Our season of plays and classrooms have closed but UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre is still hard at work as a laboratory.

Theatre artists and scholars from four universities, along with students, actors and consultants have taken up residence in order to push the boundaries immersive audience experience with a workshop for a project called The Secret Doctrine.

Image of the workshop for The Secret Doctrine

The theatre as a working lab for The Secret Doctrine

The “Secret Doctrine” project is funded by a SSHRC Research / Creation grant received by SFU School for the Contemporary Arts Professors Patricia Gruben and Martin Gotfrit, with additional in-kind contributions from UBC Theatre, SFU School for the Contemporary Arts, and York University Theatre.  SFU Professors Patricia Gruben (Playwright) and Professor Martin Gotfrit (Composer and Sound Designer) are the principal investigators for the project, working with UBC Professor Robert Gardiner (Scenographer),  and York U Professor Ines Buchli (Director).  The workshop employed a dozen SFU and UBC students along with Marian Wihak, a production designer and graduate student from OCAD-U as Research Assistants in production and performance, and Magic consultant Lou Crockett, for a final dash of abracadabra.

“We held the workshop here because of the fantastic lighting lab that Robert has created in the Frederic Wood Theatre, as well to take advantage of his students and their training.” – Martin Gotfrit

Image for the workshop for The Secret Doctrine

Spectral images come to life in the workshop…

The storyline of The Secret Doctrine is based on the life of Helena Blavatsky, a Russian-born 19th century mystic and occult scientist who ran her international ‘new age’ Theosophical Society from a compound near Madras.  In 1884, the young scientist Richard Hodgson arrives in India to investigate Blavatsky’s claims of paranormal phenomena. He is drawn into her world of uncanny marvels, political intrigue, personal conflict, and occult metaphysics — which predicted many of the great discoveries in quantum theory of the early 20th century.

To stage The Secret Doctrine innovative methods of projection, digital special effects and the use of immersive multi-speaker audio, will be used to simulate the fantastic marvels which Madame Blavatsky claimed she could summon with the help of Koot Hoomi, her enigmatic Tibetan Ascended Master.

Image of a workshop for The Secret Doctrine

The elephant in the room

Archival imagery combined with wraparound 3D digital animation are being employed by the investigators to create a 21st century realization of the 19th century devices used by spiritualists to enliven séances and other phenomenal events. Their goal is for the illusions generated to serve the same purpose as the séances: to create a deep and transformative experience for the participant through ritual.

Funding from the three-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant is supporting the workshops to develop the script and technology for the staging. It will also make possible an interactive installation and website that explores the philosophical and scientific background of physics and occult sciences of the late 19th century.

The Secret Doctrine is poised not only explore the universal yearning to believe in something beyond our understanding, but also to provide a thrilling theatrical experience.

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

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