Bringing the Real into Virtual Reality

Brandon, Nick/Downriver News Herald/29 Sept. 2006: D 17

     The word “skriker” was derived from the words “shriek” and “scream” and beginning in early November, The Skriker is a groundbreaking production on its way to Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn.

     The show opens Nov. 8.

     Written by British playwright Caryl Churchill in 1994, this dark drama will be a memorable part of HFCC’s 2006 theater season, according to the school’s director of theater, George Popovich.

     “It was written by one of the greatest living playwrights in the world,” Popovich said.

     “It’s a very complicated play. The types of theaters that do Caryl Churchhill’s (works) are college theaters, big universities and professional theaters. I don’t think anybody in Michigan’s ever done this play.

     Described by Popovich as “serious theater,” the plot of the play involves two British sisters as they are seduced to the dark underworld by a Celtic fairy demon, the Skriker.

     “The theme is intense and riveting, “Popovich said. “It’s all rooted in Celtic Irish mythology, the fairy lore. A lot of people think fairies are Tinkerbell, and actually that’s not the case at all.”

     “That’s all been whitewashed and cutied up to sell dolls. The world of fairies is a vile, ambitious world. Fairies can be good, evil (or) both at the same time.”

     Popovich added that the story of The Skriker has relevance to today’s world.

     “A lot of the creatures we’re using are creatures from the Celtic folklore. This Skriker, this fairy, she’s the overlord of these creatures,” he said. “They follow her; they exist in another dimension in the play.”

     “The theme — it’s very dark. It’s sort of a metaphor for the world. It’s a very small story about the two sisters, but it’s a very big story.”

     “It does refer to war, pollution of a sick planet, and the Skriker kind of represents all of that decay.”

     One truly special aspect of this production is its use of technology. HFCC’s Virtual Theatricality Lab is a cutting-edge, experimental theater venue. The Skriker takes advantage of computer technology and motion capture.

     “We use computer technology to generate scenery,” Popovich said. “We have  3-D scenery (and) the audiences wear polarized glasses, and we are using motion capture to create the creatures.”

     Motion capture is a technique, primarily used in films (including King Kong and The Lord of the Rings series) where human beings do live acting, but their movement is transferred to a computerized image.

     “It’s a 3-D puppet that was created by a digital artist, but the motion and the life of the puppet is created by a real actor and transferred to the digital puppet.”

     Popovich added that this technique is an incredible rarity in live theatre.

     “It’s never been done before in the world on stage, “he said.

     HFCC theater productions are becoming known for exploring technology.

     The theater’s 2003 rendition of The Tempest won The Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival’s regional award for use for virtual scenery, digitally animated characters and 3-D stereoscopic projection.

     Part of Popovich’s inspiration for The Skriker comes from his love of film “I watch a lot of science fiction and horror films—all the way from the 1905 Frankenstein to the 2005 Saw 2.  I’m interested in special effects in movies, and I’ve been following motion capture,” he said.

     “What I was trying to do was put film technology on  the stage.”

     Because the play is heavy in both dramatic and technology content, Popovich thinks the potential audience for The Skriker is broad and diverse – computer geeks, people interested in  supernatural stories and especially, intense drama.

     “(Technology) is the window dressing on the play—there’s acting, there’s dramatic moments and actions between the characters,” he said.

     “The human story is, of course, how these poor British sisters are put up against the wall by this creature.

     “What do you do when something so powerful and strong is after you? You have nobody to turn to; you have to fight it yourself.”

     Also, consistent with the mission of HFCC’s theater program, Popovich thinks The Skriker is ideal for open-minded fans of the theater.

     “Theater traditionally is serious –Greek tragedy came first, then, comedy,” Popovich said. “A well-rounded theater program offers all types of theater

     Popovich is excitedly anticipating the college’s production of The Skriker.

     “We think we’re going to have the surprise of our lives.”

     “The Skriker opens Nov. 8 and runs Wednesday through Saturday through early December.

%d bloggers like this: