A computer set up for a live-streaming performance of Like Tom Cruise Loves Running
  Behind the scenes at Dancing Monkey Laboratories | Photo: Mike Czuba

Dancing Monkey Laboratories

By Meng Wei

What can we make in a theatre with a six-member team and no audience?

In a world where we lost touch with one another and need that extra boost of show-me-everything live performance instead of just munching away on Netflix, Dancing Monkey Laboratories brought us Like Tom Cruise Likes Running.


It’s not like the usual online versions of a performance where cameras are static and the audience still yearns for that tension and energy in a live theatre. Like Tom Cruise Likes Running transports the audience onto the stage by placing the camera on the stage with the actors, and lets them have that meta discussion with the play.


It was all made possible by bringing Tim Nguyen on the team as the director of cinematography, Wil Knoll as technical director, alongside Mike Czuba, the writer and producer of the play and one of the founders of Dancing Monkey Laboratories, who is no stranger to bringing unique elements across disciplines to maximize audience experience. I recently had a conversation with Mike Czuba, who told me about the project.

Trevor Loman in the live-streaming performance of Like Tom Cruise Loves Running
  Trevor Loman | Photo: Mike Czuba

“We understand that we’re watching live theatre, but we have to understand, as creators, that we are making this theatre for people watching on screens, so we can’t just fall on the old ways, we have to adapt to these new conditions,” Mike says.


The online format challenges the theatre to innovate with unfamiliar technologies and knead them together to create a hybrid form. Wil Knoll worked his tech magic to allow Tim to perform live with his camera and not cut through the performance of the actors. The online production quality is top-notch.


“I think we found a really sweet spot where it was live, it was theatre, it was performance but it had the camera moving, and I think we kind of found a really great middle.”

He says that the successful outcome of their free exploration was possible because of an Online Programming Grant from Calgary Arts Development and the Rozsa Foundation. 


What this production achieved was not only for the team to move forward but also to share this process, to show another way of creative problem-solving in the industry.


“We’re trying to create a model that can be easily duplicated by somebody else. The camera will be moving on the stage when people are watching the show. If things continue to be upside-down and we can’t gather in person, we’ll just shut the door but the performance will continue. All the work will be the same.”

Donna Ng in the live-streaming performance of Like Tom Cruise Loves Running
  Donna Ng | Photo: Mike Czuba