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York dance and theatre professors begin work on 'Bugzzz'

York dance and theatre professors begin work on 'Bugzzz'

Creative partners William Mackwood and Gwen Dobie are collaborating on a new project called Bugzzz, a post-apocalyptic, post-mammalian tale told by the surviving insects in a mix of drama, dance and opera. 

The York fine arts professors co-founded Out of The Box Productions to present drama, dance and opera in novel, multidisciplinary projects performed in one-of-a-kind venues, such as nightclubs and other ‘found’ spaces. This more intimate experience, that Mackwood and Dobie refer to as “lounge opera”, encourages audiences to sit on carpets, pillows, chairs, or couches. Their productions use music and movement to provide an emotional and spiritual experience expressive of the human condition. Their unique aesthetics attract new and diverse audiences. 

Although Out of The Box Productions is always interdisciplinary, the freedom of performance fusion can be problematic. Mackwood, a professor of production and design in York's Dance Department,  admits that funding is a constant issue. Multidisciplinary work often does not fit into any one category of performing art.

“Committees have a hard time classifying us, hence our name,” quips Mackwood. “But having said that, both the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council have granted much appreciated development funding for Bugzzz.”

On the other hand, artistic tension is the kind of conflict Mackwood welcomes. He explains how everyday artistic visions vary to create a healthy tension in which everyone has a voice – evidence of a creative team hard at work. 

Bugzzz aims to challenge the notion of progress, particularly our uncritical obsession with technology. The project proceeds as if human civilization has self-destructed because of our over consumption of resources. Only insects remain and it is they who take an archeological look at the value of civilization through art, specifically through Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Tosca.  

Mackwood enthusiastically admits: “I’ve always wanted to do a play inhabited by insects.”  

Bugzzz will be an exciting musical, movement, and design challenge. 

As co-creator, Dobie, a movement professor in York's Theatre Department, will be the dramaturge and co-produce, direct and choreograph the production. She will interpret how different insects move, implementing core proprioceptive training (CPT). CPT develops one’s awareness of direction, orientation in space, and the extent and rate of limb movement based on information relayed from sensory receptors in the joints, tendons and muscles.

The staging for Bugzzz is also contemporary in its rejection of Brecht’s principle of defamiliarization (or verfremdungseffekt) in favour of recent mirror neuron theories that emphasize the human capacity for emotionally empathetic response. 

Thomas Sandberg is on board to work as Bugzzz’s composer. One of his creative challenges is to imagine an insect interpretation of the original Tosca score. He must compose the piece using found objects, imagining what bugs might use for musical instruments. 

Mackwood will write, co-produce and create the lighting design. By working with the approach of sustainable “design on demand”, which involves all members of the production for the creative process, Mackwood is able to explore choices in colour, texture and imagery instantly, on the spot. This approach to lighting design allows for more flexibility and efficient collaboration between directors, choreographers and designers, while also being ecologically friendly. 

Mackwood’s interest in “green” or sustainable theatre practice was sparked by James McKernan, with whom he worked on Sound in Silence (2008). Noting the lack of money allocated to sets in dance, Mackwood recognized a desire in the industry for materials that could be recycled such as lights, projections and soft goods. Green initiatives, however, need to produce superior quality results if they are to offer an alternative to current production practices.

Mackwood experimented with LED lights with great success during the remounting of Opera Erotique (2010). LEDs use one third the power and produce less heat than conventional lights, providing savings on electricity and air conditioning, while making it more comfortable for the performers. The LED lights are also almost always built with red, green and blue optics for full colour mixing. 

Professor Don Sinclair joins the Bugzzz team as the sound and interactive projections designer. Sinclair will map performers’ bodies on stage using 3-D motion capture technology to create a mesh outline. From the 3-D model, Sinclair can manipulate exact projections of colour, image and light onto performers’ bodies, permitting them to be illuminated without background spill.  

The software developed by Sinclair will advance the field of interactive technology in theatre performance. Undergraduate and graduate students in York’s dance and theatre programs will have access to the technology in a new course, The Interactive Stage: Developing Digital Design Tools for Live Performances. 

A.C. Lighting Inc. and managing director J.F. Canuel are uniting once again with Mackwood as industry partners for Bugzzz. A.C. Lighting previously worked on the LED remounting of Opera Erotique, providing outstanding support with equipment, technicians and Canuel’s participation in the round table discussion on opening night. The partnership with A.C. Lighting will provide Mackwood with a team of engineers and researchers to assist in the development of LED costumes and sets. In turn, by observing first hand artists’ design needs, A.C. Lighting gains useful information for the continued evolution of LED technology.

Knowing the value of a good story, Mackwood will soon shift his attention away from the design components and towards script development. York’s Faculty of Fine Arts has offered the use of studio space and a multimedia lab for rehearsals and creative development, for which Mackwood expresses his gratitude: “I have not had any issues – the staff and facilities are all world class."

Bugzzz will premiere June 2012 in Toronto, with the possibility of another performance in Vancouver and an international production in Copenhagen the following year. 

Written by Crystal Basaez, Faculty of Fine Arts research assistant, and reprinted from the summer issue of the Faculty of Fine Arts Research Newsletter

Republished courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.