Indistinguishable human avatars have been created for a new “rock opera musical” using breakthrough technology that could revolutionize live theater.
The show, titled Cages, uses “crazy” special effects that can now realize a theater director’s wildest dreams. Digital characters interact with an ensemble cast of seven live actors, appearing and disappearing instantly, suddenly filling the stage with a cast of hundreds, or extending a giant arm 20 feet across the stage.
The technology allows a set to be filled with water in a matter of seconds, emptied just moments later and just as quickly bursting into flames again.
Cages is brought to the UK from the US by the production company Scenario Two, co-founded by John Berry, a former Artistic Director at English National Opera (ENO), whose innovative productions have garnered 14 Olivier Awards and 50 nominations, among other prizes.
He said, “This is cinema theater. It’s phenomenal. They spent millions on it. I’ve never seen such a technique. You can’t tell the difference between live performers and the avatars – and the score is incredible.
“I see a lot of productions around the world and I’ve never seen anything like it in a theatre. People won’t know what hit them. It’s totally original.”
The show’s creators, CJ Baran and Benjamin Romans of theater company Woolf and the Wondershow, spent eight years developing the technology.
As head of ENO between 2007 and 2015, Berry’s critically acclaimed productions included Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson and Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. In 2017 he formed Scenario Two with Anthony Lilley and created other theatrical productions including the forthcoming Pavarotti musical.
He said: “We discovered Cages in the Los Angeles Arts District where it has become a cult event. We have never seen a piece of music theater in London or anywhere else that comes close to its technical and tonal bravado.”
They saw its potential to attract audiences used to seeing extraordinary special effects in cinemas and were determined to bring it to the UK. Cages opens September 13 at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, as it requires a black box – a total blackout – with technology built into it.
Berry said: “It’s hard to calculate rationally what you see on stage and what singers are actually singing live. At times the production is populated by dozens of people – what is real and what was created through the intricate video mapping is impossible to know as the holographic characters interact seamlessly with the live performers.”
He described ABBA Voyage – in which avatars recreate the Swedish pop group – as “incredible” but said Cages is just as brilliant on its own scale – with different technology and cutting-edge 3D video and animation, cinematic effects, holographic and immersive sound.
In 2016, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a groundbreaking production of The Tempest, in which actor Mark Quartley wore sensors that tracked his movements and rendered Ariel the sprite as an animated ethereal character.
Berry said: “That’s good, but this is so different. I can honestly say that there is absolutely nothing else that compares.”
Cages is a love story set in a dystopian world called Anhedonia, “where emotions are forbidden and hearts locked in cages”. A reclusive soul named Woolf, played by Baran, falls in love with the “devastatingly quirky Madeline.”
Music and lyrics were composed, produced and arranged by Baran and Romans, with video animations and holograms by Ryan Richardson.
Berry said, “You’ve made this incredible symphonic score that surrounds you in 360-degree sound. It moves from grand symphonic scale to delicate melody.” The score has been described as echoing Daft Punk, Ellie Goulding and Kanye West.