The Stage Awards shortlist: Innovation Award
This award highlights the best new design, technical or creative developments in the performing arts in the past 12 months. Any organisation in the sector is eligible and will be judged on supporting evidence. The judges will take scale into account and are expecting submissions from organisations large and small
Award sponsored by Charcoalblue
The Everyman Company, Liverpool
Not all of 2017’s innovations involved technology – one re-imagined an age-old theatrical tradition.
Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre must be applauded for resurrecting its repertory company and repackaging it for the 21st century. That it succeeded – with a few bumps along the way – and will continue in 2018 feels like a big moment for the industry.
Rep has been on its uppers and many great actors who learned their trade in regional rep believe its loss would be a hammer blow to the industry. Five years ago, Ian McKellen called the situation “desperate”.
The Everyman had one of the UK’s most prestigious rep companies until it was wound up in 1992. Alumni include Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Walters and Bill Nighy. Artistic director Gemma Bodinetz announced in 2016 that the theatre was to resurrect its rep company. Never did paying homage to theatre’s traditions feel so risky.
Earlier this year, 14 actors performed five plays over the course of a six-month season. Standout productions included Fiddler on the Roof, which The Stage called “electrically charged” as well as an “electrifying” Romeo and Juliet. The season was rounded out by The Sum – a play with songs by Lizzie Nunnery, The Story Giant and The Conquest of the South Pole. The company revelled in the frenetic reality of rep and has announced that 40% of its members will be returning in 2018.
Bodinetz believes others were watching to see if rep would work outside Liverpool. She said there was still a way to go to get it right but “we’ve got enough left in the tank”. It may just spark a change that sees other theatres going back to the future.
National Theatre Open Access Capture pilot scheme
At the National Theatre’s autumn press conference, director Rufus Norris held aloft a pair of glasses that would not have looked out of place on a character in the Starship Enterprise.
Its Open Access Smart Capture project features captions beamed on to the lenses of these smart glasses.
With a wire connected to a controller to allow the user to customise how the words appear, these could prove “transformational” for the theatre experience for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing audience members, Norris said.
Currently, some special captioned performances are staged for each production with the script run on large screens beside the stage.
Using the smart glasses, developed by Accenture, Epson and live subtitling expert Andrew Lambourne, viewers with restricted hearing could attend any production at the National. While watching the show, they will not have to turn their head to read the dialogue.
Three years in the making, the project is in its pilot phase, with 46 people testing it on Beginning, Pinocchio and Macbeth. The National, which has also been developing access technology for the blind and partially sighted with VocalEyes, hopes the glasses can be fully rolled out to audiences from next November.
This autumn, journalists were invited to test the technology with a five-minute scene from Mosquitoes, starring Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams. It proved impressive and, if it succeeds, could prove a genuine game-changer for access in theatre.
Team behind The Believers Are But Brothers
Audiences filing into The Believers Are But Brothers at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe were in for a surprise. As they entered the venue, the ushers not only asked for their tickets, but also their telephone numbers.
It quickly became clear why. As Javaad Alipoor – the show’s writer, performer and co-director with Kirsty Housley – started talking of tech-savvy extremists, messages began to come through to the audience’s phones via encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.
More than a billion people use the app every day, sending 55 billion messages. Its end-to-end encryption has seen it become the focus of government criticism, saying it gives a safe haven to terrorists and criminals.
Believers is one of the first productions to integrate the 21st-century messaging technology into its stagecraft in a way that is not gimmicky, allowing it to become a key part of the storytelling.
Those in the auditorium were added to a network called “brothers” and were virtually connected. Informative, funny and abusive messages started springing on to their personal devices – some from each other, most from the stage – as Alipoor told the story of radicalisation through the internet from Isis to the alt-right in the US.
Shaped through hours spent online, the show gives a glimpse into a festering corner of the web. It is brought to thrilling life with parts of the text ‘performed’ on the screens in the audience’s hands. The piece comes to London’s Bush Theatre in January and shows that mobile phones in theatres need not always be a bad thing.