Translating Live to Online – Justyna Cwojdzinska

BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson
BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson

My week at the Belltable: Connect Translating Live to Online workshop was indeed an experience I was really looking forward to. I was thrilled to work with Simon Thompson and explore the masks in theatrical research. Working with Johanna O’Brien was also really enriching as she has got a lot of film experience and my one would be mostly theatre based, so from the start that was an interesting match.

At the beginning we were all wondering if this is possible at all to translate live, vibrant, very here and now experience of a theatre into an online medium that has its own rights and takes.  So there we were with Simon and Johanna destined to explore and research the theme and based on the previous week findings we were able to take it a step further.

The way we were working was very physical and I loved all the circus style warm ups that were setting a great tone for exploration in a fun, playful way. First of all we had to find common definitions of kinaesthesia, empathy, complicité and shared experience. For me personally one of a very powerful exercises was when I had to isolate and modify my movement having a Tourette syndrome – that was a very powerful tool!

We were exploring the space, complicité via stillness, pure movement, abstract movement, rhythm and various different masks: neutral mask, larval mask and half-masks. That I must say was a hard job and required applying amazingly creative layers one over another.

Working with the mask is incredibly enriching experience because it requires to turn off one of the basic tools you use on stage that is your own face and facial expression. However, on the other hand, it allows the performer to realize that yet there is another powerful tool to choose from that is the body. The working method based on Laban Movement Analysis and The Eight Efforts makes you play with your whole body in a very mindful way. It opens the actor to the entire spectrum of sensations related to intentional movement and stillness and shows that the game is on and can be an incredibly fun form of communicating with the audience. As a matter of fact it made me more aware of the contact with the audience and that there is no true theatre experience if there is no contact with the audience or if you neglect it in any way.

So as you can imagine we had a very interesting task to explore how to make that connection with the audience when you have something terrible on your face that restricts your sight and makes it even more difficult to breathe. It was a feat! The mask for me was also a metaphor for the TV screen, which separates us from a direct contact with the performers. The mask turned out to be incredibly capable of deepening the research of translating live to online, because it made live performers look at the audience from a completely different perspective. What’s more, it required me to be even more involved and even more aware of being in touch with the audience. The mask also allowed us to explore a true play with the audience, consciously dragging them into the spectacle and making them an inevitable part of it. It showed us that establishing complicité with the audience is the first thing we should be striving for. So Simon guided us through this week, knowingly pushing the boundaries on both sides. On the performer’s side, it meant building a huge awareness of creating for the audience and with the audience participation, in the mindful presence of the body and the ritual that theatre is.  The ritual that can never be duplicated, which makes theatre such a unique art form, since there are no two identical evenings and seemingly two identical audiences.

Another challenge was trying to enter the role of an audience being on the other side of the screen and through research and exploration of space and body movement we were able to establish what works and what does not work when trying to translate live to online. I believe if we had more time for this explorative research and if we could bring film professionals in we could achieve so much more.

What was a great discovery as well was working with black box space but not using the space to the right and left, but more manipulating the depth of the image, like playing the front and back plan. The use of the mask prompted to redefine the expression of the body on stage and conscious use of minimalistic movement in order to generate tension and get the audience on board.

Together with Johanna, we created some very interesting theatrical etudes using rhythm, sound, breath, pure and abstract movement following Laban Movement Analysis. We also managed to work on the script of “Thermo” to immediately translate learned experience from live to online and I believe this is going to be fun watching for all of us.

From this artistic week of research I am taking valuable experience, networking and belief it is possible to translate live to online. However, there are many significant factors that we must have in place in order to achieve it such as, experienced performers, great script that can allow for theatrical changes happening on stage without the obvious cuts of the movie, huge imagination and playful approach to shared theatre experience, ability to connect with the audience and engage with them on the screen using theatrical methods, redefinition of theatre space, trying to keep it as close to the live experience as you might wish for and last but not least a professional camera person that can capture the live on stage.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to take part in this exciting research Marketa, Simon, Johanna, Belltable: Connect and Lime Tree Theatre and fabulous staff of Belltable Café. I do hope you will have an opportunity to explore the theme further.