Not to be confused with Eastern Front’s Early Stages, which focuses on works in development, the Dartmouth-based company’s STAGES Theatre Festival is all about fully-formed productions by Atlantic Canadians and beyond.
Set to take over the Alderney Landing Theatre in early June, this year’s STAGES features productions that run the gamut of technology, music, movement and more.
Technology @ STAGES
The 2023 festival headliners include several technology-driven shows, including HEIST’S Frequencies, a VR-driven mixed-reality show and asses.masses, a 7+ hour video game from B.C. artists Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim, designed for live audiences to play from beginning to end without instruction.
As well, Secret Theatre, in collaboration with Afro Viking Pictures and Arcade, will present Alone Together, in which audiences use a specially designed app as they play the part of a “rented family member” opposite artificial intelligence (A.I.) characters.
“Three years ago, I read an article in the New Yorker about family rental agencies,” says creator Dustin Harvey. “Family rental agencies offer fake family members to lonely people looking for companionship. These professional stand-ins have dinner in your home, watch television with you, and keep you company.”
Employing cutting-edge voice recognition and A.I. technology, users step into the shoes of a professional stand-in, interacting with lonely individuals through a combination of film and GPT-driven digital beings. The result is unpredictable and spontaneous interactions that create an immersive audience experience.
“This is a unique journey that challenges our understanding of human connection, and it presents an exciting opportunity to explore new boundaries of storytelling and interactivity,” says Harvey.
To explore the boundaries of A.I. chat in a creative context, the team looked to GPT-3 as the most promising language model available.
“ChatGPT will continue to astonish, terrify, delight and anger the world, but our experience with the GPT model behind it demonstrates the mind-bending creative possibilities that are unlocked by this incredible advanced technology,” says Arcade’s Jon Meggitt.
Afro Viking Picture’s Taylor Olson and Koumbie were fascinated by combining film and A.I. to create an immersive storytelling experience that involves the audience as a participant.
“This beautiful concept takes us on an intriguing journey that explores the nature of human connection,” they say.
Music @ STAGES
For music lovers, there are two work-in-progress showings of new musicals. In Mind the Light local musician Gabrielle Papillon brings haunting songs to the story of a queer woman tending to a lighthouse in the 1880s, and Frenchys the Thrift Musical, a comedy about three generations of women trapped in the classic Maritime establishment.
Calgary-based multi-disciplinary artist Vivek Shraya will close out the festival as part of her national tour in concert with local singer-songwriter T. Thomason.
Movement @ STAGES
Movement is also another big part of this year’s STAGES as Zuppa, in partnership with Mayworks, brings its new high-octane theatre/dance hybrid, The Movements and Maenad Theatre presents A Sapphic Affair, with a mix of poetry and movement based on the poetry of Sappho.
“This is a play I’ve been developing over the last year or two and is in many ways almost an artistic coming out for me,” says A Sapphic Affair creator Luciana Fernandes. “There is such a big part of my life that I’m very open about, but I realized I hadn’t let it take the central place in my artistic practice.”
A Sapphic Affair follows the journey of two women, how they bond and surrender to each other, how their fear drives them away, and how an unbreakable bond brings them back together.
The idea for A Sapphic Affair came to Fernandes after working with a peer researching feminine queer representation in concert dance.
“I immediately thought of Sappho and revisited her work,” she says. “So I went through her fragments and realized it made my body want to move. Her poetry is very direct, raw and visceral, and I found a connection that I don’t find in very many other works.”
Fernandes realized that shibari, a contemporary form of rope bondage originating in Japan, would be the ideal connective element.
“It felt so right, and it fell into place quite instantly, quite beautifully,” says Fernandes. “And of course, we have our own more abstract movement, but the shibari scene is such a beautiful place of contradiction that gives into a form of surrender that is hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it.”
Calling it “beautiful and hot,” Fernandes says A Sapphic Affair combines forms rarely seen in performance art.
“In A Sapphic Affair, shibari is the bridge between dance, theatre, movement, and kink, all in a queer affirming love story,” she says.
Families @ STAGES
For families, STAGES has an entire series, including Lil Villains’ Dinostories: 3 Prehistoric Fairy Tales, and a storytime session with Shauntay Grant, who will read from her newest children’s book, My Fade is Fresh.
Eastern Front Theatre’s STAGES Theatre Festival runs June 6-11 at the Alderney Landing Theatre (2 Ochterloney St, Dartmouth). Visit easternfronttheatre.com for tickets and information.