Are You Ready for Some Next-Level Immersive Theatre?

Category: stage 226

#Swipers promises to be much more than a romantic comedy for the Tinder generation.

Matt Carter

A new play by a New Brunswick playwright will make its world premiere this week at the Black Box Theatre on the St. Thomas University campus. #Swipers by Corenski Nowlan is being billed as a romantic comedy for the Tinder generation but if the play’s complete description is to be believed, this production promises to be a lot more than your average rom-com.  

“The play is very unconventional and could prove to be very controversial,” said Nowlan. “I believe that no one has ever attempted to do something like this before and after we’re done no one will probably try it again, or be allowed to.”

The publicity supporting #Swipers includes a lengthy content warning that includes the line, we are crafting a unique atmosphere that could unsettle some people.  As Nowlan explains, the real story is something much deeper than a simple rom-com, although he remains tight-lipped about what audiences should expect. 

“What we’re advertising is not truthful,” said Nowlan. “There is a lengthy content warning on the Facebook event but it’s unlikely people will be prepared for what we’re actually going to do.

“This is a play about online dating and social media,” he said. “And at the same time, it isn’t. It will be an immersive experience. Something that no one will ever forget. There is no audience participation so don’t worry, you won’t be dragged on stage or anything like that. But at the same time, the audience is very much a part of the show.”

Nowlan is a graduate of St. Thomas University and was involved in Theatre St. Thomas for many years. He has also worked with NotaBle Acts Theatre Company and Next Folding Theatre Company and is driven by a desire to break through that imaginary line that separates audiences and performers.

#Swipers is his eleventh fully produced play and one that finds him continuing to push the traditional boundaries of contemporary theatre.

“At first glance, one might think that this is exclusively about challenging traditional theatre norms and breaking conventions, but it’s not entirely that,” he said. “It goes much deeper. It is absolutely, 100% our goal to craft a truly unique and potentially terrifying experience. Something that is unlike any live performance you’ll ever see, be it theatre, a concert, whatever. So in that way we’re directly challenging tradition but what we’re doing also completely makes sense within the world of the play. The story and themes of the play demand the type of unconventional atmosphere we’re creating. All of the choices we’ve made make sense for the story we’re telling and I firmly believe that is necessary, because otherwise it would be only for shock value, and while the experience will be jarring, it all adds to the message.”

Nowlan has been working closely with Theatre St. Thomas artistic producer Robin Whittaker for the past 18 months to help bring this work to the stage in a way that is both surprising and completely safe for audiences.

“Corenski approached me about a year-and-a-half ago with this play he’d been working on called #Swipers,” said Whittaker.  “Mostly we spoke about how to surprise audiences in this day and age and we shared our past theatre experiences doing just that. I read the play and thought, ‘This is a swell rom-com for the social media generation!’ I provided dramaturgical feedback for him over the course of last year until he arrived at the current production version.”

This production is part of TST’s renewed commitment in recent years to supporting new play development and follows last year’s new play festival What’s Next and the verbatim play No White Picket Fence.

“The play gets into some pretty dark territory—hence the warnings—and deals with some of this material in a lighthearted manner, and some in much more direct ways,” said Whittaker.

“Robin and I became fast friends a couple of years ago,” said Nowlan. “We share a passion for provocation, pushing the boundaries, and breaking new ground. Theatre used to be the cultural vehicle for storytelling. In the last half a century, the film/television industry has replaced theatre. What’s left? Musicals, Shakespeare and a small catalog of classics that get done again and again, and again. What can you do in 2019 to make theatre truly relevant again? To make people talk? To blow someone’s mind in the same way that a blockbuster movie like Avengers or Star Wars does? You have to be willing take chances.”

Nowlan describes his working relationship with Whittaker as being “wonderfully collaborative” and one that helps his writing, his style and his vision.

“We just get each other, it’s that simple,” he said. “Robin sees the value in this work.”

Nowlan also credits the city’s expansive theatre community for keeping the art form healthy and creating new audiences.

“I don’t think the Fredericton theatre scene is lacking energy,” he said. “There’s such an appetite here, such an enthusiasm and I am absolutely humbled to work with so many great people. I have so many future plans.”

#Swipers | May 2-4 | Black Box Theatre | 7:30 p.m. | $5-$10 | View Event

Content Warning: Expect the unexpected. This is unconventional, immersive theatre. All potential audience members must understand that the play is not what it seems. Through the use of lights, sound, projections, and masks, we are crafting a unique atmosphere that could unsettle some people:

Recommended ages 16-and-up. Moderate use of strong profanity. Safely choreographed fight scenes. Use of flashing lights. If you suffer from PTSD, an anxiety disorder, or a heart condition, please attend at your own discretion.

Featuring: Sophia Hébert, Jason McIntyre, Syd Stuart, and featuring a special video appearance by TST alumnus Bryan Leger.

Music: Gary Flanagan. Costumes: Sherry Kinnear. Promo Media: Pele Spohn. Stage Manager: Madi Nadeau. Assistant Stage Managers: Sage Chisholm & Tristan Tozer. Crew: Kat Hall, Katie Hanson, Madison Lucas, Alex Pannier, Brianna Parker, Raine O’connor, and Nathanael Telman. Artistic Producer: Robin C. Whittaker. Technical Director: Chris Saad.

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