Almost everyone who has owned a Mac or wandered into an Apple store has played with Photo Booth at least once. The popular webcam application allows users to manipulate and distort their appearance in comical ways, shrinking and expanding faces to create hilarious images. While most people are just content to use Photo Booth to have a laugh with friends, Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre is much more ambitious — they are using it to perform a digital puppet show.
Running at the Big Secret Theatre as a part of the High Performance Rodeo until Feb. 2, People You May Know is a multi-media performance that explores the human impact of an economic crisis. Using three laptops hooked up to three different projectors, actors Andy Curtis, Denise Clark and David Rhymer each play three different characters, using Photo Booth filters to switch between them. The idea came to the members of One Yellow Rabbit when they were doing what most people do on Photo Booth — messing around with their friends.
“The actors were in the workshop with their laptops, and they were just playing around with their faces in Photo Booth,” says Blake Brooker, the director of People You May Know. “They weren’t just looking at the images though, they were also talking. Looking at that distorted face changes the way you talk, and you can create a character that way.”
Curtis compares the process to an a exercise used by actors to help create characters.
“There is an acting exercise that involves using masks,” he says. “You put on a mask that is rather grotesque or distorted, you take a mirror and look at your face and you try to form your mouth to fit the bottom of the mask. Then you start making noises, to try to find a voice for the character.”
A similar method was used to create the characters of People You May Know, substituting the masks with technology.
“They used Photo Booth to make a kind of mask, a digital mask, and used that to create a character,” says Brooker. “We decided to explore this further, so we took the concept, threw a storyline together and voila!”
Most of the writing for the performance was done while using Photo Booth, with the actors improvising dialogue with their characters.
“We did some writing with pen and paper, but a lot of it was just looking into the screens at our goofy, distorted faces, putting on a voice and making a character,” says Curtis. “It’s a ton of fun. As soon as you look at your face in Photo Booth, it’s funny. So we laughed a hell of a lot, which helped quite a bit.”
However, with this new way of performing came a host of new challenges, which required One Yellow Rabbit to move outside of their technological comfort zone.
“It was very difficult,” says Brooker. “Playing around with your laptop in your office is one thing, but having it in the context of a theatre is something else entirely. It was a lot of trial and error to get everything right.”
“There were a number of challenges along the way,” says Curtis. “We had never done this before, or had even attempted this kind of a thing.”
Even with these challenges facing them, Brooker is glad One Yellow Rabbit chose to perform People You May Know, citing two reasons it is beneficial to try new things.
“One: It keeps you on your toes,” says Brooker. “And two: it’s interesting and amusing. If you do something that has never been done before or you’ve never done before yourself, there is the fun of learning a completely new thing. It is a refreshing feeling. When you’ve been doing something for such a long time, when you work in any sort of discipline, finding a new way to do things is kind of fun.”