Hype-Worthy: Fredericton theatre startup finds its niche

Category: stage 145

Co-founders Jean-Michel Cliche and Trent Logan walk us through Hyperloop Theatre’s inaugural season.

Matt Carter

Back in the early part of 2020 as theatre artists scrambled to come up with new projects that fit within a pandemic world, two Fredericton theatre makers started exploring ways to incorporate digital technology into their creative process. Inspired by the wave of streaming theatre productions that were popping up on a global level, but fully understanding this blanket trend to be more knee-jerk than something unique and meaningful, Jean-Michel Cliche and Trent Logan began looking to find alternatives to this growing alternative.

Their first production, Space Girl, was an experiment in real-time digital performance that included an audience interaction component. It was like nothing either artist had done previously. An early version of the play debuted at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival that same year. And after undergoing further development during a creative residency and performance at the Fredericton Playhouse, Space Girl was picked up by Eastern Front Theatre’s STAGES Festival, The Toronto Fringe and Victoria Fringe.

Inspired by the show’s success and the steady stream of new ideas it helped generate, Cliche and Logan decided to make their collaboration official. Hyperloop Theatre was born.

“Hyperloop was built around Space Girl, so it took some time to figure out what to do after that,” said Cliche, Hyperloop’s artistic director. “Ultimately, we’ve ended up treating Hyperloop more like a laboratory than a theatre company. We’re more interested in experimenting and sharing our results with audiences than staging back-to-back productions. Hopefully this offers something new to the New Brunswick performance eco-system.”

Logan, who serves as Hyperloop’s production manager, described the entire Space Girl experience from concept to delivery as one giant learning experience.

“I’ve never really done a show fully digitally before,” said Logan, who has filled several production roles in theatres across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. “As for the biggest challenge, I’d say it was probably learning the basics of what filmmakers know inherently. Not having to be concerned with everything onstage but having to be hyper aware of what the camera sees.”

Hyperloop’s first full season of programming began in March with Zeno Box, an existential art installation piece. Featured as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s series Macro Digitals: Connections, Zeno Box involved performers reading excerpts from cancelled plays while inside a box where lighting and microphones cut in and out at random. 

“At the same time Eastern Front put out the call for project proposals, I had just had a major show canceled due to changing COVID restrictions and was having this sort of existential crisis over theatre,” said Cliche. “Why are we spending so much time and energy and money on shows if we know there’s a good chance it will get canceled? Is there any value to the work spent in a rehearsal hall if no one sees it?”

Within the regional theatre community and perhaps much of Atlantic Canada, Hyperloop is fast becoming an essential playground for live performance experimentation. Coming up in May at Memorial Hall on the UNB campus, Hyperloop will perform ReCap, a conceptual show described as a “preliminary exploration into live dynamic captions for the stage and their ability to heighten performances for Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing audiences alike.”

“Through Space Girl and other upcoming projects, we’ve found ourselves really focusing on the technology aspects of Hyperloop, which has been great,” said Logan. “However, we also had a mission when we founded this company, to bring meaningful accessibility options to live performances. That’s where ReCap comes in.

“Initially, the idea was to create an easy-to-use system of inserting subtitles into pre-existing shows,” he said. “So having mobile scrim flats that could be low in front, high and behind, or have entire ‘walls’ to act in front of and behind that could all be used as projection surfaces. Our goal was to put the accessibility closer to the action so that those with hearing impairments don’t need to look off to an interpreter, potentially missing action on stage. However, after doing some research and consulting people in the deaf and hard of hearing community the project is morphing into something a bit different that fits their needs a bit better.”

Hyperloop Theatre’s 2022 season, or at least this first phase of it, will conclude with Alex Rioux’s Spectre, a new production that promises to build upon the audience interaction elements touched on in Space Girl with decidedly darker themes.

“Spectre dives deeper into the concept of audience agency by putting you in control of the characters,” said Cliche. “Inspired by horror video games, this digital experience will be our most ambitious project to date.”

Spectre’s first wave of creation will be hosted by the Fredericton Playhouse as part of the theatre’s interMISSION residencies planned for the summer. The production will be led by Rioux (Plain Site Theatre Festival/Solo Chicken Productions/TNB Theatre School) with original music by Nic Cliche.

Hyperloop Theatre has found its niche, one that sets it apart from other New Brunswick theatre groups. Not bound to traditional theatre venues and limited only by the imaginations of the artists involved, Hyperloop is positioned to become a much needed bridge between two very different audiences – those looking for something new from the live theatre experience, and those who have yet to realize that captivating science fiction, moving dramas, rousing comedies – much of what we all seek from podcasts and streaming services – are continuously being written, created and performed right here, in their own backyards, probably by people they know.    

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All Hyperloop Theatre graphic designs associated with this article and its promotion were created by the amazing @stackhousedesign

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