March 8, 2013
By Martin deGroot

Text + Tech at the Felt Lab in St Jacobs this weekend is an prime example of one of the defining elements of the regional cultural scene: innovation at the intersection between art and technology.

The fact that it is happening in the heart of St Jacobs country is an indication of how truly regional this trend has become.

The project involves bringing together seven Canadian playwrights and seven leading technology creators to share their expertise and insights in a four-day series of “curated intensives.”

The organizational partners are REAP, FELT Lab, Quarry Integrated Systems and Pat the Dog. Each of these endeavours is full story in itself.

  • REAP, which stands for Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity, is a non-credit undergraduate program at the University of Waterloo. “Arts-led, though not arts-exclusive,” the program pays teams of students “to research and develop new applications for existing digital display technologies, and then commercializes their best ideas.”
  • FELT Lab is a “digital sandbox for serious play” founded by REAP, Christie Digital Systems and Quarry Integrated Communications. Hosted by Quarry, this fully-equipped facility serves as a space where students, academics, artists and industry experts interact and explore.
  • Pat the Dog Playwright Centre is one of 10 playwright development centres across Canada. The organization is based here (recently as “resident artists” of the Walper Terrace Hotel in Kitchener), but operates provincewide.

The idea of organizing an encounter between playwrights and tech inventors came from Pat the Dog, whose founder was concerned that technology is often used to “show off the ‘bells and whistles’ rather than to develop the heartfelt meaning that should be the core of a good play.”

When Lisa O’Conell, its founder and artistic director, met with Jill Tomasson Goodwin, co-founder of REAP (and associate professor in the University of Waterloo’s department of drama and speech communication), the project began to take shape.

They were surprised to find, after researching the topic, that what they had in mind was something that had never been done before. This is the first time that “creators of text (playwrights) have ever been introduced to creators of tech (inventors) in an organized system to work through the problems of creation and design in a theatrical context.”

The Canada Council for the Arts and the City of Waterloo have provided funding to make it happen.

Participants from the theatre side of things include:

  • Bob White, Director of New Play Development at the Stratford;
  • Bernie Roehl;
  • and Trevor Copp, founder of Burlington’s Tottering Biped Theatre.

They’ll be interacting with technology creators such as:

  • Bob Rushby and Mike Perkins, co-investors of the Christie Digital MicroTile display technology;
  • Vincent John Vincent, co-founder and chief executive officer of GestureTek;
  • and Mark Connolly, co-founder of Fluxible and REAP designer-in-residence.

The encounter began yesterday, and will wrap up on Monday.

This is a pilot project, so what will happen as this “creative collision” unfolds is an open question. The structure is being kept deliberately flexible, and ample time is being allotted for more casual conversations among members of the intensive, especially in the resort setting of the Evanholme Inn, where all the participants are staying.

A Pat the Dog dramaturgical team will be on hand at all times to pose questions and capture “threads of conversation” as they take shape.

When all is said and done, a casebook will be put together that will allow sharing the results theatre creators across Canada — and with any of us who might interested in what comes out of this unprecedented encounter.

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