Blue Room Theatre’s Winter Nights festival returns for a third year to stages both virtual and physical this month. The diverse program is made up of broadcasted conversations, live performances and virtual experiences.

With many Perth theatres closed and Covid-19 restrictions still in place, this year’s Winter Nights season – conceived by a team that’s been mostly physically separated – is an achievement. Producer Harriet Roberts says the program is focused on connecting artists and audiences in new ways, and builds on the innovative 31-year history of the underground theatre institution.

“Our focus is supporting artists to make new work,” she says. “This season embraces process and development, and is less focused on live output. It will give people the metaphorical warm hug of live performance, with a bit of innovation and transformation peppered over the top.

“We’re in uncharted territory, but when you take away the safety blanket of a stage and lights, it provokes artists to think even further outside the box. It’s interesting seeing how artists are playing with audience interaction, especially remotely.”

The program is largely focused on works in development, with a group of artists-in-residence already documenting and sharing their creative processes through Blue Room’s social media. While some of the works won’t come to fruition for this Winter Nights series, a handful of live shows will be broadcast starting Friday August 14.

That includes the timely, multidisciplinary performance Come What May, We Will Meet Again Tomorrow, about finding hope in a world that’s beyond our control. In it, dancer Tahlia Russell, blindfolded, will respond to cues from lighting and sound designers Kristie Smith and Joe Lui to navigate improvisational choreography. Another IRL piece is the binaural, surround-sound audio performance Brute & Brut, which explores sexuality and space and “how environment informs behaviour and identity”. The immersive show, created by writer-director James McMillan, will take place at secret outdoor locations around Perth, which will be revealed to ticketholders two days before the event.

Audiences can also tune into four live-streamed conversations with artists, which will also form part of a new podcast. In one of the talks, clown doctors will discuss the importance of art, theatre and comedy for dealing with stress and fear in times of change.

The festival will close with a free virtual “choose your own adventure” event – by theatre makers Rhiannon Petersen and Michelle Aitken – in which audience members become the protagonists of a post-apocalyptic world that references the pandemic and climate change.

“Winter Nights is an experiment in and of itself,” Roberts says. “But my hope is that everyone will appreciate it more, that absence will have made hearts grow fonder, and that audiences will come back with gusto, committing time to engage in arts and cultural events so that these things can continue strongly into the future.”

Winter Nights runs until August 31 at The Blue Room Theatre.

blueroom.org.au