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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Civic Theatre blends live theater, multimedia to explore life after death in ‘Two Point Oh’

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, plus websites like YouTube and Vimeo, creating a digital version of yourself has never been easier.

But what happens to all of that digital content when someone passes away?

Playwright Jeffrey Jackson explores the idea of life after death via technology in “Two Point Oh,” which opens at Spokane Civic Theatre on Friday.

The play takes place months after the death of software pioneer Elliot Leeds in a plane crash.

His widow Melanie is still mourning when she finds her husband’s last, and perhaps greatest, creation, “Elliot 2.0,” a digital version of himself that he programmed with thousands of hours of recorded thoughts and speech.

“Elliot 2.0” can answer questions, hold conversations, share memories and, time will tell, maybe even grow in intelligence. But is he alive?

“Two Point Oh” stars Dalin Tipton as Elliot Leeds, Allison Peterson as Melanie Leeds, Benjamin Dyke as Ben Robbins, Julie Berghammer as Catherine Powell and Ron Ford as Jerry Gold.

Director Chris Wooley was interested in staging “Two Point Oh” because he’s a fan of technical theater and was intrigued by the idea of a show in which the lead character only ever appears on screen.

“It’s really cool and something that you don’t see in Spokane at all, that multimedia perspective,” he said. “It’s bringing a television aspect with the live theater aspect.”

Early in the rehearsals, Wooley had Tipton stand onstage in place of the screen so the actors could look one another in the eye and build connections.

Tipton and Peterson have also bonded during photo shoots with Wooley to create “archival footage” that will be displayed on screen throughout the show, including photos from the characters’ time in college and their wedding.

“That way, when we put the screen there, they could still pull off of those memories and that emotion that we’d worked on,” Wooley said.

The transition from acting with Tipton onstage to onscreen was easier than Peterson thought it would be thanks to that onstage work, though the atypical arrangement wasn’t without its challenges.

“It’s definitely a challenge in that I’m onstage all by myself but I’m not,” she said. “That’s what’s so weird about it. His face is now larger than life on this screen.”

To ensure quality audio and video during the show, Tipton will perform his scenes from a sound booth off stage. He will have a monitor with him so he can see the actors onstage.

Because the show relies so heavily on technology, Wooley and the crew went through a lot of trial and error to make sure things run smoothly come showtime.

The off-Broadway version of “Two Point Oh” used an expensive projector in a small theater to project the actor playing Leeds onstage.

But stage lights washed out the projector screen in the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre, which eventually led Wooley, creative consultant Jake Schaefer, set designer Matt Egan, and stage manager and tech specialist Chris Brock to decide to use a TV screen.

“This is the first show that I’ve seen or read that had (used technology) to this extreme,” Wooley said. “There might be a video clip occasionally that goes up in a play… or a photo slideshow. This one, it’s a huge part of it. If we took the screens out, the show wouldn’t exist.”

But Wooley stresses that Tipton’s performance on screen is just one part of the multimedia experience. “Two Point Oh” also features graphical elements, live video manipulation and editing, pre-recorded clips and the photographs the cast shot during rehearsals.

Wooley thinks getting the advanced level of artificial intelligence Leeds develops in “Two Point Oh” is still a ways out, but neither he nor Peterson see “Elliot 2.0” as entirely unrealistic, with Wooley comparing the play to an episode of the Netflix series “Black Mirror.”

“We see that come to life in that stage production of it where we think it might be cool to have life after death but then when you actually start experiencing it and what can happen from it, it gets a little bit creepy,” he said.

As a special treat for the audience, Wooley, the cast and Jackson will hold a talkback after the March 10 performance.

In keeping with the spirit of the show, Jackson will appear via Skype.