(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in the New York Times, 8/11; Photo: Good casting: Andrew Anderson, a BBC reporter, portraying a correspondent for a fictional network in “The Evidence Chamber.”Credit…via Fast Familiar; via Pam Green.)
Sifting evidence and debating whodunit with strangers turns out to be an especially successful way for theater to be enjoyed from a laptop.
Last week I was called for jury duty. Twice. New York City has yet to resume in-person jury trials, but from a perch on my sofa, I could hear and assess one case involving the murder of an elderly woman and another concerning arson in a commercial building. These trials weren’t precisely real or even vaguely legal — and as both were Britain-based I doubt that I and my U.S. passport would have made it past voir dire. But I count each as an extrajudicial highlight in a week spent sampling new experiments in immersive theater and gaming. Verdicts follow.
When theaters shut down in March, many companies scrambled to make archived work available, organized Zoom-hosted readings or adapted productions to an online format. In those first bewildering weeks, proximity to any form of theater felt like a gift, if often the kind of gift — fancy hand soap, say — that you unwrap and then promptly throw into the back of some closet.
As lockdown weeks became lockdown months, the question of whether live theater could be made and shown remotely became moot. It could, with more content available than any sane person should stream.
But could online drama ever substitute for the in-person form? Here, doubt has seemed more reasonable. And yet theatermakers have spent these same months testing the varieties of interaction these platforms allow and which genres and narratives best suit an online setup. A few companies make strong cases for theater in its digital form.
I began with “The Evidence Chamber,” a coproduction from Fast Familiar, an interdisciplinary studio, and the Leverhulme Research Center for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Empaneled as an online jury, participants in any given performance sift through evidence and weigh recorded witness testimony as they consider guilt or acquittal in a murder case.
The jury setup is a brilliant one, not only because some places, like Alaska, are piloting grand jury proceedings via videoconference, but also because many of us already feel sequestered, dependent on online evidence and the occasional expert witness to understand the world around us.