With the coronavirus pandemic still running rampant and limiting in-person gatherings, theatre festivals around the world have been forced to rethink their approach to their annual season. One that has done this flawlessly is New York City’s Corkscrew Theatre Festival. Founded in 2017, the Festival usually has a five-week repertory program comprised of five world premiere productions and five works-in-progress from early career artists. This year, clearly, traditional physical productions were not possible. Their innovative solution to that obstacle has created corkscrew 4.0.
Each artist was asked to reimagine their work in a digital way, resulting in eight interactive multimedia productions navigable via a smartly-designed website. Combining facets of film, theatre, game design, voiceover, visual art, and audiovisual design, each of the productions are so very unique and engaging. I found myself drawn in with immediacy, each of the pieces leaving an emotional mark (in several of them, I quite literally jumped away from my laptop screen with a gasp – you can ask my boyfriend for proof). From the moment the viewer arrives on the website, designed like an early 2000s pixilation, they are fully involved in the art.
Bloom Bloom Pow, written by Genevieve Simon, is a conversation on climate change via an interactive text adventure game. The viewer is asked to choose between several paths, proceeding to speak directly to one of two entities onscreen through text bubbles and guided dialogue options. Somehow both hysterical and unnerving, this conversation with invisible onscreen characters easily strikes a chord.
Waters_Of_Oblivion.exe—conceived by Cinthia Chen, Tina-Hanaé Miller, Elizabeth Sun, and Maya Simone Z.—has direct interaction in a similar way. Sparking discussion on memory and death interculturally and intergenerationally, the viewer is guided through a kind of digital underworld by Meng Po, Lady of Forgetfulness, on their journey to the next life. Waters… utilizes a combination of web design, audio interviews, animation, voiceover, and film to create a fully immersive world. In equal parts guided meditation, adventure game, and diverse interview, the work has its viewer philosophizing and deeply touched by its finale.
Yankees, written by Serena Berman, plays with social media as its vehicle. The viewer is directed to a glitched-out website for a semester abroad program. There, they watch several videos from previous students. At the surface, it appears that nothing is wrong, just five college kids getting ready for their time in Italy. However, as the videos continue and the audiovisual glitches get worse, it is clear that something is going murderously awry. Exploring the meaning of being an American in a world on fire, this piece sticks with you long after you leave it.
The Ortiz Twins are Coming Home, written by Andrew Siañez-De La O, is essentially a teaser trailer for the full play when it can be performed. Using collage, street art, and traditional Mexican music, the viewer is taken through a short comic strip, following twins Andrea and Mateo as they encounter a Zapotec God who holds their family’s secrets. I was left intrigued and wanting more: I hope to see this piece fully mounted sooner rather than later.
Outside of the four premiere productions reimagined on the site, there are three reading series projects presented in similar ways. Bun in the Oven, based on Lee Rayment’s “Love on the Rocks,” is presented as a wacky podcast that exposes its co-hosts’ deteriorating relationship. And the Trees Fell Down, by Viviana Prado-Núñez, utilizes superb audiovisual editing to create a devastating indie-style short film surrounding Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico. Cory and Smin’s Love Conquers the Earth, by Billy McEntee, is a theatre kid’s chat room, equal parts curious and hilarious. In summary, all three are unique, wonderful pieces, bite-sized stories that have emotional weight.
For myself, I can’t stop thinking about Waters_Of_Oblivion.exe, Yankees, and And the Trees Fell Down. Their multimedia reminaginings are already stunning, and triggered questions of morality, mortality, and humanity deep within me. I cannot wait to see their full productions.
Corkscrew Theatre Festival and their artists have created something magnificent with corkscrew 4.0. It’s something I’ve shared with friends and family, urging them to go experience it. Witty and heart-breaking, hilarious and thought-provoking, these eight pieces create a digital world of art that stays with you. I won’t be forgetting the experience any time soon. I doubt you will, either.
Conceived by Haleh Roshan and produced by the Corkscrew Theatre Festival, corkscrew 4.0 is running until August 23rd. To have the experience yourself, click here.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.