On February 26, the Baryshnikov Arts Center and Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation co-presented The Cherry Orchard: A New Media Workshop as part of Baryshnikov Arts Center’s Digital Spring 2021 Season.
Adapted from Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the presentation was created by Boston’s Arlekin Players Theatre and their Zero Gravity Virtual Performance Lab and featured a mix of film, theatre, and video game technology. Adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the interactive online theater experience allowed viewers to access Chekhov’s desktop computer to discover six of his classic characters searching for happiness in a virtual space.
The presentation was run on a new platform, called the Soft Layer, created by the developers behind the video game Soda Drinker Pro, a game that simulates the act of drinking soda that was released on April 14, 2016 to Steam and Xbox One. The toolset mixes live performance and multiplayer games, helping productions create unique interactive virtual performances.
The presentation featured Tony nominee Jessica Hecht (A View From the Bridge) as Ranevskaya, Anna Baryshnikov (Dickinson) as Varya, Darya Denisova as Tramp, Jeffrey Hayenga (The Elephant Man) as Fiers, Melanie Moore (Finding Neverland) as Anya, Mark Nelson (Angels in America) as Gaev, and Nael Nacer as Lopakhin. In addition,BAC Founder and Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov made an appearance in the role of Anton Chekhov.
“The post-pandemic theatre has to reexamine and re-imagine itself. Through this experiment we are finding out how humankind can find each other in the virtual while continuing to treasure the in-person encounter, which makes for a new kind of site-specific theatre,” Golyak said. “And I find myself in constant dialogue with The Cherry Orchard—during a time of loss and recovery, it helps us explore connection, transition, loss, and the human yearning for happiness.”
The creative team included virtual performance technical director Vladimir Gusev, game engine and interaction designer Will Brierly of Snowrunner Productions, live production technicians Anton Nikolaev and Igor Golyak, virtual set and environment designer Anna Fedorova, web developer Anatoly Krivonos, and composer Jakov Jakoulov, among others.
The virtual performance was a way for theatergoers to engage with a cultural event during the COVID-19 lockdown. “This really democratizes theater. If you’re someone who might be interested in theater, but you don’t want to pay for a babysitter, $200 for tickets, and parking, now you can experience it from home. And if you don’t like it, you can just close your computer,” Golyak said.
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