Jan. 31 through Feb. 3, the ASU student-run Binary Theatre Company is hosting the experimental and immersive performance called “SparrowSong.” “SparrowSong” is a hybrid between art and theater that blooms into an interactive experience for young audiences.
Traditional plays are typically viewed by audiences seated in theater seats. What “SparrowSong” does differently is that it wraps its young audience in an experience, trying to give children some agency. By doing so, the audience is not simply spectators; they develop a meaningful and tactful relationship to the story itself. “SparrowSong” uses Microsoft Kinect sensors and incorporates them into theatrical performance.
It’s an experiment. It is not uncommon to go to an art museum and view an installation with an interactive element, but that’s not storytelling. “SparrowSong,” however, tells a story via digital and analog interactivity through immersion. Families can interact with the story by stepping in and touching the world of the story.
“SparrowSong” is a story of friendship and belonging. A lonely girl (played by theater graduate student Julie Rada) commandeers an empty space and makes it artistic. She fills this environment full with her imagination and creativity. She creates a rich, imaginary world so she can form a relationship with a lost bird that she invites into her special place.
The girl brings the bird inside her home and fulfills a longing for friendship, until the bird leaves and she feels alone again. Then she is left with the question of whether she is capable of trusting others and can open up her world even more. That is the moment when she encounters the spectators, the audience, and she invites them into her world. She is suspicious, but ready to share.
The audience won’t get into the space right away. The beginning performance happens in around 15 minutes, and then the girl makes contact with the audience and invites them into her world. At that point, the audience, at their own free will and leisure, can go through and choose their own adventure story. They can explore, touch and experience all the tokens the girl has left behind and through that they learn about little pieces of her back story.
Glimmers of her past are reflected in the environment. Throughout the various semi-enclosed rooms, there are maps that show where the girl has been. People will be able to read postcards that she shared with her grandmother. There is a sound installation where audiences can press buttons, listen to different bird calls and see videos of those birds they are hearing. There is a chalk surface on the ground where children can draw, and there is a live camera feed that will project what they are drawing onto the ceiling.
There are two Microsoft Kinect sensors integrated into the experience that are responsive to body motion. The first Kinect sensor allows members of the audience to control a flock of birds. The second Kinect sensor animates a bird character that the girl created out of chalk. The Kinect will read and map the person’s body. The drawing of the bird will mirror with the person’s movement in real time. For example, when one of the audience members flaps their arms, the chalk bird flaps its wings.
Tickets are limited to 30 people per performance. Theater graduate students Megan Flod Johnson, Daniel Fine and Rada create an electrifying contemporary approach to theater.
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