PSi 7
Mainz, March 30, 2001
Anatoly Antohin
University of Alaska Fairbanks AK 99775

Spectator in Virtual Theatre: Between Stage and Ritual


I don't think that I will continue the practical applications of the VT as a director. The vProductions are too time consuming and I I'm not sure that the end result is for me. The title of the paper is an indication that developing the technologies that allow us to position a spectator in the middle of the action and in some control of the action, does move the theatrical phenomena into the field of the ritual, when we cross the line of the interacting theatre and participatory shows into spetator generated narratives.

I call "Theatre of One"...


In the spring of 1999 my Advanced Directing and Acting classes did the scenes from The Three Sisters as their final project. We added the cameras and screens to the live show, when some characters where in the same time, but not in the same physical space with the rest of the cast. The audience was seatted within the set, like the part of the crowd in the Prozorov's house. The intent was to unlock the space and the camera made the difference, when we could break further the space, because of the shots on the screens and because we could transmit the live action from a different location. The purpose of those exirsices was rather experimental -- to see how it would affect the actors and the audience. To our surprise both, the cast and the public didn't mind the presence of the camera on the set or the screens. As long as the video images were emphasizing the action, of course.

It wasn't a period piece, but a "created world" concept, so the presence of technology or the audience within the set, seams to be natural and I thought that we can take this experiment a few steps further -- I directed the whole play in the Fall of 1999 in the Lab Theatre.

This time we had 3-4 cameras with the live editing. I did our own translation/adaptation in order for us to webcast the show without copyright problems. We had the live video and all what was needed is to send it out transformed into digital signal. The UAF super-computer people helped us with the tech part and we webcast the show to the compter screens via Internet. The number of people who could log-in at the same time was limited to 25, but the Virtual 3 Sisters people saw in NYC and California in the middle of the night (Alaska is 1-4 hours behind in time). There were some technical problems, mostly the sound, but the techno-aspect of the project was surprisengly easy. The real question was the aethetics.

What do it do to the live show, what kind of rules and principles to organize the webcast live drama, how diffirent this process from the TV broadcasting?...

First and abvious difference between TV and webcasting was that the show ends up on the computer, not TV screen -- therefore you have much more control because of the keyboard. In fact, we can deligated the editing part of the process to a viewer, who can select where and when to cut from camera to another (very much that the live editor does). All you need to do it to send four, not one signal out....

Here when the things get complicated. Not only we have several digital live signals to choose from, the supercomputer can store all the video of the previous shows, which can broken into files for you to retrive at home on your computer. In short, you can arranged your own "3 Sisters" narrative, because the diginal video archive has many hours of footage.

In my classes, like everybody else, I teach that Chekhov is a father of the new 20th century drama. Now I had a chance to see that his dramatic innovations are very suitable for hyper-drama, or the open text structure. (In the Spring of 2000 I tried vTheatre style with The 12th Night on our big stage and it didn't work as well). Chekhov's difusion of the central hero for example, allowed us very easy to arrange the narrative around many characters -- Olga: 3 Sisters, Virshinin: 3 Sisters -- different stories every night, or every time you would like to recompose "your" story from the files in the supercomputer's memory.


The big question I have no answer for is -- do we really want to have that much conrol over the narrative, or we rather to be controlled by the dramatic flow of the show? How much authorship do we want? Well, the choices you have at home at your computer are still less than the options you enpowered with being live in the same space and time, when you can switch your attention from one character to another, when in fact do organize your own "3 Sisters" differently every time you see it. In the final count the only true live element in webcasting is YOU.

Between a live show and you at the computer is the film stage of the process -- and film is the opposite in nature to theatre, every moment of it frozen (or dead), and this is why we have that power of film with the closeups and cuts. Could your participation at the end of the line bring back the "theatre live" phenomena to the video images? What if we can let the viewer to have control over cameras as well? All we need to have enough of them within the set. What if we about to add more elements of the PLAY and even the GAME to the process. What is in the future we will be able literary to surround you with the virtual set and characters? What if we are to take a radical step into a full identification with the character (your film experience, where the forgetting "your own self" is even stronger that in theatre experience)? That is why I thought that this "Theatre of One" maybe should take a second look at the Ritual experience (as oppose to theatre experience).

II. 2. Present and the Future

Two years ago I was upset with the small 3X4" screen on my monitor, but the technical development is scary -- now it's a full screen and the near DVD flow of images. Some you with children perhaps are familiar with VR quality of the games on the market. Dramatic Virtual Theatre is a concept at the moment, not a "reality".... but it's all just a matter of time.

The term "Virtual Theatre" is a contradiction in itself -- "Virtual" is a description of the non-physical terrain created by computer system (in "cyber space"), -- and theatre is about the PHYSICAL presence. If we about to focus on TIME, not space, VTheatre is live. Here is another definition for "VR" -- an artificial envirinment created with the computer hardware and software and presented to the user in such a way that it appears and feels like a real environment." Don't we had similar definition for Theatre, which makes us believe that events on stage are "real"?

And what about the Performance phenomena? Jokingly, the film crew called themselves "SpectActors" -- because they are the active spectators who got on stage and produce their interpretation of the action. By the standarts of the Performance Art they are artists and performers (we had no storyboards and the camera-people were free to select the visual picture improv style). Interestingly enough the actors began to "play" the cameras (acting for the camera) within the method acting concept, including addressing the camera on closeups. They also, use the images on the big screen, sometimes to address themselves! All without breaking the "fourth wall"! No direct interacting with the live audience, but sometimes addreesing the "audience on the screen." (To my surprise the public treated cameras very much the actors did -- nobody played for the camera, no faces and etc.)

III. 1. *