The Hundred Flowers Project is a play that has an intimate relationship with current technologies. The premise is that a tech savvy Asian American theater company is devising and collaboratively creating a play about Mao Zedong. At our first rehearsal Desdemona, the director, described the company in the play as an “Asian Wooster Group.” There are projections and live feed video, probably things you’ve seen before as well as (hopefully) a few you haven’t.
The prevalence of screens and projections in new plays nowadays, in addition to other evolving technologies, are creating a host of brand new dramaturgical questions and concerns that our team has been vigilant about. Questions like: Which of these fancy gadgets serve the play? Does this particular set up of the camera or projector draw away from the text? Does the fact that viewers are drawn to an image on a screen more than the live body work for this particular moment? Alternatively, can we a small, scrappy non-profit theater like Crowded Fire, manifest a particular idea elegantly with the resources we have? Because after all we do not have the Wooster Group’s budget or equipment (if you’d like to donate, click here!). These are all questions that have come up in the past few weeks of rehearsal and the months of development prior to that as we conceive the way technology will work in this production. I think it’s crucial that theater-makers be attentive to the ways these technologies have the potential to serve or undermine the work.
The technology that we consume and the technology that consumes our daily lives is influencing how we create work. Certainly, video and projections have been a part of live theater for decades, but it seems like lately almost every play I see has some kind of video element. Have we reached a tipping point? If so, it’s important to interrogate the way these different media act on us. The value of theater is in the liveness of a
performance — the human exchange between audience and performers. How does this change when our attention is drawn to a screen? Does it undercut the unique worth of theater in the first place? Or is it just a natural progression of the form? Whereas photography, and live or pre-recorded moving images provide an illusion of reality and truth, theater’s illusion is never fully cast as truth (fourth wall be damned), but generally remains in the realm of fiction. The irony is obvious. The capabilities of film, and even more so emergent technologies, to manipulate the representation of reality is much greater than a live body on stage can achieve. The Hundred Flowers Project, like Mao’s iconic edict to “let one hundred flowers bloom” (minus the repression that ensued), provides the opportunity to consider how current media technology can interface with the liveness of stage performance. So let one hundred projectors bloom (or, in our case, three)!
The Hundred Flowers Project dramaturg
Sonia Fernández is a scholar, translator and dramaturg specializing in new work. She has worked with various Bay Area and San Diego theater companies, including Playwrights Foundation, Brava, Cutting Ball, Magic, Moxie, Playwrights Project, PlayGround and Crowded Fire, with which she is a proud company member. Recent projects include production dramaturgy for The Dybbuk and assistant directing on Lauren Yee’s Hookman at UC San Diego; new play dramaturgy for M by Karen Li with Playwrights Project. Upcoming: The Fantasy Project a dance theater piece with Anya Cloud. A doctoral student at UCSD, Sonia’s research focuses on humor, race and spectatorship. Sonia received her A.B. in English from Princeton and Master’s in Theater from SF State.
You can also follow video designer for The Hundred Flowers Project, Wesley Cabral, on his blog at He Who Farms Goats where you might find video of Sonia standing in for actors during our summer design workshop!