Restrictions Prompt Innovation in Germany: Living Room Theatre
By Liam Klenk
Rising Covid19 numbers in the late fall of 2020 have caused renewed lockdowns in many countries. This prompts entertainment professionals more than ever to think of new ways to continue to create and perform. Restrictions prompt innovation. In Germany, living room theatre is one such workaround.
The idea is to produce plays which can be easily accessed and viewed by the audience from their couches in their living rooms.
All the spectators need for this is their smartphone.
Throughout 2020, several German theatre groups have produced digital plays. These are part theatre performance, part computer game. As such, they also appeal to a younger generation who will rather take part in an interactive game instead of sitting quietly in an auditorium.
One theatre group which began to produce for people’s living rooms is, for example, the German Media-Theatre-Collective machina eX.
With lockdowns and closed venues, the production process becomes a virtual rather than a tangible event. The artists and producers work on their computers to explore new narrative pathways.
Which brings the added advantage that the production team can easily be located all over the country, or even the world.
The members of the machina eX team admit that under normal circumstances producing a play on the computer might most likely have scared them too much to even get started. But Covid19 forced them to jump in at the deep end.
The new paths they were taking brought many challenges and ultimately also influenced and changed their way of working.
For example, their plays were produced within a shorter time-frame than would have been the case in a theatre venue. On the computer they might produce an entirely new narrative in only a few weeks. Which means less perfectionism.
One member of machina eX, Clara, says, “I learned to be less vain and less fearful. Normally, I’ll want to produce the best play that has ever been on stage. But, at the moment everyone is improvising. Also, the audience is aware of the special circumstances. This means more patience and open-mindedness from both sides. A refreshing change.”
So, how can we imagine a digital performance?
During a digital performance, the audience is not in a public space but rather in their own home. It becomes a living room theatre. The spectators access this virtual theatre through a messenger app.
Most German theatre groups who have ventured into the digital realm are using the Telegram app for this.
In machina eX’s digital play Lockdown, all participants are added to a fictional flat-sharing community chat on Telegram. For the duration of the play they are all flat-mates.
An actor is group admin and sends all members a message that their fictional flat mate Tess hasn’t been seen in many hours. She seems to have disappeared. Normally, this won’t be cause for concern. But during the Covid Lockdown, who knows?
A search for clues begins. Where did she spend her day? Supposedly, she is a bike courier. Which deliveries did she make? And who else was involved?
The Telegram group admin begins sending a flood of messages with clues, website links, photos, voice messages etc.
The audience members who are in the group feel as if they are living a thriller in which they are helping to solve a mystery. If everything goes well with the interactive team work, then they might just find out what Tess is up to.
Each play – or you might call it game – involves three or four actors. The entire play takes approximately two hours. Depending how active the spectators take part, the story will be different each time the online play is performed.
Afterwards, it is possible for all members of the fictional flat-share community to share their thoughts on what they have just experienced.
Overall, the online play generates a feeling of team work and collaboration. Plus, widens the spectators’ horizon from just staring into their phone screens to rather be actively involved in a live theatrical performance and event.
Even before Covid19, involving the audience was always important to the team at machina eX. However, their plays always took place in physical spaces.
Now, machina eX calls their plays “immersive plays which are at the same time walk-in computer games.”
Lockdown was their first play during which everyone sits in their living room theatre at home.
And that, in and of itself, has also proven to be the greatest challenge. How do you replace elements like scenic arts and props which normally aid in creating the ambiance the play takes place in?
The first performances of Lockdown in May 2020 were immediately sold out. Many additional performances of the play have been offered since.
Most likely, machina eX will produce a sequel of Lockdown.
And, who knows how the world of online plays can and will develop. Even virtual or augmented reality might become an element of future productions.