When the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company ceased operations in 2012, the 668-seat Vancouver Playhouse in downtown Vancouver lost its anchor tenant. While the mid-size theatre would find other arts organizations to fill the space, it never quite maintained its status as a major player in the city’s theatrical landscape.
Looking to reinvigorate the Playhouse with large-scale productions, Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre takes up residency in January for the world premiere of Siminovitch prize-winning playwright Daniel Brooks’ The Full Light of Day.
Known for breaking theatrical conventions through works such as the international dance-theatre sensation Betroffenheit, and the multimedia-filled Tear The Curtain, The Electric Company is back with one of its most ambitious shows to date.
Utilizing fourteen live-streaming cameras, state-of-the-art projections and film, The Full Light of Day is a modern allegory set in Canada’s urban financial centres, in which a mother must contend with her husband’s corrupt legacy before she dies.
“Other than the weather, real estate may well be our country’s most frequently discussed topic,” says director Kim Collier in a media release. “In this work, we dive deeper, and consider the consequences of a society grown obsessed with property and possession.”
Raising question about the very nature of land ownership, Collier goes onto say the use of live-streaming cameras and projections are intended to provide audiences with “an innately rich and intimate connection to our characters’ inner lives and truly experience that pang of self-recognition in the stories reflected onstage.”
As director of photography for the filmed portions of The Full Light of Day, Brian Johnson provides some insight into creating this theatre-film hybrid.
This interview has been edited.
What percentage of the multimedia is live and what is pre-recorded?
I’m going to guess it’s roughly 50/50, but the fun thing about the way the Electric Company integrates video into theatrical work is that sometimes it’s not immediately apparent what is live or pre-recorded. Audiences are sutured into a world where this distinction is blurred along with the gap between the mediums of film and theatre on a whole. There’s a trick of time going on, and a kind of alchemy. It’s partly why the use of film and video in the work of the Electric Company is so successful.
If some sequences are filmed ahead of time is there any concern the actors might change their look?
Yes! Also, obviously, when the show tours it is extremely important that all the original actors continue to be available. Some simpler shots can be redone fairly easily, but certainly it’s a practical consideration that impinges the creative process. This detail may also have some bearing on what is shot live and what is pre-recorded.
What do you do to ensure there are no technical issues? Are there back-ups for everything?
Of course all the files created at every step of the process are backed up. File management becomes a very real issue and something we all try to keep on top of. However there are always going to be technical issues when dealing with multimedia systems that are complex and that generally stretch the limits of hardware and software alike.
Considerations are always made around keeping the playback of material, effects used, and the overall input and output of data as streamlined as possible. What this means artistically is that if effects can be built into the video clips in advance – dissolves, colour correction, etc. – then they probably should be as this will be less taxing on computer processors during performances. Which means that the computers will crash less during these performances and that, of course, is important.
Was there an idea from director Kim Collier that gave you pause?
I was really excited about the prospect of having a car onstage. Kim’s ideas about how to create traveling backdrops for this “moving” vehicle reminded me of techniques we use in cinema to simulate movement when the scene calls for driving in a car. Something about the possibility of at once presenting this illusion while at the same time laying bare the elements that come together to create it – it seemed like a quintessential bit of meta-level theatre making that Kim has become known for.
What moment in the show are you particularly proud of?
Well the above mentioned car stuff is I think really interesting and effective. On a pure aesthetic level I find some of the instances when we layer images of Gabrielle Rose’s faces with foliage, trees, and nature so pure and effective. They very simply tell a lot about that character, which is the thing that video can do so well when integrated cleverly into theatrical work. Hopefully audiences agree.
The Full Light of Day opens at the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton St, Vancouver) on January 7 and continues through January 12. Visit electriccompanytheatre.com for tickets and information.