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.

A lone figure at his computer, simply browsing his Facebook feed, clicks on a video of a war-torn country as the sounds of guns and chaos fill the room, and a curtain draws back....

A lone figure at his computer, simply browsing his Facebook feed, clicks on a video of a war-torn country as the sounds of guns and chaos fill the room, and a curtain draws back….

 

... to reveal that same war-torn scene in a hauntingly immersive experience of set, sound, lighting, and live performance.

… to reveal that same war-torn scene on screen come to life in a hauntingly immersive experience of set, sound, lighting, and live performance.

 

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…”

One by one, sets of familiar beauty and fitness products would be revealed, each set becoming slightly more extreme...

One by one, sets of familiar beauty and fitness products would be revealed from the dark, each set becoming slightly more extreme…

 

… until finally revealing their culmination into the “perfect” human body.

 

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.

Yes, that is a burnt out KFC bucket and a tattered McDonald’s burger container on that pedestal.

 

One of the many "exhibits": a kleenex box not with kleenex but with crumpled $20 bills, and placard that read "Kleenex: These colourful pieces of paper were used for hygienic purposes and disposed of frequently."

One of the many “exhibits”: a kleenex box not with kleenex but with crumpled $20 bills, and placard that read “Kleenex: These colourful pieces of paper were used for hygienic purposes and disposed of frequently.”

 

 

Finally, the most unsettling installation was saved for last: an old parlour room with handwritten letters and envelopes scattered throughout.

Audience members were understandably creeped out when they looked closer to find envelopes with their names written on them...

Audience members were understandably creeped out when they looked closer to find envelopes with their own names written on them…

 

Opening your envelope would reveal a cryptic and somewhat troubling message. This one says "I love you. I do not know why. Please tell me. I await your reply."

Opening your envelope would reveal a cryptic and somewhat troubling message. This one says “I love you. I do not know why. Please tell me. I await your reply.”

 

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.

I won't spoil the ending by revealing what was written on the very last note, but needless to say it did trigger an emotional response from whoever read it.

I won’t spoil the ending by revealing what was written on the very last note, but needless to say it did trigger an emotional response from whomever read it.

 

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.

 

For more information about the Drama 391 Production Lab class and the BFA Technical Theatre Production program, visit the Department of Drama website.

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