“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
Like the “Six Million Dollar Man,” Lakeside Little Theatre (LLT) is about to embark on a process during which it will partly tear itself down in order to completely rebuild and, with the use of innovation and technology, make itself stronger, better than before.
But, even as the theater’s reconstruction project looms large, innovative directors are still finding ways – despite the restrictions of a limited infrastructure – to make their productions stronger and better, and often using technology.
Local audiences recently thrilled to Peter King’s use of a stunning water wall in his production of Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” a perfect example of how a bit of engineering can enhance a production.
Now another director with a history of creating exciting innovations is about to stage his last play before the old theater comes down.
Director Neal Checkoway, who is currently in rehearsal of “The Same Deep Water As Me” for a February 15 opening, promises to once again surprise audiences through his trademark use of tech.
“I love trying to bring interesting, new features to our local productions that can surprise and delight audiences while keeping them engaged in the play’s action,” said Checkoway.
Checkoway’s self-described “checkered career” included stints as a teacher, writer, filmmaker and a technologist. (For the record, Checkoway retired to Lakeside in 2001 after founding the travel website Travelocity.)
In his 2004 LLT debut, Checkoway literally and figuratively “brought the house down” when the finale of his production of “An Inspector Calls” saw the walls of the stage set crack and ooze blood as the lies and misdeeds of the family in question tore their world apart.
Checkoway followed that up with his 2005 adaptation and production of Jerzy Kosinsky’s “Being There,” in which a television-obsessed idiot is adopted by Washington elites who mistake his empty statements for bold, meaningful political rhetoric.
“Although it’s become somewhat standard fare since then, that show introduced LLT to the use of rear projection effects” said Checkoway. “But perhaps the most fun part of that experience was that we pre-filmed a number of scenes and then integrated them into the live, on-stage action. Given the significance of media in the story, this was particularly interesting and gratifying.”
In 2014, working with engineering guru Dave Hutchinson, who was responsible for the water effects in “Ghosts,” Checkoway dreamed up a revolving stage to pull off the huge number of scene changes in Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal.”
“The Same Deep Water As Me” is a dark, social comedy by young British playwright Nick Payne. It tells the story of two struggling personal injury attorneys who are drawn into an insurance scam. With echoes of Mamet and Beckett, the play, Checkoway said, shows that “even in a post-truth, alternative facts world, the law – as Dickens might say – is still an ass.”
Checkoway was inspired by the somewhat-absurd nature of the action to once again use technology to enhance his intended effect. Without wanting to give too much away, Checkoway said he will introduce a “Greek Chorus” element into the action to make on-going commentary on the unfolding action while also revealing the internal dialogue of the play’s protagonist.
“There’s always a fine balance to try to add these tech elements into a production without having them completely take over,” said Checkoway. “I guess we’ll just have to wait for audience reaction to see if I’ve been able to achieve that.”