Innovating at the point where theatre and cinema converge

After honing his skills in NIDA’s MFA Directing course, multimedia theatre-maker Mark Bolotin has embraced his ever-evolving practice with gusto.
Three people face towards a screen on which an evocative image of a woman is displayed.

Award-winning theatre director, writer and multimedia artist Mark Bolotin has always been fascinated by the creative possibilities that occur when cinematic techniques are blended with traditional stagecraft.

‘There’s something in the overlap between the two that is so fascinating,’ Bolotin tells ArtsHub.

‘So much screen content is pre-recorded and edited and you can really focus on story in a very specific way by combining it with music, close-ups and all these other tools that live stage theatre doesn’t have. But at the same time, you do miss the live, the immediacy, the responsiveness to audiences that theatre has.’

For many years, Bolotin struggled with the choice of becoming either a filmmaker or a theatre director, until he realised that what he was most interested in was ‘the space in between – the overlap where theatre and cinema collide’.

‘It’s no longer one or the other. It’s something wholly new and different. And I think that’s increasingly exciting,’ he says.

After five years exploring such concepts in New York City, where he founded the acclaimed multimedia company Synarcade Audio-Visuals (creating works such as Emergence: Build Your Own Being, which Drum Media described as taking ‘audience interactivity to a brave new level’ and the 12-headed multimedia rock opera The Lumiphonic Creature Choir), Bolotin returned to Australia with two new goals in mind.

‘I realised that if I wanted to do these big, ambitious, multimedia works that I’d first need to find the right people – all of the talented creatives and designers who were working [in this field] in Australia. And as I’d been pursuing my practice for many years without any sort of formal education, I thought it may be also a great opportunity to learn, to interrogate the craft of directing in a much more serious way,’ he explains.

To that end, Bolotin applied to study the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Directing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). The rigorous, 18-month, full-time course was exactly what he needed to enhance his creative practice while also introducing him to an inspiring cohort of like-minded creatives.

‘[The MFA Directing] very much brings all the traditions of storytelling and making stories on stage together with a lot of contemporary and cutting-edge concepts – looking at storytelling in new ways. The course teaches us to shape story in space, on a stage, in three dimensions, and to shape story over time, to really look at the arc of the story, the arc of the characters and how to really find that shape. It’s almost sculptural in a way – sculpting story.’

Bolotin is currently working on a new multimedia work as part of NIDA’s June Student Production Season. Inspired by the life of pioneering French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché, Alice: Mother of Cinema is a co-production between NIDA and the National Theatre of Parramatta, to which Bolotin is bringing his trademark fusion of cinematic and theatrical techniques.

‘Guy-Blaché helped pioneer so many techniques that we take for granted in film: the use of colour, use of sound, use of close-ups. Hundreds of films were made by her and her studio … and then she was largely erased from history.’

Bolotin is also co-writing the production, which will celebrate Guy-Blaché’s spirit of experimentation from a time when theatre was in the process of becoming cinema. ‘It begins as film, but very quickly we realise it’s so much more.’

He hastens to add that theatre has always incorporated the latest technological advances, from the deus ex machina of ancient Greece to the cine-theatre of Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Kip Williams; it’s just that technology has now evolved to the point where it can more easily manifest a director’s creative vision.

‘Technology has always been used in performance; it’s just a new way that we’re using it now. It’s also more powerful, more versatile and more reliable – computers and projectors don’t crash as much,’ Bolotin laughs.

NIDA’s next Student Production Season runs from 5-15 June 2024. Applications for the MFA Directing open 3 June 2024. Visit NIDA to learn more.

Richard Watts OAM is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, a Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend, and was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize in 2020. In 2021 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Green Room Awards Association. Most recently, Richard received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in June 2024. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts