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.
Site specific plays and heavily interactive shows were a distinct casualty last year as playmakers grappled with new technology to try and restore the essential element of a live audience while keeping people socially distanced. As ever the theatre world rose to the challenge and began to introduce such aspects back into the mix. Being able to connect with an audience via platforms such as Zoom proved a boon even providing the ability to share printed material quickly and to gain almost instant feedback in the form of the chat functions. All of the finalists in this category found novel ways to succeed in making the connection which is so much a part of the theatre going experience.
Dream Catcher Blue Moon Zoom’s aim is providing creative experiences for hard to reach parts of the community and they certainly succeeded in doing so with this show which was put on briefly over the Christmas period. A modern day fairy tale, the show was targeted specifically at families caring for an autistic child who could be drawn into the action through the use of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Symbols) which appeared in one of the Zoom windows. Participants were also encouraged to respond and participate in rather more traditional ways. Alongside the main show there were specially created workshops on offer for participants. I did not review the show, though have been more than charmed by a filmed version since.
User Not Found This highly unusual show was billed as “an immersive podcast” and was best experienced on a mobile phone. The company Dante or Die reimagined what was once a live event and repackaged it as an at home experience. The piece examines what becomes of our online identity once we have passed on and have left a heap of stuff on our social media platforms and is also an examination of what it means to lose someone close. The design and execution is stunningly realised and even if the subject matter doesn’t appeal the technical prowess of the piece is sure to fascinate. It is still available via the Scenesaver platform – click here. My full review is here.
Viper Squad CtrlAltRepeat whisked its audience back to the 1980s and the era of the American cop show/film. It’s a clever and addictive confection where you get to work with fellow rookie squad recruits to solve crime, tackle the baddie and beat the inevitable ticking bomb. Split into three teams which support each other there are characters to work with, documents to examine and life and death decisions to be made which takes this beyond the realms of the more ordinary game playing theatrical experience. The finalist nomination is for the original iteration of the show but Viper Squad Remastered, a new and improved version, has recently been launched – click here. My full review of the original show is here and of the revamped version is here.
Wind in the Willows The classic children’s book was given a live promenade performance outing by the Guildford Shakespeare Company in 2015. It was reimagined in summer 2020 as an online piece in association with the Yvonne Arnaud and Jermyn Street Theatres. Some very good use of green screen technology helped to evoke the various required locations and the cast of six were kept firmly on their toes playing all the characters. The audience were involved right from the start as the jury at Mr Toad’s trial (used as a framing device) and were further encouraged to source various props in their own locations and join in vocally making it a full on interactive experience. This was a true piece of live theatre as it doesn’t seem to have been recorded for posterity and, as I’m afraid I missed it at the time, I have not written a review.
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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For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released online productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)
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