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War of the Worlds

Recently I joined artists from Whyalla, Renmark, Adelaide and Mount Gambia in South Australia’s Riverland to begin work on a new version of War of the Worlds.


The performance, written by Riverland Youth Theatre’s Fleur Kilpatrick, begins with teenagers from Bendigo, Whyalla and the Riverland performing ‘scenes from the classics.’ During the show they are interrupted by an unfolding alien invasion. The only external communication these 3 groups have is with each other – through telephone and video link to each other’s performance sites.


The performance will take place simultaneously in each regional centre, with each group streaming in live to each other’s space.  Each group become essential parts of each others’ performances through the use of large live screens, and streaming footage of what each group sees and experiences.  Together they work to come to grips with what is happening, and help each other survive.


Sync-ing a performance taking place in 3 remote locations is an exciting and complex challenge.  But, not quite challenging enough - so we have conceived of a 4th space. Footage of alien interactions - for example horrifying badly lit footage of alien tripods - will be streamed from a 4th ‘studio’ location.  Some of this footage will be streamed live, other parts will be pre-recorded.


The first week of development was nothing less than exhilarating, as the best development periods always are. Fleur had completed an early draft of the first act, basing the characters in the play upon the young actors she works with every week at RYT (Riverland Youth Theatre).


Riverland’s usual schedule of performance classes took place throughout the week, which the creative team used to test scenes with the young people the characters were based upon. The truth in the characterisations soared.  I’ve rarely seen young actors jump straight into the reality and the vernacular of scripts on the first read as they did with Fleur’s writing.  Amazing and wonderful!!


As part of the development, we talked a lot about our towns and our young people.  We talked about the similarities and the differences from a range of perspectives. The demographics, local experience, how young people connect and communicate, what is ‘alien?’ to each of us, as well as the differences in landscape and weather patterns were all part of the conversation. It was a fascinating and enlightening set of conversations that we had amongst the young people, and the professional creative team. The need for all of us to understand and experience each other’s contexts is deeply embedded in the concept – which I think is a thing of beauty.


As you can imagine, we also spent significant time discussing the technical requirements.  Tom Kitney, who is at the cutting edge of live streaming innovation, is on the project as the technical wizard. In my experience, every technical wizard worth their salt is also a theatre wizard in their own right. Tom is no exception.

The tension between what is possible or not possible to achieve within your budget is always a part of these conversations. But, the more interesting conversation is in the questions of whether you are doing something technically complex because you can, or whether you are doing something technically complex because the form and aesthetic of a specific technology will generate the precise experience and insight you want your audience to have.


These are interesting and multi-faceted conversations. They can go to the heart of what we intend the project to deliver - both for the audience who attends, and the young people performing the work.  Tom’s understanding of what the use of different technology means semiotically for the experience of the piece is top class.


I will keep a journal of the development of this incredible project.  It is quite unlike any other I have been involved in. It feels important to document it in as much detail as I can. You will be able to read about it here.

- Christian.

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