Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Multi-Media Interactive 2008 'Underground'

5 Performances 1 Question and Answer session

Grae Burton, Director of the Independent Theatre in Nelson NZ Aotearoa, invited me to perform/present my work over a two week period in late November and the first week in December 2008.

The performances unfolded successfully, with very positive feedback from the audiences. We had only small audiences in the first week. I carried out a lot of advertising through my own email networks and this has been helpful. However, it is all good and a welcome opportunity for me to explore my ideas in front of any kind of audience and gain a public perspective.

The performances were comprised of the following components:
Installation in the form of cafe table and chairs, DVD projection of RL videos, Second Life.com projection, active cell phones, a laptop used at the cafe table holding a web cam linked to www.camfrog.com, initially 4 then finally 5 performers. I advertised the performances in Second Life using the SL Arts Council contacts I have and other SL networks.

The site was the main theatre stage, which was surrounded on two sides by tiered seeting for 100 people. A screen effectively coverered the back of the stage, approx 5 mtrs long by 3 mtrs high. This screen held the Second Life projection. At right angles to this screen was another, smaller screen (about 2x1.5 mtrs) which held 6 of my RL dance videos on DVD. I sought collaboration from Grae Burton who runs the Theatre to perform with us, together with Jo Brown, who dances in my CI classes and works with Grae on Shakespearean projects. Fiona and I danced on stage. A storyteller and musician, Roger Sanders joined us for the final shows.

Performance Focus:

I wanted to centre the ideas-base for the performance series on 'Leaving' as mediator of our movements and relations in urban spaces. The narration and RL live dance is also based upon this aspect taken from my own research and notes.

My other principal focus was, to suggest/create an environment which addresses my stance on real/virtual realities. I have from the beginning of my Masters studies, been interested, from the perspective of my own and others` observations, that we move in and out of 'virtual' moments every day in the every day - however I am not defining these moments as virtual. I am asserting that there is no such thing. That instead, we exist in a fully immersive, mixed-reality of which these moments and 'extended' moment of the 'virtual world' of SL is simply another facet of the Real - another surface within which/upon which/against which to create a presence - and absence. Hence my involvement in the first place with Second Life as a possible ‘surface’ upon which/within which to create the works. (More of this later).

Grae Burton narrated selected writings of mine through the entire performance, as did Fiona and Jo. We created micro scenes of 'Leaving' in a 'station cafe' environment with hot paper cups of coffee, pulp magazines and cell phones. We arranged for people to text us during the performance to affirm the existence of the ether as a 'surface' within which I was implanting various communications: Second Life.Com, YouTube, the online live web cam; www.camfrog.com from a laptop on the cafe table on stage. By camera positioning in the SL station, with views from the cafe table in the corner, looking out across the station to the vid screens and crowd, I tied in the RL 'cafe' table, chairs and seated Jo and Fiona with the cafe in the SL station so one became an extension of the other.

Communication modes:

With my avatar in-life and myself and Fiona dancing on stage, I explored arriving and departing. To this end, I divided my time and physical presence between the computer - monitoring the Second Life station, talking with the avatars who had been invited to the performance in the SL station, changing the videos in the SL station using the YouTube server and creating a presence (ironically) of leaving, on the RL theatre stage. My management of avatars in the space changed through the performance series as I explored different strategies and emphases; how to increase the proactive roles of the avatars in the SL station during this performance period.

Prior to the final two performances on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 Dec, I had felt keenly, the rather ad-hoc basis from which the avatars functioned in SL during my performances. Initially, avatars had arrived in the station space and talked to one another and watched the RL videos being imported in-life and arriving on the large screens. I wanted a more pro-active role from them so I gave this some consideration and called a meeting in the SL station with two people, through their avatars - Clare Atkins PhD (Katipo Kirax) and John Waugh (Johnny Wendt) to arrive at some strategies. I had already decided to bring in three distinct phases/movement scores for the avatars in the station and Clare and John agreed that this might work well.

These movement phases were:
To place a top quality mocap (motion capture from Real Life) dance sphere in the station for avatars to click on and animate themselves. For this I selected coupled dances - ballroom, tango, waltz, slow dance so that avatars could have movement 'conversations' in the station. I did not select singles dances for their lack of engagement with another avatar in the space. After some time this phase would give way to avatars walking through the station cutout crowd as if they were commuting - leaving the station. The third phase was to have all the avatars gradually depart the station, leaving me alone in the space by the end of the performance.

This strategy seemed to work well. There was a distinct visual difference in the avatar presence and occupation of the station space as the phases unfolded. In many ways it became a fractal of what occurs in the real station as the commuter crowd begins around 5pm as a trickle, becomes a flood by 5.30pm and 6.00pm and dwindles to a few people by 6.45pm.

In the last two performances, we were joined by Roger Sanders. He is a professional storyteller and musician based in Nelson. His stories tend toward the parable/fable genre and I asked if he could write me some short ( a paragraph) stories of this nature, but adapt them to a contemporary, urban setting. My intention was to copy these into Second Life notecards and by creating a notecard dispenser (called Station Stories) in the station, avatars could click on the dispenser and receive the stories. The stories were being read by Roger during the RL performance so a conceptual and visual link was created between RL and SL. Some people behind their avatars during the performance, managed to successfully connect to camfrog.com to watch us in RL performing and themselves in the SL station on the screen. Theoretically it would have been possible to hear Roger reading the same stories they had received from the dispenser.

Now the performances are over, I will continue to add stories to the Station Stories notecard dispenser so visitors to the station will have an ongoing selection to acquire. Initially, I had had the bilboard called Station Stories already in the station inviting people to drop their stories about stations/leaving in to my avatar profile and would then post the stories. This is now possible and makes the station space a little more interactive for visitors.

My structuring of the performances evolved as we progressed through them. Every one was slightly different, based upon structured improvisation. I had wanted to present a sequence of rehearsals as the performances and workshop my ideas in front of an audience, enrolling them in some of the problem-solving and receiving real-time feedback. Unfortunately, this was not possible as some of the performers were not confident with this approach. I mean to explore this direction next year together with endnote performances because for me it signifies and validates my process of exploration with my concepts and practice in a way that 'final' performance/installations do not.

So I created a structure which underpinned our movements in and around and out of the space, with spoken words, dance and projection. My thinking with Fiona for our dance presence on the RL stage was to create three short improv phrases or scenarios based upon 'the Stranger', the Friend and the Lover. As we worked through these during the early performances it was not working well enough for me. There was insufficient clarity of differences expressed between the three. We created them differently each time but there was something missing from their expressed intent. I am dealing with apparently everyday, inconsequential events shared between people in the form of 'missed conversations' due to the prevailing process of our constantly departing a series of moments with which we are inconclusively involved. The phrases were short, only about a minute in duration, some 20 or 30 seconds where, after we broke away, (sometimes there was no physical contact at all) I would leave - to return to the computer, so this was working well but the nature of our dancing connection was either too melodramatic or too non-commital. So I divided our dance time into two activities. In the first I would execute a slow roll across the stage to cooincide with the Duende Roll DVD in Second Life and the reading of Duende referenced text. After this Fiona and I carried out a longer, 'Stranger' movement exploration which began tentatively, progressed through a clumsy, edgy, longing-for-but-ultimately-dysfunctional conversation moment. This was followed by a longer, 'Lover' connection which worked more successfully with the longer time to develop the conversation between us. We were more relaxed, the movements better defined and articulated as a sequence which, although obviously intimate, was going nowhere with a final departure.

I filmed with two cameras every performance except (unfortunately) the last, which I felt was the best! I will edit these and post them on my blog/have them available on DVDs. The lighting in the theatre was very subdued so a certain amount of the performance will be a little difficult to see.

Last Wednesday, I ran another QandA session which was open for the public to come in and talk with me. This was useful because it enabled me to put in place some idea-development in the SL station and talk to the people who came in. Limited numbers meant that I had more time to work than on the last occasion at the Momentum Gallery at Equilibrium in October. Because I was performing under the auspices of Multi-Media Interactive 2008 Underground put on by the Independent Theatre I had left the advertising up to them. The poor publicity up to this point prompted me to take matters into my own hands and advertise what I was doing at the Nelson Arts Council, Wild Tomatoes magazine in Nelson and the Nelson Mail and to send out emails over my own performance networks. The reviewer for the Nelson Leader is currently writing a short review. So for the last two shows we had nearly a full house. All good. The feedback from the public has been encouraging re these final shows. I had printed copies of my Abstract summary as handouts for the audience as well. This either went right over people`s heads or prompted an enthusiastic, interested response.

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