How Boise Contemporary Theater Writes A Play In The Digital Age

Dec 27, 2013

Boise Contemporary Theater’s Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark and Education Director Dwayne Blackaller sit at separate computer screens in a basement office. A passing eavesdropper would find their conversation impossible to follow because it’s part spoken, part typed and all about a fictional world evolving somewhere between their two brains and two keyboards.

Dwayne Blackaller (left) and Matthew Cameron Clark work on The Uncanny Valley in their shared office at BCT.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Previously these two teamed up to write A Nighttime Survival Guide which opened last January. It drew the largest audience in the theater's 17-year history.

Now, Blackaller and Clark are working on a new show titled The Uncanny Valley which is set to open in April. We’re following them through the writing process.

The play is a work-in-progress, but how that work gets done is a new twist on artistic collaboration. The script isn’t on paper or a hard drive. It exists as a shared Google document.

“That’s been a fun discovery that started with A Nighttime Survival Guide,” Clark says. “Wherever we’re writing, whether it’s here in our shared office or in various restaurants and cafes, we can work and speak and type simultaneously. It’s an interesting way to create dialogue.”

With a Google doc multiple people can see the same document on different screens and change it at the same time. They can also see what changes others are making in real time.

Blackaller says this use of a high-tech tool for the age-old process of creating a story is particularly appropriate for The Uncanny Valley.

The play takes place at an artists’ retreat in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains where people try to live like pioneers with help from human-like robots.

When Clark and Blackaller write, they’ll sometimes each take a character from the play and have an improvised conversation. Blackaller says it feels more like a living process than if one of them wrote while the other talked and then stopped to read back what was on the paper.

“It’s really cool to be able to come up with the line and as I’m typing it to see the response being typed below, which makes the next line come,” Blackaller says. “So you can instantly react to one another. It’s more surprising, there’s more room for serendipity.”

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