Keep your phone on for this show

URBANA, Ill. - URBANA -- When you go into a theater and try to get people to turn their cell phones off, it can be really difficult. So instead of fighting it, dancers at the University of Illinois are embracing technology. They're debuting a performance Friday which encourages audience members to be on their phones.

You're not supposed to text or call other people, but there is a way you can get involved. They want you to use their app during the show.

This weekend's performance is like a science experiment in theatrics. The audience will take a seat and relax, but this time, they don't have to put away their phone.

"People really make them part of their lives right now," said John Toenjes, music director for the dance department. "You're communicating. You're always talking with your kids or your friends or whatever and the theatrical experience suddenly cuts you off from your everyday life."

Toenjes says that's usually what happens when you see a show, but maybe that doesn't have to be the case. A couple years ago, he started looking at ways to create a rhythm with technology and dance.

"Since then, I've been working a lot in this new art form and we're just kind of experimenting with how it can be used in the theater," said Toenjes.

Since there wasn't an app which could do everything they wanted, they made their own.

"I can control different colors," said Toenjes. "I can change the colors, sort of like a color wheel, which is something we'll be doing at the beginning."

The app will create a different kind of performance. 

"We give a view inside the cube to people," said Toenjes. "And there will be people dancing in here, so it's a very interesting kind of idea that you're not seeing the full dancing body. You're just seeing it in parts."

All the parts have to be in balance for the process to work. He's been collaborating with guest artist Chad Michael Hall, a professor from UC Irvine.

"How do you use the device to augment what's going on in the theater, but not steal focus from that which is most important," said Toenjes.

Toenjes says it's a work in progress, but they're having fun testing it out.

"We experiment," said Toenjes. "We rehearse. We go, 'Oh that doesn't work. We've got to try that out a different way.' So rather than have to hire another app developer, redo the app, all we do is take the content out, put other content in. Boom. We're changed just like that."

They're ready to put a new hypothesis in place and watch the results onstage.

The performances are Friday and Saturday night at the Playhouse Theater at Krannert. They start at 7 pm and are free for anyone who wants to check it out.


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