“The Decameron basically is designed for community, it’s meant for community,” says Paata Tsikurishvili. “I have to say I’m amazed how creative minds can really push the boundaries. There are so many different styles and genres [and] such amazing works.”
For nearly two decades now, Synetic, the theater company Tsikurishvili founded with his wife Irini, has helped shake up the Washington theater scene with its visually oriented, physical theater-based reimaginings of classic works, particularly those in its revolutionary Silent Shakespeare series — and earned 32 Helen Hayes Awards in the process.
Synetic’s next major work reflects the current state of affairs brought about by the pandemic, which compelled the troupe’s team of artists to push themselves in new ways and explore new ground just to stay active. “We jumped in the ocean and started swimming with The Decameron,” Tsikurishvili says, noting that the work will be the company’s first “designed-for-digital production,” and also the first of any kind since March.
The Decameron seems a perfect fit, right down to its core: Giovanni Boccaccio created the collection of short stories in the wake of the 14th Century’s Black Plague, which still stands as the worst pandemic in human history. The Decameron focuses on a group of young Italians sheltering-in-place and entertaining themselves by telling tales of all kinds.
“We have 35 short stories, produced by 35 very talented artists,” says Tsikurishvili, who marvels at the virtual collaboration’s mix. “A few things are dance-based, a few are puppet-based, a few are theater-based, a few are clown-based.” All of it, ultimately, is very Synetic. “It’s amazing how much opportunity for Synetic’s very cinematic storytelling vocabulary there is in the digital [realm].” There’s even an interactive element, allowing viewers the chance to choose-your-own experience, whether proceeding through individual selection, with pre-created playlists, or serially over a 10-day period.
Tsikurishvili relishes digital’s potential to reach new audiences, and especially the opportunities to advance Synetic’s style of art. “Probably our next phase will be another kind of evolving and moving forward, making something bigger and better, so to speak,” he says.
The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year and Tsikurishivili is hopeful that live theatre will be back in full swing by that time. “I don’t think we even need to argue about it: There’s nothing that can replace live theater,” he says.
The company will “come back and celebrate and continue” on stage, but will also continue to push its “new approach and new opportunities,” Tsikurishvili says. “I think it makes sense to have a kind of hybrid approach with both versions, digital and live.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Postponed a month in honor of Black Lives Matter-related activism, The Decameron premieres Friday, July 10, and will run to July 31. Tickets are pay-what-you-can over $10 and are good anytime during the run. Visit www.synetictheater.org.
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