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Beakerhead brings Bradbury’s sci-fi to campus theatre

By Connor Sadler, September 4, 2014 —

Ghost River Theatre’s upcoming production of Tomorrow’s Child at University Theatre immerses the audience in the world of Ray Bradbury’s futuristic short story through an audio-only performance.

Presented as part of Beakerhead — a city-wide festival celebrating art, science and engineering — Tomorrow’s Child tells the story of a futuristic 1989 where a couple goes to the hospital to deliver their baby. But when something goes wrong with the “birthing machine,” their child is thrown into another dimension and appears before them as a blue pyramid with strange tendrils for arms.

Written in 1948, Tomorrow’s Child has all the quirks of retro science fiction, such as flying cars, automated drink machines and hover trolleys. Most of these quirks have been preserved for the audio play, with these sounds adding to the world created on stage.

“It’s not just a reading with a few sound effects in the background like you might hear in an old radio play. It’s much more than that,” says Matthew Waddell, sound designer for Ghost River Theatre. “It’s a complete audio experience and the world of the story is created through sound.”

To help the audience focus on the performance, theatre goers are blindfolded before they set foot in the theatre. To help them find their seats, small groups are led in by ushers before the play begins and sound comes at them from all directions.

“[Blindfolding] allows the audience to not be distracted by their sight. Because we live in such a visual world we often forget about the detail and all the intricacy of sound and all the potential it has,” says Waddell. “You can imagine taking the dramatizations and special effects of a movie and just listening to that.”

The University of Calgary has sponsored Beakerhead since the first festival in 2013. Patrick Finn, an associate professor of drama at the U of C, cites the festival’s inquisitive and collaborative goals behind the U of C’s support.

“[Beakerhead aims to] bring together artists, technologists, engineers and scientists to consider new ideas and new ways of working together,” says Finn. “It’s an experiment in technology, creativity as well as storytelling.”

Tomorrow’s Child is the first installment of Ghost River’s “Six Senses” performance series, with each show devoted to exploring the connection between a different human sense and the influence that sense has on our perception of the world. As the “Hearing” section of the series, Tomorrow’s Child aims to push the limits of what performances can do with sound.

“I really believe that this is a unique experience that most people have never really ever encountered before,” says Waddell. “When was the last time that you sat in a room for 45 minutes and just listened?”

Tomorrow’s Child runs from Sept. 9–13 at the University Theatre. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for general admission.

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