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Authoring an iPod Noir: An Interview with Gyda Arber

Gyda Arber is a writer-director best known for creating the multimedia iPod noir production, “Suspicious Package,” which drew acclaim from a host of publications, including The New York Times. The play was nominated for an NYIT Award for Best Production of a Play. Arber was named Person of the Year 2008 by nytheatre.com, and has been involved in writing, directing, and acting in a multitude of other productions. She sat down with The Muse Dialogue’s Elyssa Jechow to give some insight into her use of technology in the artistic process.

Elyssa Jechow: Can you give me a basic rundown on your use of technology in performance?

Photo courtesy of theFifthWall
"Suspicious Package," written by Arber, makes innovative use of the iPod Noir.

Gyda Arber: There are a few works I’m best known for – Suspicious Package, which is an interactive “iPod noir” in which the audience ends up playing all of the parts in the show, its sequel, Suspicious Package: Rx, and Red Cloud Rising, an alternate reality theater experience that takes place on the streets of lower Manhattan.

EJ: How do the “iPod noir” performance and the use of this certain technology change the theater experience for the audience?

GA: Well, I involve the audience directly in the experience, as participants. In this way, they actually get to be the “star of the show,” so to speak.

EJ: Is there any further artistic/societal implication in this type of performance, or is it mainly for the enjoyment of the experience?

GA: Suspicious Package was my first foray into this sort of thing, so that was more about experimenting with form to see if it works. As I’ve worked on future works, though, we’ve worked more artistic goals in. Red Cloud Rising is really having a message about the dangers of Wall Street power.

EJ: What is the main reaction that an audience/cast usually has?

GA: Well, we usually hear, “That was so much fun!” People also get excited about doing something they haven’t done before, about the new experience. And I love to create relationships between the different audience members – the experiences are crafted so that it’s easy to meet and socialize with the other people in your group.

Gyda Arber (photo courtesy of gydaarber.com)

EJ: What are your favorite things about producing?

GA: My favorite thing is creating friendships between strangers; to get the different people that come to my shows to leave as friends. It’s pretty fulfilling. It’s also fun to try new things, and hope they work out!

EJ: When I heard you speak, I was curious as to whether or not random people in the location of the play noticed whether anything out of the ordinary was going on. If they do notice, what are their reactions?

GA: It depends – often people notice, but they just chalk it up to, “Oh, it’s New York” or “It’s the Fringe” or what have you. During Suspicious Package we have all the men wear fedoras, and when we produced in Edinburgh, I had a conversation with a random passerby who said, “I keep seeing those fedoras everywhere – they must be really in style!” But I think he was just seeing our fedoras over and over and over again, on different audience members.

EJ: Do you think that because of technology, theater – and especially participatory theater will change drastically in coming years?

GA: I hope so – I love this stuff, and hope more artists are inspired to create these kinds of experiences! I also think that as technology makes it easier and easier to get entertainment without leaving the house, live experiences will become more and more coveted. Just look at the price of concert tickets these days!

EJ: Finally, where in the world have the inspirations for these sorts of things come from? Did any of your training guide you in this direction, or were these completely original ideas?

GA: Most of the inspiration starts when I see something or think of something and wish it were part of a show. Of course, it usually isn’t, so I end up creating something around it. Suspicious Package came out of my desire to have a show in which each audience member became the star. Red Cloud started with the idea that you’d be in the middle of an experience and start getting creepy text messages. The rest comes out of that.

To learn more about Arber and her work, visit http://gydaarber.com.

*****

For other thoughts on innovation in the world of theater, authored for The Muse Dialogue, we encourage you to read “Occupy Theater” by Jeffrey Carpenter.

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