- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
Tell me a bit about your performance practice leading to this point, and how this artistic journey has led to New Paradise Laboratories and your work EXTREMELY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF PRIVACY?
Theatre is a crossroads where many arts meet. It is also notoriously conservative. Our cross-media experiments at New Paradise Laboratories have an old-school theatrical question at their hearts—can digital expression deliver something like the kind of intimacy, presence, and depth that people expect from the theatre? No, so let’s rephrase that: can digital expression deliver something like the kind of intimacy, presence, and depth that people sometimes MISS at the theatre? We are not trying to convert people to see live theatre, per se, we’re trying to invent a way that theatre can be exported into the digital domain. Our projects retain a lot of theatre-iness. Messy, by some accounts, but dense and interesting.
Here’s an important implication: we are venturing into an era of a constant and crucial reckoning with non-locational presence. What does it mean nowadays to put your body or your thoughts in someone’s way? To insert the obstacle of presence into the flow of everyday life? To highlight a message through radical intrusion? It has been commented on extensively, but I think the Occupy movement and the ubiquity of cell phones as a primary feature of political action are doing a special dance using physical presence with and within the Internet. EXTREMELY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF PRIVACY worked to do this as well: to occupy online space, to intrude theatre into the audience’s private space and to create a clearly defined presence in real space as well.
This question will certainly become even more crucial as we develop ways to transform living human intelligence into active, mutating information that can be stored in external hard drives. Can people exist in a simulated space, separate from their bodies? Can essence be sustained as a digital entity?
How is what you are doing similar and different from the work/projects of Blast Theory, who are so popular in locative and mobile media performance here in Britain, or even other mobile locative media theatre projects of recent years (not counting Flash Mobs)?
I have only experienced Blast Theory at a distance. New Paradise doesn’t have gaming at its core—our work tends to experiential in a more literary/ecstatic way. Maybe Janet Cardiff or various other sound artists that mingle fiction into the “non-fictional” world would be better antecedents.
EXTREMELY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF PRIVACY is a piece that has three movements or acts. Act 1 is a kind of pointillist live and recorded movie with music videos, little text message videos, phone calls and multiple blog sites (six websites in all)—all online. Act 2 is a mediated character-based experience, which asks audiences to download files and go downtown. It is a geo-cached performance where the characters are downloaded and the world is live and fully integrated. Act 3 is (was) a live, but very intimate concert, where Fess sings and speaks right to audience members. It was performed in an underground bunker of sorts where we jammed microwave intrusion.
The story of EXTREMELY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF PRIVACY involves two women who meet in a random encounter online. The younger, Beatrix, who is an online impresario, takes an interest in the elder, Fess, who is a talented but unknown singer songwriter. Through the course of the piece, which includes an online affair between the two, Beatrix deconstructs and rebuilds Fess into a stronger, more independent creative artist through a series of public dares. In other words, Beatrix is a stand-in for the function of the online commercial world and its desire to predict intention through an analysis of individual web browsing—a scary but ubiquitous characteristic of contemporary online life.
[photo: Jorge Cousineau]
Can you tell me the relationship of the mobile device and the performance of this recent work and how it adds to or enhances the piece?
Act 2 of EPDP is delivered solely through mobile devices. There are seven “Public Displays” with high-quality, spatialised sound and video segments, each delivered to mobile devices in a series of locations. Fess and Beatrix interact with each other and with audience in an ongoing conversation that is delivered to individual smart phones as audience members are led one-by-one through a journey in downtown Philadelphia. Audience views one of the characters in a series of pre-recorded videos—the seven Public Displays--that have been shot precisely where they are walking. Audience members are encouraged to hold their devices so that the video image on the phone is superimposed precisely on the world. The events contained within the seven displays are depicted as spontaneous and include onlookers into the storyline. There are markers planted within the real world “stage” of the piece along the way—a large scale bus stop poster, music that plays from passing automobiles—to entice the spectator into an experience of a ghost-like in-between realm that combines real presence and pre-recorded augmentation. Audience witnesses a drama between two characters, with actions seemly located in the present world, but across time zones. It’s a de-stabilizing, trippy experience—intimate presence in time and space, but physically dislocated.
Act 2 of EPDP has, at heart, a literary notion: it delivers an experience of narrative where fictional and non-fictional biography meld across time zones—the performances emanate from a recent past (pre-recorded) and are uploaded to audience who are witnessing them in a panoramic present. This time frame jump with its synchronised realities (instead of simultaneous) is one of the subjects of the piece.
Can you tell me about your other recent performance or interactive projects, or those in the works?
We are gearing up to create an international piece—called International Telepathy—which uses a randomly assembled group of international performers who attack the Internet, wanting to replace it with organic telepathy. Sort of a sci-fi piece, pitting the embodied against the electronic.
We are also working to recreate FATEBOOK (2009), our first web-based piece, in the Czech Republic, with an all Czech-speaking cast.
We were curated into the 2011 Prague Quadrennial, which is an international design exposition. The design features of FATEBOOK were represented through a variety of media in the US exhibition. FATEBOOK was a live/online piece that put 14 characters along with the audience into a large-scale online interaction (mostly inside Facebook). The piece culminated in a media rich, promenade-style live theatre piece that encouraged the audience to “follow” characters through a maze-like real space experience. The Artistic Director of the Prague Quadrennial expressed interest in the piece and the idea was born. We are in a coalition of partners to create the piece—it will be presented at the Prague-based "4+4 Days in Motion Festival" in 2013. It will require a reconceived remake, recast, reshot, a performed live by Czech actors. It's a co-production.
Why/how was mobile media essential? How/why was it performative and was it essential for this work to be successful?
Act 2 cemented the audience’s relationship to the drama of the piece and transformed the world itself into a live performer/participant. The mobile media in our piece was a crucial transition point for the move from all-digital (Act 1) to all real-space (Act 3). We know that mobile devices will eventually give way to a merging of real-space with computational space, where we won’t need a handheld portal to access the digital world—it will be embedded into our eyes or something. But we wanted to put online presence right up against real-space presence in a really salient way, and needed to help the audience make the mental transition.
What are you trying to do with this work in terms of the audience reception or interaction?
Many of NPL’s ideas and processes can be challenging to a traditional theatre-going audience. The truth is that theatre people/fans mistrust their computers and computer people mistrust the theatre, so mobile devices were a way in EXTREMELY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF PRIVACY to bridge the divide. Both sides happily use smart phones.
Theatre people tend to think of themselves as one of the last bastions of resistance against the digital disembodiment of art. Conversely, many digital natives think of being trapped in a darkened theatre as hell, with no way to click away. I don’t know what will happen to the theatre over time, but I’m a believer, so I want to see the theatre loosen up and get over its purist, germ phobic fear of being infected by new modes of expression.
I think that there will continue to be a digital native backlash—people who live online also go to concerts, parties, sporting events and the like—so they might decide they like the darkened room of the theatre. It’s an experience of high virtuality—where metaphor is superimposed on live events by way of the frame of the stage. It is important to move narrative fiction in and out of its cordoned zones—plays, movies, novels, music—and get our hands dirty—by forcing our expressions out of their supposedly sacred precincts.
What future potential do you see for the mobile media platform for making art and performance work in general and in your practice specifically?
Smart phones are the current content manufacturing factories of the digital age. We are in the process of training a new cadre of theatre performers who are also skillful at representing themselves online. They will be performing inside our developing online performance venue (see link in related links below).
Maybe we will completely redefine the idea of fiction, or lose it all together. The real will become so mutable as to be virtually indistinguishable from artifice. I’m an old-school theatre person. I love live physical presence. I don’t care about smart phones at all. They’re just what we are using in the meantime to deliver a sense of profound intimacy to people who have no affinity for conventional theatrical experience.
How do you initially attract audiences - in a traditional, promotions fashion? or in another way? Add more on how an audience member get to this Act 2 part of the production - can they access if without experiencing Act 1?
We build non-sequential viewing into the experience—all three acts of the piece are intrinsic but not absolutely necessary to the overall arc. People have often viewed them out of order. They would come to the real space concert of Act 3 before going back to the all-online Act 1.
Act 2—the place where audience initiative was necessary to smash together competing ideas of performance—was the most challenging for a traditional theatre audience. Perhaps many found out about the totality of the performance through traditional theatre promotion, but once inside the domain of the piece, they were pretty much on their own to make their way through it.
We find that traditional theatre audiences in the States have an uneasy relationship with their computer. They don’t tend to think of their computer as a site of entertainment--it's still more of a workstation. We interviewed a number of audience members—some had no tolerance for the online portion of the performance. Others fell down the rabbit hole and spent literally obsessive amounts of time in our six websites. 5000 individuals connected with Act 1 in the first 10 days of availability. 900 total saw Act 3. There’s a divide in our audience community. Many look to theatre as an antidote for all that digital stuff. On the other hand, people that love their computers have difficulty imagining 75 minutes in a darkened room. How will the twain meet? Or should we even try?