Evaluation Report (2009)

July 23, 2015 by

An Evaluation Report of Black Tonic, produced in 2009 for the production’s principal funders the Welcome Trust, is available to download. Click here to download the Evaluation Report and Supporting Documents. This information is made available for the purposes of sharing our learning in relation to creating theatre that engages with science.

Black Tonic 2015 Tour Dates

May 17, 2015 by

Black Tonic is back!

Our 2015 tour is as follows:

Birmingham Repertory Theatre: week commencing 14th September 2015
Watershed, Bristol: week commencing 28th September 2015
Theatre in the Mill, Bradford: week commencing 5th October 2015

Tickets will be going on sale soon.

Black Tonic 2015 Pledge

March 26, 2015 by

If you missed the chance to pledge to our Black Tonic 2015 Kickstarter, you can still get involved.

You can buy our £10 reward below, and receive the same benefits as our Kickstarter backers:

£10
LAUNDRY CUPBOARD –
We’ll send you a neat little thank-you video + We will credit you on our website in our list of project backers.

Play your cards: time for the tech

March 19, 2015 by

With the basic game mechanic selected for the re-worked scene, we were able to move onto how to technically realise this.

The task is to build a system that will sense the placement of a playing card onto the table at one of the points of the clock face, and trigger the playing of an appropriate sound file.
To tie in with the game mechanic, we only want the sounds to play when the numbered playing cards are placed in their correct position on the clock face (so a 3 of diamonds at 3 o’clock, for example), rather than just anywhere.

For the playback part of the system we are using QLab, a piece of commercial software used widely by theatre lighting designers for programming and running lighting cues for conventional theatre productions. David Haylock has found this to be a reliable off-the-shelf solution when he’s used it on other projects.

David is writing a bespoke programme to process the inputs from the sensing system and communicate them to QLab.

We haven’t yet finalised what kind of technology we will build the sensing part of the system with, but here are the two options we have explored so far.

From some preliminary research David suggested using RFID tags and readers to build the system. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is commonly used in the retail sector for theft prevention, and so the components are cheap and easily available. You’ll also be familiar with RFID if you use an Oyster Card on London’s transport system. Our plan is to put tags inside the playing cards, and mount small readers under the surface of our card table.

techblog1

We bought a few tags and readers, and David built a small test system. In its favour, RFID is quite stable and reliable. This is an important consideration if you’re relying on it to work, because it would spoil the immersive fiction if a technician had to come and help fix something during the scene. There is one major drawback though, in terms of it working with card games. Most card games (including our collaborative solitaire) involve stacking or creating piles of playing cards as part of the game play. RFID can’t really understand stacking (there are some complex workarounds, but basically stacking is out for our purposes). The RFID reader can only read the tag that is placed immediately on top of it. All tags piled on top of the first tag are blocked from being read, and so have no effect.
We think that this is a deal-breaker, so have looked around for other solutions.

David’s current avenue of investigation is image recognition, using a camera. David has recent experience of developing this kind of system from his work on the Playable City winning project ‘Shadowing’. He proposes using a PlayStation3 camera, which we will need to mount above the table looking down (with a birds-eye view of the card table). This part is relatively easy, we will just need to design our bespoke card table with a suitable structure above it to hold the camera. It is the recognition and processing of the images where the real work comes in.

A google search turned up several Open Source projects exploring this area, but after some investigation David has begun to write his own recognition programme. The recognition is a 2-stage process: 1 – the computer needs to recognise that it is seeing a playing card (markerless object detection); 2 – once it knows its a playing card, it needs to work out what number and suit the card is, by comparing the image it can see with the ones it has in its library and finding a match (Template Matching).

BlackTonicCameraTest

BlackTonicv2Camera

The potential down-sides of image recognition is that the system is very sensitive to differing light levels, but we propose to create a reliable lighting state by mounting a downward pointing lamp next to the camera above the card table to eliminate this issue.
The positives for our purposes are that the camera and system together behave more like the human eye – the camera sees the card on the top of the pile, and will be programmed to respond to that by triggering a sound. We will also be able to use a standard cheap card deck, rather than having to make or have manufactured a special card deck with RFID tags inserted.

There’s a lot more still to discover and test before we build the final system. Then there will be lots more testing! We’ll then build all of this into a specially constructed card table, which will conceal all the technology hardware, keeping the interface as close to the experience of a ‘normal’ card game as possible.

Play your cards: Developing the game at the heart of the re-worked scene

March 18, 2015 by

Some discussions with the show’s writer Clare Duffy helped to clarify our intentions for this re-worked scene: how we want the characters to be read; how we want the audience to feel; where the scene needs to get us to by the end.

Now we needed to find or create a suitable game mechanic to shape the audience’s interaction with the soundscape. I called on the services of games designer, and general genius, Holly Gramazio, to help us work out an elegant solution.

I was keen, if we could achieve it, that the interaction was actually the playing of a game, rather than an interaction that was essentially like pressing some buttons in a pre-defined or random sequence, which would likely be less satisfying.

Holly, David Haylock and myself spent an intense day of card-game-playing at the Pervasive Media Studio (its a tough job, but someone’s go to do it), trying out multiple types of existing and newly made-up card games. Holly’s inventive powers were put to good effect, and we came out of the day with the rough outlines of three possible options for games – each with a very different game mechanic. All three games were themed around the shape of a clock face (to tie in with our body clock theme), the first: a type of snap, the second: a simple betting game, and the third: a collaborative solitaire.

After some play-testing with friends and colleagues to test how enjoyable and easy to play each game was, and discussions with Clare the writer about which game type would fit best with the scene’s dramaturgy, I chose the collaborative solitaire.

It wasn’t the most enjoyable of the games, but game-play got easier as the game went on allowing players more ‘brain-space’ to listen to the soundscape that playing the game will trigger. It was also collaborative, rather than competitive, which seemed right as the two pairs who have been experiencing the show separately until this point, and may be strangers to each other, will join up in this scene and remain together until the end of the show. So building something together seemed preferable than potentially introducing friction that wasn’t helpful in terms of watching the rest of the show. It also fitted dramaturgically, as the players would be piecing together a picture of a clock face, card by card, whilst listening to sounds and snippets of overheard conversation that will piece together and illuminate previously concealed elements of the narrative.

Play your cards: Why re-make a perfectly good scene?

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I’ve been working towards bringing Black Tonic back almost since we finished the first run of shows back in 2009. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited that we’ve finally made that happen in 2015.

As the years ticked by, and I gained some critical distance from the original production, something became clear to me. In our haste to get the show ready during the initial devising and rehearsal period, coupled with a lack of technical knowledge and very limited resources, we had failed to do justice to our original concept for the pivotal scene in the show – known to us as ‘Jo’s Room’.

The ‘Jo’s Room’ scene is where we take the audience to the dark (literally) heart of the show. We introduce them to ‘Jo’, a blind, card-playing criminal. In the original production ‘Jo’ was ably personified by an older male actor, and the scene was engaging, weird, and atmospheric. But I felt that we’d lost the metaphysical aspect of the character by having him physically there. He is our ‘Wizard of Oz’, and pulling back the curtain to reveal him there in his human size felt like a bit of an anticlimax.

You see, for us, ‘Jo’ is a blind-seer (in the manner of Tiresias from Greek myth), he ‘sees’ everything that happens in the hotel. He is profoundly blind and perceives no light, and therefore suffers from a genuine medical condition known as ‘free-running’ where his body clock drifts out of sync with the 24 hour clock by a few minutes every day until midday feels like midnight, and continues like this in an eternal loop. He also represents for us the ‘anti-hotel’: chaos, disorder, timelessness. Where the hotel is ordered, timetabled, obsessive-compulsive.

For the remount of Black Tonic in 2015 I wanted to re-design this scene to better communicate our character ‘Jo’. The way we’ve chosen to do this is to remove the live actor from the scene, and to invite our audience to inhabit Jo’s room in a way that allows them to almost ‘become’ Jo for the duration of the scene.

We are inviting the four audience members to play a game of cards together on a magic card table, where the laying down of a card allows us to listen in on a bedroom in the hotel and what is currently happening in there. As the game unfolds the audience members build a (sound) picture of the hotel, putting them in Jo’s shoes, so to speak.

We are lucky enough to be collaborating with Watershed in Bristol on the re-development of this scene, and are working with their Creative Technologist David Haylock to make this idea a reality.

Play your cards like midday is midnight – a new blog series charting the re-mounting of Black Tonic in 2015

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Ahead of our 2015 re-tour of Black Tonic, we are taking the opportunity to polish, improve, and even completely re-make parts of the show to make it the best it can be for this new tour.

This blog series will chart the creative development process, and hopefully provide an insight into how a show like this gets made.

You can find all the blogs in this series here: Play Your Cards

Our Kickstarter campaign to support our 2015 tour of Black Tonic is LIVE!

February 27, 2015 by

Our hotel-based interactive thriller Black Tonic is coming back for 2015. And our Kickstarter campaign to support the tour is now LIVE!

VIEW ON KICKSTARTER

Black Tonic is a theatre adventure in the bedrooms and corridors of a hotel for 4 people at a time, Black Tonic explores the chaos caused by a disrupted body clock.

We have already raised 95% of the money we need to tour Black Tonic in 2015. We are launching this Kickstarter campaign to raise the final £3,000.

We’ve created some beautiful hotel-themed rewards, to thank you for backing this project. The Tea Towel, Limited Edition Framed Print, Card 3D Model Hotel Kit, and Do Not Disturb Door Hanger, all feature original hand-drawn illustrations created just for this Kickstarter.

Other rewards include: priority booking, a signed copy of the script, a pair of tickets to see Black Tonic, having a name of your choice featured in the show, a hotel mini-break, and privileged access to the creative process.

We’re really excited about bringing Black Tonic back for more people to enjoy. We want you to be a part of making that happen.

Make your pledge today!

PLEDGE NOW

Black Tonic Kickstarter Campaign

February 11, 2015 by

We’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to raise the final £3,000 we need for our upcoming tour of Black Tonic.

More soon…

#backblacktonic

Black Tonic 2008 Credits

July 24, 2013 by

Directed by Katie Day
Text by Clare Duffy
Scenography by Xristina Penna
Video by Chris Keenan
Sound by Mark Day
Dramaturgy by Elyssa Livergant
Stage management by Rob Drummer
Scientific Collaborator Professor Debra Skene
Original show design by Alexandra Boussoulega & Rania Yfantidou
Devised and performed by Laura Ellison, Peter Kennedy, Katherine Maxwell-Cook, Gareth Nicholls, Lou Platt, Magdalena Tuka
Waitress played by Sara Cocker & Lydia Hirst
Receptionist played by Arianna Glenton & Seda Jackson

Originally commissioned by Camden People’s Theatre. Funded by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, Arts Council England, Birmingham City Council and The Sir Barry Jackson Trust. Supported by Contact Theatre, CPT and mac

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