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Natasha Tsakos Translates Her Dreams Into Genre-Defying Live Performances

Her newest piece sprints through 5 billion years of history in 20:13 minutes, integrating 3D mapping projection on stage.

James Carter

Quarry

Like most artists, Natasha Tsakos is a dreamer. Some artists manifest their dreams in photographs, some with paints. Tsakos translates her dreams into theater. But Tsakos' aim is to transform the traditional language of live performance, melding movement, animation, video, and 3D projection mapping, to tell surreal tales.

“We are very driven by the visuals,” says Tsakos. “That’s what speaks to us. That’s what grabs us. What will be the language of the future? What about coding? This audiovisual technologically driven work is where it’s going. It makes more sense. At least for me. It will grow. It will advance. It will become more responsive and reactive and interactive.”

Tsakos’ current work, Omen, uses this audiovisual language to communicate a narrative that spans billions of years. According to press materials, Omen “sprints through 5 billion years of history in 20:13 minutes, integrating 3D mapping projection on stage.” Always re-setting the bar, Tsakos next piece, 7 Billion is about one person who becomes seven billion people on the planet.

“I thought it would be really interesting to explore how we all connect, and yet how we’re exploring our differences,” says Tsakos. “And through our differences finding our similarities.”

So far, Tsakos has only used 3D projection mapping on stationary performers. With 7 Billion, she aims to project onto moving performers and have the players control the projections. She’s storyboarded and is working with animators to prototype the concept for the new piece.

“The possibility of having performers completely transform and shape shift onstage while moving and dancing…that’s very exciting to me.”

Another aspect of technology toward which Tsakos is working is real-time data mining. Omen uses data from over history. Now, she wants data to influence the performance as it shifts. Additionally, Tsakos wants the audience to be able to use their mobile phones to interact with the show as a remote control so they can “change the course of history.” It’s ripe for more interactive possibilities. She’s currently seeking funding to make the improvements. She’s also searching for ways to extend her influence outside the theater’s walls.

“How do you create a show where people not only participate in real time,” asks Tsakos, “while the show is spectacular and exhilarating, and you feel like, ‘Oh my god!’ And, at the same time whatever they’re participating in, they can affect the world outside. So, it’s not just pressing a button or using that application from your mobile phone to change something on stage but that action has a repercussion into the real world.”

When it comes to other theater artists and institutions understanding her work, Tsakos often runs up against those who don’t understand the language she’s speaking. She suggests it’s difficult because her work breaks conventions. The length of the show is confusing, audiovisual doesn’t have words, and they don’t know what to do with it.

“I’ve found the science and tech world was more inviting to me,” says Tsakos. “My journey also as a creator or as a theater artist has been a little bit different from most theater people. But what’s interesting is at the end; we’re just talking about definitions. Because when people experience the shows, they get it. Because, again, it is theater. It is story.”

Omen

That is the most important aspect of Tsakos’ work. She wants the audience to understand the story, and she wants to fundamentally connect to them as human beings. Tsakos’ is keenly aware humanity is at a tipping point in our evolution.

“We have changed as a species,” says Tsakos. “Not just the very young generation, but us and the generation above us. We don’t really recognize we’ve changed. We have different expectations. And I think this kind of work, this kind of theater, is the natural evolution of everything that we’re seeing. Of the new media and the new technologies.”

Yet, when you ask her if she could do anything as a performer she responds:

“Perform in outer space.”

At first, this sounds like a joke. Perhaps, something more virtual or digital would be an expected answer; however, she’s dead serious. A few years ago, she went to NASA to experience a zero gravity simulation. When she speaks of this lofty dream, Tsakos returns to the reason she loves performing.

“That’s the main reason why I do theater,” says Tsakos. “For that immediate, spontaneous moment that happens with the audience. It’s like this indescribable energy that’s being communicated that’s beyond word, that’s really powerful.”

In spite of all the digital bells and whistles Tsakos adds to her performances, at base, it is about the audience. Tsakos seeks deeper connection with her audience, just as artists have throughout the ages. This time, Tsakos uses a shifted language for the 21st Century. And who knows, perhaps one day, her audiovisual language will take a trip on a rocket ship, and Natasha Tsakos will dance amongst the stars.

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