Erin Cobby talks to composer, Matthew Robins about his collaboration with Boundless Theatre and Script Club on a stop motion music video for Hull based show, Drip at Bush Theatre.
The trend of using technology in theatre has well and truly arrived. One only needs to look so far as the success of 1927’s Golem or the raging popularity of Warhorse, to see that not only is this decision effective, but also makes for a very successful play. However, as much as audiences seem to be enjoying mixed-media performance there are those in the theatre industry who aren’t so keen.
Both Lyn Gardner and Matt Wolf, theatre critic for the International Herald and Tribune have voiced their disapproval in articles [and] many others fear that technology creates a barrier between actors and audience; performances becoming less about talent and narrative and more about dazzling effects. This argument has developed of late, as through the ever-increasing power of social media, companies are forced to rely more heavily on technology for promotion.
Now, perhaps, critics of soulless technological advancement will be silenced by one company’s work. Matthew Robins is the composer for the one-man musical Drip, which focuses on the life of Liam (Andrew Finnigan), who joins his school’s synchronised swimming team at the behest of his friend Caz, even though he can’t swim. In anticipation of the show’s run at the Bush, Matthew created a promotional stop motion music video which features one of the songs from the show. The video is charming and rustic, moving away from the flashy use of technology that people seem to find so garish. The key, Matthew explains, is having someone from the inside handle the promotion, “it can come across as quite dry when they’re not involved in the production.” Due to his own proximity, Mathew could create something both accurate and effective. “Drip isn’t Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” Matthew laughs, “it would have been wrong to promote it like it was”.
By creating something related to, but still separate from the main project, Matthew has managed to turn a piece of promotion into a work of art, bypassing all claims of commodification of talent. At the crux of Drip is the idea that the main character Liam has written the musical himself. Matthew states that the promo was meant to reflect this and he purposefully used older technology to validate the idea that Liam had also created the video. Matthew also explains that the video deviates from the style of the play, his words tumbling over each other in excitement to explain: “there’s a fight with an octopus at the end, and that doesn’t happen in the show but that’s why the video can be part of his imagination. In the show the character Liam is a big fan of superheroes – so it was him imagining he can’t swim.”
Matthew talks of extending the video further beyond the performance, potentially making more music videos if he could figure out a way to make them less time consuming. If nothing else “it’s a great way to preserve Drew’s performance,” he offers, betraying again the wholesome nature of the idea and separating it from the plays on-stage format.
For Matthew, passion for the project is key, “I get asked by other people to do video stuff for their shows and I turn it down unless there’s a real reason for it.” He believes that it has become too easy to use, developing into a crutch: “people use it to solve a problem that they are too lazy or not creative enough to solve by a more traditional method.” The idea of stop motion animation, moving beyond the concept that it was Liam who created the video, is to enable the audience to imagine they too can create something similar, “we can all get up here and do this!” he laughs. While half-joking his sincerity is evident, simultaneously making a beckoning gesture with his hands, betraying his enthusiasm. Instead of erecting the barriers that many fear technology is causing, Matthew and his homemade style of promotion aim to lower them.
This home-grown style of promotion further reflects the nature of Boundless and Script Club, the theatre companies producing Drip. This is the third show that they have produced together, in a bid to harness the writing power of ‘home’ they return a playwright to their backyard and use kids in that area to help inform them on the issues that will be worked on in that project. The piece is then shown around unusual places in the area, for Drip set in a school in Hull, this meant the local youth club. This anchoring in real-life locations and issues really comes through in the video as, before the imagination sequence, Andrew walks through a nondescript school and comments on unremarkable subjects like the colour of his shorts. In making the video, Matthew has heralded the play’s beginnings, moving away from analytical and flashy promotion.
Matthew separates himself even further away from the guise of greedy tech wizard as he bemoans having to use social media for self-promotion. “I bought an e-book,” he laughs, stating that the title was akin to “Social Media for Dummies”. Even the format for the video betrays its incompatibility with the hunger of social media, due to the stop motion style, it is impossible to upload more content, showing that while effective, social media promotion was not the primary directive.
For Matthew, it seems that while technology is on the rise, in terms of promotion or performance it only really works when it’s authentic. Perhaps it is in this idea that we will find a happy medium of using technology in theatre, encouraging people to put down the overbearing lightshows and instead invest in truly supportive technology, that adds to, instead of distracts from, the message of the piece.