This weekend, Snowglobe Theatre mounts two digital theatrical performances of Sam Shepard’s True West.
Directed by Peter Giser, and starring Jonathan Greenway and Kieran Hunt, the play is a timely revival that centers on the brewing emotional tension amongst family members stuck together in the heat. Where some see a barrier, Snowglobe theatre sees a challenge: True West has been adapted in both format and content, in order to relay the sentiment of isolation and entrapment experienced during our current pandemic.
In his direction of True West, Giser makes a point to acknowledge the particular circumstances of our time, treating them as opportunities to cultivate new styles of work: Snowglobe Theatre reimagines the technical obstacles that accompany the broadcasting of live theatre, into methods that can innovate the genre into mixed media performance.
The director enthusiastically describes the virtual production as a combination of theatre’s “opportunity to live on the edge of danger, as anything can happen,” along with the added effects and benefits of mixed media. He notes that live broadcast is a medium where “all the excitement of live theatre, and all of the technical and interesting things of recorded work are combined.”
I had the chance to speak with some of Snowglobe Theatre’s cast and crew earlier this week. Here is some Q&A on what to expect from their upcoming virtual performance of True West:
Disclaimer: this interview has been edited for purposes of clarity and length.
True West‘s Peter Giser (Director), Jonathan Greenway (Actor), and Kieran Hunt (Actor)
What was the process of adapting a stage play for an online performance like?
PG: The number one priority was to understand how this piece works on Zoom, and how it can make sense to an audience now. True West is about a relationship––but it’s about isolation, it’s about being trapped and needing to get out, it’s about wanting to express stuff and there being no way you can get it to happen. These things were a big priority, and in a way some of our technical decisions boiled down to how to free ourselves up to get across these themes and to really explore that.
What should we expect to see?
PG: We do it mostly from our own homes, with each performer in their own space recording remotely. Every performance is going to be live. The only exception to this is that Jon [Greenway] and Kieran [Hunt] happen to be roommates prior to the pandemic. So the two of them have an exceptional case of being in the same space, which gets integrated into the actual show. Sound effects are pre-recorded but are played live as the action goes on. The exciting thing on the technical side is that each performer is also a camera man, a sound engineer, and a lighting designer. So they’re handling their own lights, they’re switching on and off their own devices, they’re doing scene changes between the scenes, too, to alter their physical premises… They’ve got to do it all.
What changes or challenges did you encounter in preparing for an online performance?
JG: The authenticity of delivery, of being in the here and now, of the given circumstance, that’s all the same, I think. What changes is the style, of how we can actually deliver it technically.
KH: In preparing a character for Zoom, it immediately modernizes something. To immediately have True West in front of the context of a Zoom camera, and to switch characters into a modern setting, there’s no real question to it, it just automatically modernizes the piece. It doesn’t change how you prepare for it, but it does affect your acting in a way. There’s no style: the play immediately becomes where you are, what you’re engaging with right now. There’s less separation from the stage’s eye and that fourth wall as well.
How did virtual-collaboration shape your method of acting and experience as an actor?
KH: It has been somewhat fun and interesting. We haven’t actually been in close proximity. What I found the most interesting in Zoom rehearsals is the tentativeness you have in the first five to ten minutes, like in most Zoom calls: This is awkward… and Am I actually talking to someone? But gradually, through the power of everyone coming together, you find a new rehearsal space among everyone else’s mental space. Everyone’s collective concentration, emotion and dedication creates a rehearsal space beyond physical space.
Is digital performance a platform you would continue to work with in a post-pandemic world?
KH: There are many benefits to Zoom, including (but not limited to) not paying a physical rental fee—it’s a free space. The ability to get your play and content out to people is easy. There are certain benefits that makes it more accessible.
JG: I’m a big fan of mixed media and mixed platforms. There’s no reason why we can’t––now that we have access to this understanding––have mixed media platforms where we incorporate a stage with Zoom shows.
In combining a novel digitally-theatrical form with curiously relatable content, True West promises an exciting and innovative theatre-going experience. Join Snowglobe Theatre this weekend to watch their production broadcasted live on Zoom and Facebook Live, this Saturday, August 29th at 8pm EST and Sunday, August 30th at 8pm EST. A post-show Q&A and talkback will be held after each performance.