal."
ARDEN: Being able to respond to the time we're living in,
the place we are in with a variety of tools
and technologies that might exist tomorrow
and didn't today is really exciting.
So I would love for this to be a company
that is able to affect change
through telling immediate stories
and making immediate connection
and personal connections with audiences.
MUNRO: I've been interested now
since I was a, you know, little kid.
When I think back to my youth, there were all these pointers,
you know, my interest in natural daylight's effects,
you know, I was always, watching the water,
watching the sea.
I grew up by the sea.
The light has always made me feel very joyful.
It is an easy medium to work with in the sense
of it's very direct, and really it's direct,
it works with your emotions very quickly.
It was obvious that somehow this need to be involved
in light was going to come through at some stage.
I've always been intrigued about, you know,
what defines one man's life
and how do you describe a life.
You're always trying to pin time down or pin a place down.
You know, in fact, most of the things we do
is sort of almost trying to still time.
What I'm trying to do through the work
that I do is to remember an experience and express it
in a particular way
to bring back the sort of, what I call, the smell of it,
the essence, you know, the emotional essence.
I was living in Australia at the time with my girlfriend,
and we decided we'd do this road trip together.
We came across -- obviously Uluru is
this very well-known landmark,
it's right in the center of Australia.
It's sort of big, red, huge sandstone monolith
that sort of stands out of the desert
a little bit like a cake mold,
and sculpturally it's extraordinary.
This was an all-around experience.
I sort of felt it was coming under my feet,
all around me, above.
It was almost like a vibration in the air.
I felt that I was extremely alive.
I know it sounds a bit --
I couldn't really understand it.
I just felt very, very alive and very happy.
And I remember thinking, "God, I would love to describe that."
I'd have my sketchbook out.
I have these things going all the time,
and I scribble down this idea.
I kind of described it, a series of vertical poles
that were going to do this kind of kinetic dance,
come up with the light in the evening,
and go to bed with the dawn,
say there was this sort of sunny lumiere.
Well, that's not a sound, but just a light dance
that I thought might get somewhere
close to expressing the feelings.
And then I got back to the UK, and I tried to describe that,
but the technology was way above me.
It would cost thousands and thousands of pounds.
A number of years later,
I'm still obsessed with this idea,
and I was experimenting with fiber optics,
and I suddenly realized I had the medium
that would express this idea, because really what it was
was this feeling that there was energy kind of
leaking out of the ground into the sky.
And a fiber is really a root system that is illuminated.
It really has this feeling of energy in the light form.
And it's very gentle
You know, it tends to get a very positive response from people.
And I feel it's because it doesn't need,
it's a simple thing.
Look, if you think about it,
it's just lights that sway in the breeze.
It creates its own magic,
so I don't think one needs to overlay too much.
It's not a deep and meaningful piece.
Well, it's about your heart --
I mean, that's as deep and meaningful -- and your spirit.
I love this idea of freedom of creativity
where you don't know what your next step is going to be.
It's a very real time process
so that you're making almost without no knowledge
of what's going to come in the end result.
But you've got some idea because you are dealing
with a particular system of materials.
We've just done an installation about three weeks ago.
We've created this mile-long ribbon of light
with about 66,000 CDs.
They're attached to a cattle fence
that run along the ridge of a the hill,
and they catch the sun in the morning.
It creates a kind of rainbow.
We've been doing this for the last --
well, it took me about two and a half months to create it.
And we've done it for the NHS, the workers,
the hospital people who are doing so much
to help people at the moment.
I was always finding ways to create things
to light houses or gardens
and then started making my own pieces of work
just to keep the family alive.
And then eventually I was fortunate enough
to have enough work or commissions
to be able to become a full-time artist,
which was my dream when I was about, you know, a kid.
Well, life is very short, I mean, and it's no cliché,
but, you know, it really goes by in a flash.
And I say to my kids, I said, "Just be enthusiastic,
If people go for money and fame and fortune,
it's a disaster, you know, do things that you love
and you're passionate about.
And you know what?
You might not be the richest person in the world
or the most famous, it doesn't matter.
But you will be a happy person and a satisfied person,
and you'll lead a much more fulfilled life."
KOLA: I've been working with light about 20 years now.
I live on the eastern part of Finland, really isolated.
We have like four months
that there are only three hours of light during the day.
It's extreme in terms of lighting,
so that keeps the perspective on,
and that's the basis how I learn actually.
I have only one tool for me, and it's fast imagination,
like, I've been a bit overactive since I was a kid,
I don't learn by reading,
I need to do stuff, how I learn.
And because it's a fast imagination,
like, a light is a perfect tool for that.
So I can make things that you can see it also.
[ Laughs ]
This was for our independence,
100 years celebration, and that theme was,
let's light up the whole country.
Then I started to think, "But what makes us Finnish?"
And I think number-one value for 99% of Finnish people
is pure nature.
The series started from the eastern part of Finland.
There's an old, historic castle.
It's never been lighted, so the show was on.
I wanted to use only white and blue colors,
because that's our nation's flag,
but it's also pure water,
we have more lakes than any other country.
And it started from the colors.
So first I used projection,
and I changed the scale of the castle.
So the bricks were, like, with light,
and the bricks were like 20 times bigger
than the actual bricks.
So it changed the, like, really the scale of the castle.
I did a mountain in the north of Finland,
this is 600 kilometers above Arctic Circle.
I didn't have actually any clue how to do it on technical-wise,
so there wasn't any light sources available
that can give that much power.
So we have to eliminate also the technology, how to do it.
So that was pushing boundaries in terms of scale,
in terms of extreme.
The lighted area was 260 kilometers.
There's no roads, there's no access, it's a sacred mountain,
and it was -40 degrees in the winter [Laughs]
so that was a bit tricky.
And then I went down 1,300 kilometers to our old capital.
We did the castle inside 360 degree,
we did outside 360 degree.
I used aerial acrobats, dancers, fire people,
like pyrotechnics, a bit, and multiple soundscapes.
And that was actually our Independence Day.
I got more TV time than the president, I think.
[ Laughs ]
It's always light-specific,
I will only adapt to the space.
Working with nature,
the elements are there already,
so do we want to make a contrast with nature or play with it?
That's of course, a decision always.
I visited Stonehenge in the first time, actually, like 2017,
and I was thinking, like, you know,
"Nobody got access to do this.
It's never been done with lighting.
The stones have been there for 4,500 years or so.
[ Chuckles ]
This is the spot.
I proposed that we do it on UNESCO's World Heritage Day
on one of the amazing sites,
and so this story line about that's done,
we can at least stop at this unique place
without leaving any marks to that site.
There is lots of energy in the place,
so I wanted to create, like,
a high-power, like, energy place,
so create like a pyramid on top of the Stonehenge,
'cause it had to be, like, really simple,
'cause this is not about light,
it's about respecting the place, actually.
Keep it simple, you know, create water,
create basic elements on the place,
and that was about it.
Basically, it was an impossible job do.
So the time frame that was, we had 12 hours,
we can go start at 8 o' clock in the evening
when the tourists are gone,
and we have to be out at 8 o' clock in the morning.
It was top-secret mission also,
'cause we cannot publish anything or promote anything
'cause there might be like 200,000 people coming to see,
'cause you could see this about 35 kilometers from Stonehenge,
that there's something happening.
People were calling the BBC
like, you know, that the UFOs had finally landed. [ Laughs ]
Only 23 people saw it live on-site,
but of course, next morning about,
I don't know, 80 and 90 million people on social media,
and it's still spreading and popping up a lot.
This is just the beginning of that scale now
so my scale is a much, much bigger scale.
So I'm thinking of this case as still a proper field testing.
So the aim is to do the Great Wall of China.
And I'm thinking of the history of the Great Wall of China,
so it's total of about 9,000 kilometers.
It needs about six years' preparation,
and I hope the there.
It's getting closer day by day,
and my aim is to push the scale
and to see is there a limit on it.
I don't think so. [ Laughs ]
JAMES: I think this time it's about using this cause,
this very uncertain time in our life to slow down
and ask ourselves questions,
and to say, "Do I need to keep walking down this path
just because it's the one that's clearest in front of me?"
HARRIS: For me, this was an opportunity to collaborate
with a group of people who are eager to create,
and it's not something that we've gotten to do
since March 12th.
So I thought if I could be doing anything in the world right now,
that would be devising a new piece of theater,
a new form of theater with an incredible group of people.
And that's, you know, why I came.
ARDEN: I think actually there's an opportunity to make
an even stronger connection,
even in a time when we when we have to be separate.
SCRIBNER: It worked really well, and luckily we had a great time
at the same time, you know,
it's not always guaranteed that you make good art
and you enjoy yourself and have both
and this beautiful safe space
that we created during a very stressful pandemic,
amidst civil unrest and gross politics in the world.
We were able to be here and create art,
and it was just the best gift.
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- VisualIMMERSIVE.WORLD traverses art outdoors and the interiors of the mindApril 27, 2021