They’re young, bright, and unstoppably creative. And, pandemic be damned, their adaptable, flexible talents are already lighting up the Edmonton theatre scene. In this 12thnight series you’ll meet some of E-town’s sought-after up-and-comers, artists whose work, on- and backstage, is already having an impact in this challenging age — and will have more when the theatre doors are open again.
Meet techno whiz Bradley King. First up was designer/scenographer Elise CM Jason. Look for others in this continuing 12thnight New Faces series.
By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
BRADLEY KING, digital systems designer
If there ever was a moment in theatre for a creative mind like Bradley King’s it’s got to be now.
“I learn on the go,” says this 20something technology experimenter, modestly of his year of devising new ways to translate the liveness of live theatre to the digital world. “There are so many ideas in my head now, things I want to build….”
By day King, who was a physicist in his former life, is Fringe Theatre’s “systems analyst,” who has managed since 2018 the Fringe Theatre’s web of technological systems, dozens of them, that put shows on sale, sell tickets, offer promo discounts, offer merch, run beer tents in the summer and a take-out cafe these days, add photos.… The Fringe is a free-wheeling why-not? sort of creature in theory. But there’s nothing easy about the tech infrastructure of Edmonton’s biggest, most intricate festival.
By night (and on weekends) King is open for proposals from theatre companies keen to create that ever-elusive sense of live when the audience and the performers can’t be in the same room.
A member of the exclusive brigade of physicists-turned-theatre people, King was working in a geophysics lab when he made the dramatic choice to move to the Fringe. How could he tear himself his way? “Rocks, Liz, are boring; they’re very boring.”
Not to say theatre was an outlandish departure. A Wainwright kid, he didn’t grow up going to the Fringe; falling in love with those summer festivities would come later when he moved to the big city to go to the U of A (where, incidentally, he did improv). But he was in community theatre. “Yes, I was onstage! I act and sing; I’m the whole show!” he laughs. “We did a musical every year; our most famous ones were Grease and Cinderella.”
Figuring out how to bring a director/producer’s vision to life on a platform instead of a stage, that was something new. In this year of enforced alienation, when the indie Amoris Projects sought to rescue Mac Brock’s Tracks from its origins as an in-person theatrical perambulation, director Beth Dart’s go-to talent was King. She calls him “Bradley the Wizard King.” Says Brock, “we struck gold with Bradley.”
Here’s the open-ended question put to him for the May run of Tracks, King says. “Can you help us get it on the internet in a way that people will want to come and see it?” In the event, there was nothing straightforward about this, and everything that cried out for a custom-made solution.
The complications started with a cast of nine artists, performing their original stories about story-making, solo and live, from nine home “theatres.” But that’s not all. “We wanted something the audience could participate in actively, interact with, get immersed in,” says King. “Something more engaging than just another Zoom call.” A new platform, custom-made for Tracks, was born in that thought.
During the show, after every intervention by playwright Brock as a sort of MC, each audience member got to choose their own individual “track” through his “play.” They picked which artist to watch, in what order. “And their choices had consequences.”
The online experiment, which wove nine “theatres” into a piece, re-worked the stage manager’s role into something even more intricate than calling entrances and exits in sync with light and sound. What the moment needed, says King, was “features to help the stage managers coordinate the performers with the audience, to keep track of exactly where each audience member was (at every moment) on their “track,” so the stage managers could tell the performer ‘OK, your audience is here now. Get ready. Go!’.”
“And it worked!” says King happily. “Tracks was my first big project…. For me it was much more than I’d ever done. And I had six weeks to do it! It was a great experience.”
He upped his game with Catch the Keys Productions (of Dead Centre of Town fame). Curio Shoppe, their atmospheric spooky season experiment, was billed as “a brand new theatre-meets-internet-meets-‘the call is coming from inside the house’ interactive experience.” The lead time was down to three weeks. And the experience was both online and live. Four different paths offered to individual members of the audience on their computers each led to an unnervingly custom-made phone call to you in your darkened house — from beyond the grave? — from one of the characters at a certain moment in the chosen narrative route.
The experience was personalized, person by person, for the 30-member audience. On King’s platform, the stage managers could track the path chosen by each audience member individually. “And they had to have the ability to move people around if they needed to,” he says. “So if you got stuck, or went to the Exit page because you got scared, they had to have a way to see where you were in real time, and also to be able to bounce your around to a different spot if need be.”
“I was very stressed, but happy with it!” says King of his part in this logistical puzzle of a theatre evening. “If it ever comes back, I’ll make it even better.”
Meanwhile, King is hatching ideas — for improv companies, for location-based theatre, for kinetic theatre experiences where we’re not just a voyeur of something happening on film (bradleyrking.ca). And the question continues to haunt him: “how can we use technology to make the theatrical experience online more immersive for people at home?”
In a Zoom-laden world, he’s on that for us.