Review Fix Exclusive: Inside ‘The Swell’

Review Fix chats with Tova Wolff and Graham Miller (Artistic Directors of Refracted Theatre Company) about their newest production, The Swell.”

About The Swell:

While live performance is still restricted, Refracted Theatre Company is finding a way to transform the space around you in a way that only theatre can. Refracted Theatre Company makes theatre that disrupts socially accepted narratives by illuminating another side of the story. Refracted puts accepted norms through the prism of theatrical storytelling to reveal a spectrum of colorful complexity.

After having to postpone the rest of their inaugural season, Refracted Theatre Company is responding to the coronavirus pandemic with a brand-new initiative. Their goal is to listen, adapt, and disrupt in order to best serve their community in a time of crisis.

Introducing “The Swell”, an audio-immersive theatrical experience for one. All of the actors involved in “Act” (Episode) One, have agreed to allow Refracted Theatre Company to make a donation in their name to an organization of their choosing, supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, which advocates for the safety and wellness of the Black community.

Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?

Tova Wolff: We had an ongoing interest, well before the pandemic, in audio theatre. We knew that there was a market for people who would want to listen to and enjoy a theatrical experience without the pressure of going to the actual theater. So when the pandemic hit, and we (of course) had to change gears with our programming, we thought…”how can we take the idea of audio theatre and make it more autonomous? More immersive?” We took the best of what we thought immersive and audio theatre had to offer and decided to combine it all. That is The Swell. An immersive audio experience for one.

Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?  

Graham Miller: Our creative process is ever-changing. We gotta stay nimble these days. Neither of us had ever worked in an audio-medium. So, we had a lot to learn. And, boy did we. But regardless of medium, what we are most interested in is disruption of form and content. 

We started with the playwrights. Reaching out to colleagues we had been wanting to bring into the Refracted Family. We asked them to write plays wherein the action could only take place by way of music, sound effects, or dialogue (no stage directions).  They also were encouraged to assign an accessible location to their play at which the audience, when listening, could heighten their immersive experience. We recorded all of the actors via online platforms. Then we took our first drafts from our sound designer, Emma Wilk, to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to see how best we could marry the environment to the audio experience. This has propelled our further editing and honing of details in this project. What we hope you experience is an enveloping sound dive that transcends time and space in the way theatre is meant to.

Review Fix: What makes this different or special?

Wolff: What we admire about radio theatre is the way the medium allows for the audience’s heightened captivation with the text. Experiential theatre transforms familiar spaces into other worlds, bending time, space and expectation. What we hope to have built with The Swell is an audience-autonomous adventure wherein the audience can choose the depth of their submersion into the world of the play.

Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process? 

Miller: We learned that being a perfectionist as a theatre-artist can be a beast in a medium in which you can control aspects of the performance, down to the second, through the editing process. Nevertheless, just like in the theatre, there is a point at which you must release expectation and trust that the work speaks for itself. We also learned that we could rely on the generosity of spirit of our theatrical community to believe in the forces of innovation to move us forward.

Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?

Wolff: We would love to one day be able to amalgamate all “Acts” of The Swell into an album of audio adventures for one. We believe The Swell lives beyond the days of COVID, as an alternative refraction to the pre-Covid theatre. This journey has only just begun.

Review Fix: What’s next?

Miller: Refracted is excited to be jumping into pre-production for our next project. Homeless Garden is a newly commissioned adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard written by Matt Minnicino and co-Developed by Refracted’s Artistic Director Graham Miller. Homeless Garden is a future-tinted explosion of Anton Chekhov’s heartrending and gutbusting social satire for 2020 about generations, greenhouse gases, class, hope, and how we reckon with the inevitable. 

How are we doing this? Good Question. We have an idea! It’s a combination of an episodic audio series, a socially distanced outdoor activation and masked panto-theatre and we think this might just be one road to the future. This workshop is expected to premiere in October under the direction of Graham Miller. Casting will begin shortly for a fully virtual rehearsal process. We’re looking for vocal and physical actors (for multiple casts) who will bring this story to life in the weirdest way possible.

You can also expect new episodes of The Swell rolling out in the coming months! Stay up on what we’re doing by visiting www.refractedco.com and follow us on social media at @refractedco.

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About Patrick Hickey Jr. 9968 Articles
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.

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