A trio of playwrights is presenting work that straddles the line between theatre and film at a new digital theatre festival.
On Oct. 1 Western Edge Theatre presents its Swipe Right Digital Theatre Festival at the Bowen Park amphitheatre. River: A Metaphor by Nanaimo’s Joy Dubé, A Night of Process by Blaine Nosworthy of Nanoose Bay and Virtual Ecstasy by Denman Islander Dante Ambriel are the three productions that will be screened at the event. The following night there will be an online première, and the films will remain online to be viewed by donation.
The plays were selected by Western Edge artistic associates Daniel Puglas and Brianna Hamilton.
“I was looking for stuff that stood out and was trying to be original and trying to be a little more daring,” Puglas said. “I noticed with some of the submissions that they were kind of following the same sort of COVID theme and I feel like it’s been done over and over again.”
Dubé’s play is a filmed version of her 2021 Nanaimo Fringe Festival production, which was staged at Gallery Row in the Old City Quarter. River: A Metaphor is about truth and how truth changes and it touches on issues like homelessness, deforestation, development and women’s roles. The play is Dubé’s first and she was encouraged by how it was received by its actors and audience.
“How many first-time playwrights get to have their play actually taken up by a group of people who actually liked it and were enthusiastic enough to perform it…?” Dubé asked. “It was a wonderful experience. I’m really thrilled. I’m encouraged. I’m working on a second play just because of that.”
A Night of Process features four actors playing nine characters, each performing improvised scenes showing how their characters behave in private. The production was filmed at the OV Arts Centre and creator Nosworthy advises there are “mature themes and lots of swearing.” Nosworthy said “it feels like you’re watching a film but it’s on stage. We found a nice way to blend the two.”
“I really wanted to capture the privacy of film, the excitement of being in the theatre and then just to see if we could tell these stories without any dialogue, without having a script to go off,” he said. “With just these actors going up on stage, creating this real world for themselves and then trying to tell a story within it.”
Ambriel’s submission, Virtual Ecstasy, centres on two characters discussing exploring gender identity using virtual reality, a topic inspired by the “social phenomenon” of people role-playing as a different genders when interacting with others online. The actors recorded their lines, but the characters and images on screen were taken from stock video and image services.
“The main target market for that is industrial film … but if you’re really creative and you dig around you can find all kinds of stuff there to tell a story with, and so that’s what I’ve done,” Ambriel said. “I’ve collected all this information, I’ve created almost paintings with it, layering and layering and processing and clips of people acting.”
Ambriel said putting the production together has been “a real learning curve” but added she’s “so grateful for this opportunity to explore this medium because now I’m going to use it all the time.”
Hamilton said the digital theatre productions are examples of how artists have managed to adjust their practices and persevere during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Artists are resilient,” she said. “This is just one other way that we have had to adapt and I feel that artists are really good at that because it’s not necessarily a traditional path or career to be in. So I think that’s the beautiful thing about artists is that they continue on.”
WHAT’S ON … Swipe Right Digital Theatre Festival takes place at the Bowen Park amphitheatre on Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Online première happens Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15, available here.