#TheBallantineDays, directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Heather May, is one of the spring Theatre Mainstage productions. It is one that theatre students have been writing and helping to make as they go along. The three main playwrights are May, Thomas Perry ’19, and Izzy Ingram ’19 – though the idea came from last year’s devising class.
It all began with the question: “What is it like to do a theatrical show in the age of social media?” The class came up with an idea for a show about a rebooted ’70s sitcom with a portal, though that’s where the original script and #TheBallantineDays’ similarities end. Resident Sound Designer and Projections Designer Kelly Walker said that “one of the things we’re trying to do is really extend the idea of theater as something that happens within the four walls, but beyond the four walls,” which is done through means that are new to this theatre department.
The portal and many other effects in the world building are done through projections, which is a new but very popular effect in theater. Essentially it is video or graphic images that are shown from a projector on any object – like a set piece or curtain. It is helpful because it can decrease the work of the crew, since there is less set to build and paint, as well as increasing the flexibility of the show. Because of this, so many theaters are using projections that it is important to teach students looking to have a career in theater about the integration of projections into theatrical performances. These little pieces can really help make the show, especially in terms of world creation.
One other element that is lending well to the world creation is part of what is making this piece so new: its use of social media. The show not only includes live streams, but also makes use of Twitter and QR Codes on the posters put up around the campus, as well as having its own website. The website is based upon a fan site, even going so far as to have a fan discussion section. This mimicry is not only helpful for the fans to make a more complete universe and allow them to know a bit about the world of the show before coming to the performance, but it can also be helpful to the cast and crew. This can be through integration of video, or through being able to reference their own material, as well as the help of immersion in the world to understand characters and make artistic decisions.
All of this is making something truly new with the creation of the script and the integration of the projections and social media. May said: “I hope the audience will enjoy the juxtaposition of the ’70s sitcom and the new media.” This juxtaposition is not limited to this, but also reflected in the use of the new social media outlets in the older form of theatrical performance. Our theater is doing something that is new within a time-tested framework. As Walker noted, “Sometimes it is important to pull out the [theatrical script] canon and know it and love it. And sometimes you have to say what can we do that we have never done before? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being ambitious with both accounts.”