Edinburgh Fringe - Gather for iMelania
September 10, 2021
Gather… Melania is the next show in town. This was signposted for me by Imitating The Dog who as a theatre company Explore the boundaries between theatre and technology. A recommendation from these guys certainly got my attention.
I, Melania is part of @Summerhallery festival and totally brilliant from @paulavarjack & @ChuckBlueLowry https://t.co/tM3uBLnncT— imitating the dog (@ImitatingtheDog) August 21, 2021
Show booking link - https://www.summerhall.co.uk/sh-event/imelania/2021-08-24/
Set in a landscape of social distancing, social media, WhatsApp and Zoom calls, iMelania is an audio-visual experience that takes place on your phone and desktop. Varjack-Lowry uses Melania Trump as an avatar of an “acceptably” foreign woman, obscuring and questioning experiences of being foreign in post-Brexit Britain. With the overwhelming nature of the global digital landscape, how do we use social media to engage with current affairs and connect ? How do we use it to escape? A playful, dizzying, online exploration between a duo of dual heritage women investigating borders and belonging.
The Digital Theatre Trip.
Doing digital audience stuff for the first time on a new venue platform needs some prep time. So don’t book these experiences too late if its your first time.
I blindly booked. These box office sites feel like that. Is it just me being new to this audience thing or is that a familiar feeling to theatregoers?
I received my email. I didn’t know what to expect. How would I be informed about the way this show would work? It read…
“iMelania is an online experience that starts on your desktop, then takes place on your phone and desktop simultaneously. The performance duration is 50 minutes, with extra time before and after for meeting and conversation. Make sure both of your devices are charged before the show starts, and that you are able to scan a QR code from your phone.(Android phones don’t do this automatically!) You will need the volume up on both devices, so you won’t be able to watch with headphones. Our theatre foyer space is a digital island, using an online site called Gather. You will enter it via your desktop (the part with your phone will come later)”
They even made an orientation video
Preparation for viewing iMelania from paula varjack on Vimeo.
The access point to the experience was Gather. A cross between a 1990s video game and a video conferencing app like Whereby or Zoom that so many have become familiar with.
On entering the island at 7.20 for a 7.30 performance other audience avatars were moving around. The was a pre-show announcement and we call gathered at the cherry tree as requested. The orientation email provided me with a link to the Gather Island. Ushers were provided as a WhatsApp help desk number for technical support.
And at 7.30 the technology jiggle began. What took place over the next 50 mins was an extended documentary-style dual-screen video experience at my desk. A Vimeo file with a time code in the top left in full screen on my desktop and a video file acquired using a QR code opened a video file on my mobile. I hit play (there was guidance about when and what to do if it didn’t sync but I just wobbled) and hoped for the best!
It took a while for my senses to settle in. Giving my conscious distraction over to this theatre piece I’d committed to watch this evening rather than do anything else.
What unfolded as an experience, very much not theatre in the traditional sense, in a military sense. It played in front of me on my desktop monitor and seamlessly transitioned to my mobile screen. It moved dimensionally back and forth before me on my desk.
Note… this post was to have a sample video taken at my desk. The logistics of getting it embed-ready meant this post has sat languishing as a draft. That is the hurdle this blog is oriented to fight so a week (or more!) overdue… I’m posting as is. It’s time to move to the next post. A lot happens right now and I want to share that.