Technical theatre professionals are absolute wizards when it comes to bringing believable worlds to life on stage.
They construct complex sets, operate computers to create dazzling lighting, sound and video effects, and even know how to make actors fly using specialized rigging.
The University of Alberta Department of Drama has some of the best technical theatre training in Canada, having been recognized by MacLean’s magazine as a “Standout” program in their November, 2016, issue.
Recently, students of the Drama 391 Production Lab class showcased their technical theatre training by turning the Second Playing Space theatre inside the Timms Centre for the Arts into an interactive installation. Their assignment was to take four concepts of their choosing — a piece of text, or an image, for example — and interpret them by creating four installations, using what they’d learned in set construction, lighting and sound.
Their installation project was only open to the public for a few short hours, but I was lucky enough to get a chance to see it.
After a short wait outside Second Playing Space, audience members were let inside (one small group at a time) and were treated to four very distinct theatrical experiences.
Walking to the next scene, a queue of timed spotlights and an eerie dismembered voice would guide the audience through a series of “human upgrades…”
The third setting felt like it was set in a dystopian future, with the audience finding themselves in a museum of “relics” that “ancient civilizations” used to worship.
Finally, the most unsettling installation was saved for last: an old parlour room with handwritten letters and envelopes scattered throughout.
Another series of lighting cues prompted audience members to make an unusual exit through the parlour room fireplace, where everyone gathered around a single spotlight shining on one last lone envelope with one audience member’s name on it, inviting them to pick it up and read its mysterious contents.
Truthfully, I never did find out what exactly were the four original concepts that inspired these creations, but it was almost better that way, so the audience was free to interpret them on their own.
I got a chance to talk to two of the Drama 391 students to find out more about this theatrical production where the real stars weren’t actors, but instead were the creatively constructed sets, lights and sounds.