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What is a Magic Lantern Today?

The magic lantern has been around for 350 years. This little glowing box that threw pictures on screen was one of the world’s most important ways of sharing images. It lived on the backs of travelling entertainers, and in the mahogany parlours of wealthy scientists, it was shown in palaces and pubs and is still with us today. A magic lantern is only a projector—a light-sealed chamber with an illuminant inside and a series of lenses—and it fell into lots of unexpected places.



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Using technology in theatre

Technology has been a part of theatre almost from the beginning: we might think of Ancient Greek drama as theatre at its purest, but the auditoria were carefully designed to focus the actors’ voices towards the audience. The later addition of masks were also a form of technology – it is believed that they acted as resonators for the actors, enhancing their voices and giving them a greater sense of presence. 

Technology became increasingly important in theatre, though, in the late 19th century – the possibilities of electric lighting and increasingly sophisticated stage machinery were even partially responsible for the emergence of the role of the director. With all those possibilities, someone needed to take charge of how they were deployed.  Nowadays, theatre without some sort of technology – whether it’s lighting, amplified sound, projections or music – is almost unimaginable. 

But how to use technology in theatre without it overwhelming the direct communication of actor to audience? How to avoid the problem encapsulated in the famous (and possibly apocryphal) dismissal of Camelot that “the audience came out humming the scenery”?  By making it essential to the telling of the story. In our 2014/15 show A Walk at the Edge of the World, we used projections in two concurrent ways: firstly, for the narrator to illustrate his description of the places he had visited, secondly to act as a visual sub-text. The first set of  images came from a 35mm slide projector which the narrator operated, the second set were projected behind him – at first supporting his narrative, then counterpointing it, then contradicting it. This was a theatrical way of employing the literary device of the unreliable narrator, and the story could only be fully understood by hearing the story and seeing the images at the same time. 

View the embedded image gallery online at:
https://magneticnorth.org.uk/blog/page-3#sigProId62be11039f


Our forthcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe production of Erewhon counterpoints two technologies from different eras. The magic lantern represents the era of the original book, while the iPhone is a technology of today. When playwright and performer Arthur Meek began looking at Samuel Butler’s 1872 book Erewhon as a source for a new play, he quickly recognised the connection between the 19th century magic lantern and PowerPoint, the medium he used in his 2016 fringe hit On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover.  The magic lantern was the technology that led to cinema: a machine capable of projecting images large enough for hundreds of people to watch at the same time. Live-streaming from an iPhone is as new and startling to many of us today as mechanical magic lantern slides were to Butler and his contemporaries – why not use both technologies?  

In Butler’s book, technology has been outlawed in Erewhon for hundreds of years because its inhabitants feared it was taking over their lives. The book’s narrator is regarded with suspicion because he has a pocket watch, which is taken from him and destroyed. In the development of the play, we looked at how the Erewhonians’ fear of technology’s power mirrored our own current concerns, and the ubiquitous iPhone seemed to be the quintessence of that fear – the desirable, addictive piece of technology many of us spend far too much time staring at every day.  Our Erewhon employs a fair amount of technology - including live music from electronic instruments, which would have been unimaginable to Butler in the 1870s – but we hope that its supports and amplifys the storytelling rather than replacing it.

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Beware geeks bearing gifts

Erewhon, New Zealand playwright Arthur Meek’s collaboration with Edinburgh’s own Magnetic North, will have its UK premiere at Summerhall from 1 August.  The new multi-media play brings together technologies separated by a century in a very contemporary investigation of our relationship with artificial intelligence and machines.  

Adapted from Victorian science fiction novel Erewhon by Samuel Butler, Erewhon premiered at Christchurch Arts Festival in 2017. This imaginative production shines new light on Samuel Butler’s satirical novel about Victorian society. Published in 1872, Butler's fictional account tells the story of a young colonial British explorer who discovers a remote community living in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. They’re the descendants of a technologically-advanced culture that had to destroy all their machinery after it became artificially intelligent and malicious. What first appears to be a utopia - where happiness is paramount, and machinery and inventions are forbidden - soon turns out to be a society filled with hypocrisies and blind-spots just as severe as any other.

Read the full Erewhon media release (PDF).

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Seeking New Board Members for Magnetic North

Magnetic North is seeking new members to join our small but committed Board of Directors.

Based in Edinburgh, Magnetic North produces and tours theatre and runs a programme of artist development and support. Our work integrates artist development with production in a five part programme: 1. Rough Mix, 2. Re-Mix, 3. Make, 4. Space/Time, 5. Support.

We are looking for people who are keen to become active and energetic champions for Magnetic North. We are interested in hearing from people with all relevant experience including that gained in a volunteering or personal capacity. This may be your first role as a trustee, or you may have current or previous board experience. Magnetic North aims for its Board members to reflect the diverse communities of Scotland; we want to hear from a wide range of individuals and are particularly keen to hear from BAME candidates.

For more information and to apply please read this information sheet.

Deadline for applications is Monday 18 June 2018.

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Work with us! Artistic Administrator

Magnetic North’s work integrates producing and touring theatre with artist development and support. With new Regular Funding from Creative Scotland, we are looking to appoint an Artistic Administrator working on a 40% contract (average of 2 days a week, working flexibly according to programme requirements) for an initial 12 month contract. The Artistic Administrator post will particularly focus on the artist development and support element of our work, as well as assisting the Producer and Artistic Director across the whole of the company’s output.

Salary: £25,000 per annum pro-rata
Contract: Initial 12 month contract, with the potential for extension
Hours: 0.4 fte (2 days/week at 8 hours/day)

Please download this pdf document for more information and to apply.

 

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Latest Comment

J. Sharp Taking A Walk
07 September 2014
Very much enjoyed your show at the Brunton Theatre last night and the silent walk to start was an excellent addition, creating the perfect atmosphere....