Local playwright Ryan Griffith merges text messaging and live performance in ground-breaking new theatre experience.
Theatre New Brunswick’s season continues next month with a special one-of-a-kind theatre experience. Returning Fire, a new play by New Brunswick playwright Ryan Griffith, will unfold through a series of text messages before culminating in a live site-specific theatre experience.
Audience members will follow character interaction by receiving messages and images on their mobile devices and through the experience, will learn where to find the characters in downtown Fredericton. The two characters in the story will reunite in person where the audience will experience their reunion firsthand.
“I think this play answers a lot of questions around ‘what is live theatre’ and how are we embracing technology,” said TNB Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. “For me, it’s also about how we’re embracing how we as humans are changing.”
Returning Fire was conceived by Jones as a project through which TNB could commission a local playwright to create a new work for the current season. Next Folding Theatre Company founder Ryan Griffith took up the task and has developed one of the most unique theatre pieces to ever be produced by TNB.
In addition to its unique audience experience, Returning Fire provides a commentary on both the changing face of human interaction and the lasting effects war can have on its participants.
Griffith, an experienced playwright, was drawn to the project after hearing the concept and parameters involved.
“We talked about ideas for plays and Thomas presented some parameters within which I could work freely,” he said. “One of the parameters was to explore what may be possible with text messaging and another was to see how we could tell a story involving a soldier returning from Afghanistan.”
This is Griffith’s first work involving a character in the present day military. The challenge of writing outside his comfort zone proved to be one of his main attractions to the project.
“It’s never been a topic I’ve been particularly drawn to before,” said Griffith. “It’s always seemed a little too exotic for me. I don’t really have a background in military history or military affairs. Most of the play’s I’ve written before this have dealt with New Brunswick mythology. This was one of the reasons I wanted to do it.”
Jones was inspired to explore the use of text messaging in theatre after learning how some theatres now include a specific seating area for audience members to Tweet, text and post about the production they are experiencing in real-time.
“There must be a way we can embrace and investigate a person’s interest in being on their phone all the time, but find a way to seduce them into a play through that experience,” he said.
The play will begin to unfold through text messages delivered to patron’s mobile devices. Starting at 4 p.m. (10:30 a.m. for matinée audiences), a series of short text conversations will transpire over three and a half hours, during which time the downtown location of their meeting will be revealed. Audiences can then make their way to the location and witness the final act and the reunion of the two characters.
“As an artist I think we’re always following our interest and our curiosity in things and I’m very interested in challenging how we make theatre,” said Jones. “What came out of it was this incredibly complex story, both technologically and story-wise, exploring two people in a relationship and the greater effects of war on people’s interpersonal relationships.”
While the story touches on the theme of post-traumatic stress disorder, the greater focus is on the relationship between the two characters in the story. The overarching theme deals with the distance that has grown between them, compounded by a world of texts and social media interactions and the silent suffering that our friendship can endure as a result.
“We’re very able to engage through texting and Facebook,” said Griffith. “That’s how we’re able to have 782 friends online and message them at any time, but can’t do that with hardly any of those people in real life in the same way. There have been several situations where I’ve had meaningful conversations with people through these mediums and then later meet up for a coffee and have the distance that exists between us become so present, even though just before we were all exclamation marks and happy faces. I feel the interface doesn’t translate into understanding.”
Returning Fire | Feb. 4-7, 2016 | More Information | Buy Tickets
Presented as part of FROSTival