“Virtual Symposium” Wows West Coast Theatregoers

The stage production “Virtual Symposium,” which was written, directed, produced and performed by local playwright Brendan O’Dwyer, co-director Sacha Healey and a troupe of actors from Karamea closed on Saturday February 24 after two sell-out shows at the Karamea Pulse Energy Centre and near full houses at The Lyric Theatre in Granity.

Over a year of preparation and dedication shaped a disparate gaggle of schoolteachers, nurses, farmers, horticulturalists, cave tour guides and Department of Conservationists into a guild of performers who rallied together and performed superbly.

Many of the performers were also members of the Karamea singing group “The Endorphins” and could really hold a note. The casting director deserves special mention as the roles assigned to the actors seemed to fit well with their characters, and they all seemed very comfortable in their thespian personas.

The show opened with a gunfight and had it all; fabulous costumes, singing, dancing, rap, hip-hop, social commentary, poetry, some magic, robots, romance, a mad scientist, a bearded lady, some associated cross-dressing and a lot of humour. The stage set was a simple white backdrop that was highly effective in catching the performers’ shadows and enhancing histrionics. The sound, lighting and venues were superb, and matched with the enthusiasm of the performers, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining show.

Helen 01

The show opened with a gunfight. Photo by Paul Murray.

The premise of the production was to address the insidious means by which technology has infiltrated our lives and, in some instances, taken over. Game-addicted “Helen (Sacha Healey)” is trapped in a virtual world and has sought professional help to overcome her dependence on computer games and to seek more meaning from life.

Assisted by an avant-garde psychiatrist, “Ziggy (Val Moynihan),” who prescribes some experimental medication, and her hilarious robotic sidekick “Bud-E (Dave Guppy),” she embarks on a quest of rediscovery. With a little help from her friends, she is encouraged to escape her virtual reality to seek actual reality and regain an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.

Helen BuddE

Sacha Healey as “Helen,” a petulant young woman with a gaming addition and no real friends and David Guppy as “Bud-E,” Helen’s robotic companion. Photo by Paul Murray

Helen Ziggy

“Virtual Symposium” Dubious Psychiatrist “Ziggy” (Val Moynihan (L)) and Computer Game-Addicted “Helen” (Sacha Healey) Photo by Paul Murray

Along the way, she meets snake oil cabaret performers “Heidi Seekey (Aby Chalmers)” and “Micky Dangledeep (Cliff Meakin),” a synod of argumentative, toga-wearing philosophers, a nutty professor and ends up performing in a talent quest. When we first meet game-addicted Helen, she is irascible, sullen and disconnected, without purpose or meaning in her life, but as reality kicks in, she gradually begins to smile and finishes the show beaming like the Cheshire cat. Did she choose humanity or digitality? That question caused some ambiguity, some thinking she embraced the reality of the natural world, others thinking she morphed into virtual reality under a new persona, but in the end, all that really mattered was the resultant stimulating debate and conversation that the play elicited among the audience.

TLT Cast 01

L-R Tina Wylie (“Convincus”), Aby Chalmers (“Heidi Seekey”), Peter Moynihan (“Argumentus”), Cliff Meakin (“Mickey Dangledeep”) and Brendan O’Dwyer (“Martin Brady”). Photo by Paul Murray

The show took off in all directions but came together in the end to thoroughly address the juxtaposition between virtual and reality and the challenge of our age to know the difference.

“Virtual Symposium” was made possible with support from the Buller District administered Council Creative Communities NZ grant of $2,000 and a grant from the Department of Internal Affairs through the Community-Led Development Programme of $17,987 to the Karamea Drama Group. The group invested the entire finding amount into the production of the show, set, equipment, professional services, venue hire etc. The performances raised a significant profit from ticket sales and the money will be distributed to local organisations in need of financial support. The recipient organisations for the profit distribution will be announced formally in the coming weeks.

“Virtual Symposium” was a triumph. It generated much-needed community unity after the social disruption of the COVID era, enabled creative ferment to blossom, raised money for deserving community groups and provided a great example for young people in the community as well as superb evening’s entertainment; Well done all concerned!

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TLT Final

Cast & (some) Crew at The Lyric Theatre in Granity L-R: Val Moynihan, Peter Moynihan, Tina Wylie, Brendan O’Dwyer, Ang Cronin, David Guppy, Aby Chalmers, Sach Healey, Cliff Meakin, Liz Kerslake, Cathy Sampson. Sina Tuiavi’i and Sanae Murray. Photo by Paul Murray

Comp Promo

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