Performing Memory: Art Community, Archive & St Ives

Posts Tagged ‘Theatre

TALK: Theatre Sandbox Showcase, 12th November 2010

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The Theatre Sandbox Showcase came out of a series of workshops, which around 275 people attended. From this, a competitive process selected six different project proposals to participate in the Theatre Sandbox, funded by the Arts Council and supported by Watershed, iShed, Pervasive Media Studio.

What’s really struck me is that Bristol really seems to be a centre for all things pervasive. I’ve yet to find another central point, or network hub, that has creative links as extensive as those of the Pervasive Media Studio or Watershed. London is just too big and disparate, and few other places are lucky enough to have the facilities, investment, and most importantly, people and ways of connecting through place. UWE are obviously a big part of this too, and play a major part in both attracting and keeping a creative technology community in Bristol.

The Observatory

Melanie Wilson, Ed Collier/Lyric Theatre/Tom Melamed, Calvium/PMStudio

Interesting thing that Melanie Wilson pointed out: Children aren’t amazed by technology. Grown-ups might think that pervasive media is really interesting, but the kids are only really interested in the unicorns.

The technology is just a tool.

Local children participated in the design of this theatre project, which took place both inside and outside of the theatre, in the local High Street. The children learn that a unicorn has been caught in a huge storm, accidentally transporting it to this world. The children create a narrative through a journey, the aim of which is to send the unicorn back home.

Melanie described the project as challenging, mainly owing to finding ways of making pervasive media technologies achieve the desired effects. Tom Melamed of Calvium collaborated with Melanie and Ed to create the narrative, where bits of story are triggered when a child steps into a WiFi or GPS point in a specific location. A combination of methods was used in order for the parts of the story, like an enormous shadowy projection of a unicorn on a wall, to trigger at exactly the right time. In order for the experience to be truly immersive, the children were given minimal equipment, just headphones. All content was broadcast from a laptop in order for this to work.

Sonic Maze

Mind the Gap/Contact Manchester/Phil Stenton, Calvium/Theatre Sandbox Advisor

This project used relatively simple technology to achieve its aims, but was incredibly effective. Mid the Gap is a theatre company that gives people with physical and mental disabilities a chance to perform.

The company, with Phil’s help, created a sonic maze using mediascapes. Using the space outside the theatre, groups of five people all had headphones attached to one iPaq. Moving awkwardly and hesitantly, they shuffled about the car park, following audio instructions to move around. For instance, a wrong turn might mean hitting a sonic ‘wall’, and the reactions of the participants to and observer to this is really very funny, as if they had hit a real wall. The real genius of this piece is the emphasis on collaboration according to strengths and weaknesses within the group. Certain obstacles were on the frequency of 15-16 Hz, which meant that anyone over 25 was unable to hear (also, as an aside, a nice two fingers to the idea of the persecution of the young from the Mosquito). Other parts of the Sonic Maze could only be accessed through a sonic loop, requiring a hearing aid user to solve that part of the problem.

Interestingly, the issues in production concerned creativity that came out of misunderstanding. Theatre producers misunderstood the technology, and therefore created things that required Phil to find creative ways of using the technology creatively to achieve these goals.

Give Me Back My Broken Night

Duncan Speakman/Uninvited Guests/Soho Theatre

Speakman ventures away from the purely audio experience to add a visual dimension to his work in collaboration with Univited Guests. Where UG had previously worked with the Soho Theatre, this was a new experience for Speakman, who finally feels now that perhaps he really definitely actually is a producer of theatre.

The experience is small and intimate, with only a few players participating at any one time. Players are called on their mobiles, and given instructions. They carry tiny projectors around their necks, which project a map of Soho onto a piece of paper in front of them. In a departure from previous works, Speakman and UG are looking towards the future, rather than the past in their urban imaginary, asking their players to imagine what might be on this building site in twenty years time. What would it look like? What else would be there? What has changed?

In response to their descriptions, an artist is listening in on these conversations, drawing according to the players’ ideas. What he draws is visible on the projected map as the player is speaking, a vision of the future city.

The challenges faced during this project were mainly technological. The map idea, according to Speakman, started as a mistaken belief that a very new, thin, flexible material could be experimented with. However, as this was only available to the military, the paper/projection method was suggested instead.


Theatre Sandbox is produced by iShed http://www.ished.net in collaboration with Bristol Old Vic http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk , Soho Theatre http://www.sohotheatre.com , Lyric, Hammersmith http://www.lyric.co.uk, mac http://macarts.co.uk, Contact http://www.contact-theatre.org and The Junction http://junction.co.uk. It is funded by the National Lottery, through Arts Council, England.

NOTES: Mobile Participatory Theatre?

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Mobile Participatory Theatre?

Mixed Reality Performance?

Multimodal Partipatory Performance?

Performance Interventions?

Pervasive theatre?

So, what exactly is this medium of performance? How do I describe it? Is it possible to come up with a term that describes its specificity, yet at the same time conveys the multiplicity of modes and levels of performance? To fall back on the term of ‘happening’ is vague and rather describes a historical moment in performance, and although this kind of participatory performance owes something to what has gone before, it is far removed from the somewhat chaotic and haphazard nature that the word suggests. ‘Participatory Theatre’ encompasses something of what is expected of the audience, placing an emphasis on the active mode of the ‘participant’ rather than passive role of the ‘spectator’.

I don’t think the title of mobile participatory theatre is really adequate. I think it is something more specific. ‘Subtlemob’ is a great term, but refers specifically to the mode in which Duncan Speakman/subtlemob works, a term belongs really only to them.

Interestingly, when you type ‘mobile participatory theatre’ into Google, subtlemob.com is the second link, after a somewhat dry article about the ethics of participatory theatre in higher education. Participatory theatre is just too blunt and simplistic a term, and is often used to describe performances in which the audience have little real involvement or impact, and is instead describing theatre events or performances simply where the mode of spectating is unusual rather than actually requiring the audience to actually interact.

I dislike the use of mobile, as I feel it is misleading, and the definition has to be qualified: is it mobile as in movement, or mobile as in device? Both are relevant, and it could mean either or both of those. As such, I think this is a problematic term, at least as far as specificity is concerned, and for the adequate communication of a set of ideas associated with that term. Perhaps that is part of the issue. Is it the format, the medium itself which is difficult to define? Perhaps it would be useful to establish a list of positive or negative attributes by which we might then attempt to better describe (in order to communicate, explain and share, rather than to define, exclude, confine) what this artform/medium is and isn’t.

There are members of the public.

There are performers.

Most or all of the performance is in real-time.

There is usually some kind of technology. These can be wireless headphones receiving a live feed, a mobile device, an mp3, sound recordings, projections.

There is some kind of choreography or orchestration, game plan or controlling element that co-ordinates the movements of the participants.

There is a narrative.

Participatory defines the ‘player’s’ role as active, not passive, and suggests that they have agency and can influence outcomes.

Mixed reality suggests that there are virtual as well as real worlds.

Augmented reality is seeing the world through a virtual lens.

Mobile suggests both a device and a mode of performance.

Player is a better term than audience, participant etc. as it underlines their active role, and emphasises the ludic nature of the experience.

Participatory theatre/sound performance using headphones is a new language of performance that people are unfamiliar with, requiring more than a brief explanation to really get across how it works and what it feels like. This is also problematic when advertising a performance, to let people know what they’re letting themselves in for, without at the same time giving too much away.

Duncan Speakman describes subtlemobs on his website thus:

We’re not sure if we know yet, but this is what we think it might be . . .

Imagine walking through a film, but it’s happening on the streets you live in

Subtlemobs usually happen in public spaces

This is music composed for those spaces

This is about trying to make films without cameras

It’s about integrating with a social or physical space, not taking it over

The audience listen on headphones, a mix of music, story and instructions

Sometimes they just watch, sometimes they perform scenes for each other

A subtlemob is not a flashmob

try to remain invisible . . .

I think the idea of the cinematic that suggested here is interesting. Watching and participating at the same time. It’s an immersive experience, and by being on headphones, separates the participant from their immediate surroundings. And yet, it also creates a hyper-awareness of present reality. It’s phenomenological, a stepping outside of reality whilst at the same time creating a more profound experience of that reality. Perhaps cineastic is a term that also describes the partipatory nature of making a performative experience.

The creation of narrative around the reality of immediate experience sets up a duality of time and space. The Player is immersed in two different realities, the ‘game’ or ‘narrative’ space, and real space, as well as the different time ‘zones’ of it being both now and ‘in the moment’.  Guy Debord suggests that technology distances and separates, and people wearing headphones and replacing the dull drone of banality with a soundtrack is something that can be seen everyday on streets and trains and buses, people walking to the soundtracks of their own lives. but if as Debord suggests, ‘the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images’, then Speakman’s subtlemobs create a social relation between people mediated by sound and narrative

To continue to examine this kind of performance in relation to Situationism,the  Australia-based pvi collective describe themselves as a:

tactical media arts group who produce interdisciplinary artworks that are intent on the creative disruption of everyday life. every artwork aims to affect audiences on a personal and political level and is geared towards instigating tiny revolutions.

This is more of a detournement, an intervention in the everyday with an explicitly political intention. Their work is still scripted and choreographed, and necessarily organised, however, but as the particpants haven’t necessarily actively chosen to be involved it requires flexibility to react to the way in which people respond to the work.

Multimodal Mixed Reality performance?

Immersive Mixed Reality Experience

PERFORMANCE: The Memory Dealer

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From: http://vonviral.com/group/thememorydealer


Created by: Rik Lander
Start date: July 2010
Funding: Towards Pervasive Media, Nottingham University
Country: UK 

The Memory Dealer has been performed twice through the Broadway Media Centre, Nottingham in 2010.

Watch the trailer:

Synopsis of Second Iteration, (Sept. 11th 2010):
Part 1
The story begins with the audience/players listening to an mp3 file as they meander where ever they like through the city. The voice and music are relaxing and somewhat hypnotic and they are encouraged to see the city anew and to explore their own memories of the places they pass through. They are told they are waiting to meet Eve, an engaging but unreliable friend with whom they have lost contact. They are told how they met and how they fell out. After a while the mood of the soundtrack becomes darker, they have wandered into an area frequented by memory dealers and those who have become addicted to their wares.

They receive a ‘call’ from Eve who tells them she has been arrested under trumped up charges. If they can find a memory dealer they will be able to experience what she did at the time of crime and prove her innocence. They are told to return to the Broadway bar, fins a memory dealer and be discrete.

Part 2.
They can only approach the dealer one at a time. While they wait they might notice that the radio show playing is a talk show dedicated to the subject of memory dealers. The show features a spokeswoman for the handset manufacturers who have developed handsets that can collect and store memories. They are pressing the Government to legalise memory aggregation. They wish to catalogue memories on search engines. Eve calls the show and defends a banned organisation called the XM who want to subvert the aggregation of memories by encouraging the sharing of memories.

The memory dealer is rude and surly. She gives each person a device that plays a sound file. She tells them to wait for Eve to appear, to only press play when she does and to follow her.

Part 3.
The audience/players follow Eve as she lives out the events of yesterday. They hear her memories on the soundtrack and discover that the reason she was an unreliable friend is because she was a founder of the XM. In a mixture pre-recorded and live performance they discover that the XM HQ has been evacuated and a police raid is imminent. Against all protocols she must remove a stash of memories from a safe house. She is hugely unsettled by these events. Finally she runs into a shop and runs out holding a bag. She runs back to the Broadway.

Part 4.
SPOILER ALERT. If you want to come on a future production of the Memory Dealer and don’t want to know how it ends. Stop reading now.

The audience/players return to the Broadway bar where a huge video is projected. Eve is in a police interview room. A detective is gloating over how easy it was to break her spirit and get her to hand over the names of the XM hierarchy. A dossier is brought in. Eve is told she can go. As she passes the camera she whispers a plea for forgiveness. She couldn’t hand in the XM. Run!

The detective reads out the names of the people to be arrested – they are the names of the audience/players. We then see the photos in the file. A secretly taken photo of every member of the audience.

Part 5
The Detective enters the bar and shouts, “Right. Nobody leave the room.”

This drama is part of a research project into whether pervasive drama can be as emotionally engaging as drama that is shown on cinema or TV screens. When we are in a cinema we are free to emotionally engage as others cannot see our responses in the dark. We feel similarly safe to emotionally engage when we watch TV in our living rooms. The central research question, to be explored through making and performing a piece of pervasive drama then gathering responses from our audiences, is can creators of pervasive media expect high levels of emotional engagement from their audiences? Does the process of absorbing media in public places and in unusual ways reduce empathy and submission to emotive storytelling? Would an audience for a pervasive version of “Love Story” cry as much as a cinema audience might?

Research is being undertaken by Dr Elizabeth Evans, Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, Department of Culture, Media and Film, University of Nottingham.

Future plans:
The writing of pervasive drama is an iterative process. One needs to write and test, write and test. Rik Lander already has plans for the next iteration based on audience feedback from the second iteration.

Media used:
1 x downloaded mp3 audio file played on audience/players own mp3 player.
1 x mp3 file provided on a player by a ‘memory dealer’.
1 x radio transmission played over the PA in the Broadway bar.
1 x video projected in Broadway bar.
1 x hidden camera – still images integrated into video.

Media available to download:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Cast for second iteration, September 11th 2010:
Eve: Sylvia Robson
Memory Dealer: Lu Capewell
Detective Constable: Jonathan Greaves
Radio announcer: Cara Nolan
Host: Elizabeth Evans
Narrator: Rik Lander
With many thanks to the staff at the Broadway Media Centre.
Photographs by Bernard Zieja

PERFORMANCE: Domini Public, NT London

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Written by JS101092

October 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm


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Written by JS101092

July 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm

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