When I got the press release about Court Theatre's latest plan to engage audiences, I thought it might be a joke. Called “The Liminal Space,” the project is a 24-hour live video feed of the stage of the Abelson Auditorium as it was in mid-March right after Ibsen's “The Lady from the Sea” was canceled a few hours before the first preview.
A ghost light pierces the darkness and dimly illuminates the transparent sliding wall of Andrew Boyce's set. A hat from Linda Roethke's costumes rests on the sand. The circle of chairs where the acting company gathered on that last day and made the difficult decision not to open is still there.
I wondered if we were being asked to watch the theatrical equivalent of paint drying.
But the stream didn't really remain exactly the same. Lights turned on and off and changed colors. At times, Paul Toben's lighting also made the sands and sea seem to shift. A figure behind the wall moved almost imperceptibly. Andre Pluess' sound design filled the air with crashing waves, screeching seagulls, and eerie music.
The longer I watched the video, the sadder I felt about not being able to see “The Lady from the Sea” starring the wonderful Chaon Cross. Reading about this lesser-known Ibsen play, including essays by director Shana Cooper and others on the Court web site, exacerbated this sense of loss.
And that's part of the point, according to Jennifer Gadda, Court's director of production and curator of this installation. She wanted to create a contemplative space to share with viewers.
“One of my favorite rituals is sitting alone in the dark theater after everyone has left,” Gadda explained. “It's like a church moment for me.” She added that she heard about a theater in the UK that was focusing a web cam on the empty stage but she didn't watch it because she didn't want to imitate it.
Court's installation consists of a camera aimed at the stage with lighting, sound, and video that can be controlled remotely by a computer at the theater. Gadda also has a computer at home with access, so she can change the cues.
“The Liminal Stage” went live on June 30, though it had a soft opening a week earlier to work out the details. Gadda said that sound and video supervisor Josh McCannon set up the system before going on vacation, and she wanted to wait until he returned to launch officially. “That turned out to be a good idea, because I messed up a few of the settings on the computer, and he had to fix them,” she said.
Reflections on “The Lady from the Sea” is just the first phase of “The Liminal Space.” Gadda is calling the second phase “Ghosts of Court Theatre.” Tentatively scheduled to start in early August, it will include videos of some of Court's 200-or-so past productions. “The idea is that every time you 'drop in,' it will be different, though it might vary with a new cue every day or on the hour,” she said. “But we'll be 'dark' on Mondays like the theater is.”
While these two phases explore the past, the third will look to the future. Gadda is putting out a call inviting multimedia artists from the community and beyond to use the stage for their work. She said she was inspired by seeing it in June for the first time in three months and immediately having the impulse to turn it into an art piece.
“The Liminal Space” will continue at least as long as the theater is closed, but Gadda does envision a fourth phase. “If the crew is willing, I'd like to leave the camera up as they disassemble the set, sweep away the sand, and return the stage to a clean, dark space ready for the next show,” she said.
Court Theatre is expected to announce very soon when live theater will resume. In the meantime, “The Liminal Space” is racking up “likes” and “loves” on Court's Facebook page, many of them from people who had worked at the theater and miss it, and comments at the web site. One of my favorites comes from Mike Fischer who says “Court Theatre has meant so much to me, for so long. Thank you for giving me this priceless chance to commune with its ghosts. They live on, in this hallowed space; they play on, in my mind. They will be with me, all my life.”
To watch and possibly join in, go to www.CourtTheatre.org or www.facebook.com/CourtTheatre. On the latter, you'll also find “What’s Up? With Matthew Sitz,” the director of audience services' series of interviews with theater members Chaon Cross, Kate Collins, designer Arnel Sancianco, and others.