The OnComm is the Off West End Commendation which aims to recognise excellence in online theatre work. This award was introduced in May 2020 in the light of the lockdown arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. Following over 350 submissions and over 120 awards being made it was decided to group the shows into a number of categories and then select finalists and winners for an online ceremony on February 21st, 2021. This can be seen on official OnComm partner Scenesaver’s website (click here). The event is free to view but you will need to be registered. As part of the build up to the big evening, I’ll be focusing on each of the OnComm categories in turn and previewing the four finalists in each group.
If there was one thing I wish I’d known to do before lockdown started, it would have been to purchase shares in Zoom; by September 2020 the tech company’s revenue had quadrupled. Platforms like this were not only the lifeblood of business meetings and staying in touch with family members, but were rapidly seized upon by the theatre world for socially distanced rehearsals, production meetings and ultimately performances. A new type of genre was born – Zoom Theatre – not universally loved perhaps, but a vital addition to many a drama production’s armoury. The four finalists in this category all made extensive use of originally business oriented video conferencing tools to help keep their product reaching an audience.
Agent Venture The Adventure Is Real created three separate interactive online shows which totally relied on teamwork to get participants through the maze of puzzles and problem solving to snatch some important files and defeat the evil mastermind Bozo. They are a salutary reminder that theatre is a shared experience as this was played out by a group of friends/family getting together virtually. The other USP of the shows was that all the characters encountered in the scenario and the technical support was given by one dedicated actor reacting to choices which the participants make. Group tickets are still available for the shows – click here. My full review of the first show, The Heist, is here
Alice, A Virtual Theme Park Creation Theatre was responsible for pushing the envelope of what could be done with platform based shows creating several high-tech theatre pieces last year. Working in this particular instance with partners Big Telly Theatre and charisma.ai, this was the pick of the bunch. Loosely based on the famous Lewis Carroll children’s story there were a number of optional choices to be made visiting fairground sideshows to interact with some of the famous characters before coming together for the grand finale of the trial scene. Consistently ingenious and setting the bar high for platform based theatre this was an ideal family choice last summer. The show is no longer available, though Creation continues to live up to its name in producing new shows – click here. My full review is here
Beige MAGNA repurposed their Vaults Festival live show for an online audience. It proved timely, reflecting on one of the topics of last year (pandemic aside) by investigating the subject of gender fluidity in Anna Wheatley’s biting script. Using a mixture of pre-recorded video and live Zoom performance this piece found a novel way to get its message across by taking the audience into the protagonist’s head. It’s appearance online also commented upon the necessity for connection at a time when that element of the human condition was under threat. I’m afraid I missed its all too brief appearance online and have been unable to track down a recorded version so there’s no full review for this one.
Richard III The Show Must Go Online (i.e., Rob Myles) was a very early adopter of the new technology and may very well have been first out of the trap organising show one just three days after the first lockdown began. The project was eye wateringly ambitious – nothing less than the whole of the Shakespeare canon at the rate of one per week using an international cast of professionals and amateurs with just a few day’s rehearsal each time. Already the winners of a special OneOff Award, this particular show featured a drowning, various ghosts and a climactic fight scene which really upped the ante for what could be done within the new medium. All of the shows, including this one, will remain online in perpetuity – click here. My full review is here.
Hope you can take some time to have a look at these and read the reviews before the big reveal on February 21st. Good luck to all nominee finalists.
A full list of all the OnComm finalists can be found here
Further information about the OnComms (including how to submit a show for consideration) can be found on the Off West End website – click here
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