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Slaughterhouse

"the camera puts each character on trial"

Video and projection allows theatre makers and audiences to look into and beyond the world on stage, writes Slaughterhouse performer Tom Matthews.

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Category: Theatre
Company: 25A
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Slaughterhouse: Candid Camera

Date: 13 Oct 2019
When I took on the role of DJ in Anchuli Felicia King’s play Slaughterhouse, I knew the role would be challenging.

Standing on stage by yourself and trying to engage and connect with the audience during a lengthy monologue can be difficult, but I was blissfully unaware of just what was going to be required during this play. 

Within the first couple of rehearsals I’m rolling on the floor, moving cables while delivering lines, and at one point giving everyone a really good view of my backside while I bend over to speak directly into the lens of a camera. Behind the camera is Adam Marks (also playing the role of Josh) who is trying to find the right position to film me from, as I am being directed by Benita de Wit to play either to camera or the audience (or in some cases, both) 

During a dinner break I spoke to Benita about why she wanted to use live video for Slaughterhouse.

“As a play about a tech company and dehumanisation it felt right to tell this story using digital media,” she tells me.

“Different accounts are refracted through video and projection. In a way the camera puts each character on trial and examines both who is telling the truth and the representation of truth in theatre.”

Using live video in theatre is a trend that has been developing more in recent years, and personally, I couldn’t be happier for it. I was first introduced to the idea of film in theatre while I was at school studying theatre practitioner and filmmaker Robert Lepage, whose company Ex Machina uses projection and film to create “whole new artforms”. It allows theatre makers to show the audience so much more than what can be displayed on stage.

Our director, Benita de Wit, also a Lepage fan, agrees.

“As a director you always have your brain on multiple different things at once, but when you introduce live camera it takes that split focus to another level. You’re designing, staging and teching things both for the live audience and for the camera. You are creating a whole other thing. It can be really demanding but it also has its perks because you can film angles that the audience would never otherwise be able to see.”

In Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui, the actors were able to walk backstage or into corners of the stage that half the audience couldn’t see. Thanks to the camera, we were able to follow the actors to these dark corners and focus on some of the minute details of the design that can be missed in large theatres. 

Working on Slaughterhouse has introduced me to the idea of digital dramaturgy.

“We’re using the camera really differently throughout the show.” says Benita. “Sometimes it feels like a friend or a voyeur, at other times it has a more Orwellian presence. We’re using the video to explore different aspects of character and shift the space so it feels like an office or a talk show or a party.”

The use of camera and projection in Slaughterhouse has given me the freedom to use the entire stage and explore completely different ways of connecting with the audience.

In our transitions, the pre-recorded footage brings the audience deeper into the world of the play while the set changes in front of them, and the camera angles and effects in my scene create the world as my character sees it.

The use of video has not been without challenges, though. With cables running around the stage, and trying to find the best balance between playing to a camera and the audience, it has been a huge learning curve for all of us.

Speaking of which, I need to wrap this up because I’m supposed to be filming Sasha in a tech rehearsal. And she’s very particular about her angles.

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