Partners:in association with Hellicar & Lewis and Globe Academy, Southwark Supported by: Arts Council England Dates: 18 - 25 January 2013 Participating Artists: Steven Bloomer, Sophie Lifschutz, Gareth Nicholls with Gary McNair, Tara Robinson
Cast: Joe Arkery, Toby Beer, Catherine Harvey, Natasha Vieira
Co-curated by: Adam Barnard, Pete Hellicar and Joel Lewis
Producer: Vanessa Fagan
Documenter: Katalin Trencsenyi
"I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and that is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engage"
In Virtual Empty Space, Company of Angels explored the relationship between theatre and the rising digital world and asks: can a true act of theatre take place in a virtual space?
Working in partnership with the admired digital agency Hellicar & Lewis and an array of exciting theatremakers, we attempted to answer this question by creating a series of short theatre pieces that combine live theatre and new technologies in ways that, to the best of our knowledge, no-one's done before. Then set the work loose in front of a young audience and ask them the million-dollar question: is it any good?
(as seen by dramaturg, Katalin Trencsenyi)
MONDAY, 14 JAN2013
The creative team metfor a preparatory meeting to brainstorm about what it is we would like to findout from the young people at Globe Academy when we meet them in a few days’time. We would like to hear their stories and learn how they use technology. Weare all committed to exploring the possibilities that can happen in a virtualempty space.
FRIDAY, 18 JANUARY2013
The Glasgow team wasbrainstorming about an interactive show where the audience would be the performersas well as witnessing the event.
Meanwhile, the London team was running a workshop at Globe Academyto gain ideas. Possible areas to explore: emotions and delay (Tara), illnessand technology (Steve) and playground/fairground (Sophie).
In London the team gatheredat the Rag Factory for another round table discussion to investigate theaudience’s emotional involvement with online characters. Emerging themes are:loss, delay, and self-perception. The aim was to present a pitch to Hellicar & Lewis by the end of the day
In Glasgow, Gareth and Gary are keen to find out how interactivetechnology can contribute to a feeling of being ‘in the moment’, and how thiscan lead to new avenues of audience participation.
Joel (H&L) spent the night working out thedirectors' technical requirements, while Steve wrote two scripts for the pieceshe is co-creating with Sophie. Tara hasalso been working on two dialogues to test for her piece. She decided to carryon with writing on Tuesday.
TUESDAY, 22 JANUARY
In the morning therest of the London team assembled at H&L's office. Gary and Gareth (nowdubbed the Glasgow Contingent) had a Google+ conference with Joel and Adam todiscuss their ideas and requirements as to how to make audience remote controlledconnections possible.
Meanwhile, Steve and Sophie started casting calls and set up rehearsalsfor Wednesday morning.
We now have working titles for all four pieces: Two Sides toEvery Story (Tara); Fess Up (Garth & Gary); Onthe Nose (Sophie & Steve); Breaking Up (Sophie &Steve).
By the end of the day, three actors were found for rehearsals andrecording in London for the forthcoming two days, a rehearsal schedule had beenarranged, a site visit to the school to discuss set-up and technical issues wasbooked, and Joel, Pete and Dan (at H&L) had a long to-do list to workthrough...
Our exploratorycollaboration between theatre makers and digital creators has moved up a gear.
After a morning in rehearsals, Vanessa and Tara went to Globe Academy;Tara to take pictures of the space, and Vanessa to find answers to the group'smyriad technical and logistical questions, and to sort out the performanceschedule.
Then it was prop shopping for Vanessa, and dialogue honing for Tara (TwoSides to Every Story) in preparation for the recording session atH& L’s office tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Gareth and Gary were finalising their script (Fess Up), aimingto have the final version ready for coding by Thursday morning.
Sophie and Steve had been rehearsing Breaking Up with actorsJoe Arkley and Natasha Vieira at the Rag Factory.
Joel and Pete were making colour coded slides for Fess Up;created a face-changing application for On the Nose, and were tryingto work out how Breaking Up can be done withoutthe crucial internet connection (Skype is an integral part of the script,but the school's firewalls are against us!)
The penultimate day:it's been buzzing in H&L's office. The challenge for everyone is to getready for the showing tomorrow morning without a technical rehearsal.
After a discussion between Steve, Adam and Dan about the facilitation ofBreaking Up, everyone convened for an impromptu production meeting.
Joel and Pete looked slightly worn: they must have spent all nightcreating the software for the four productions. They really mean what theypromised: 'Let your imagination go wild - we can do anything for you.' Nothingseems to be impossible for them.
The meeting was still underway when Tara arrived with her actors (TobyBeer and Catherine Harvey) for the voiceover recording for Two Sides.By then, Vanessa was off to another site visit to finalise arrangements withthe school.
After a few takes, Toby left and Catherine stayed for a rehearsal withSophie and Steve of On the Nose - while in the backgroundJoel, Pete and Dan were working on the visual effects for the piece.
The final slides arrived from Glasgow by midday, the layout of theclassroom and the teacher's briefing notes had been discussed: Fess Up mustnow run itself.
The London team will get in tomorrow as soon as the school gates open.
A week has passedsince our first meeting at Globe Academy and we are back to show the youngpeople the four pieces the team has created during the week, using the thoughtsand ideas that emerged from the workshop with them last Friday. 'You are thefirst people to ever see this work', announces Adam to the students.
The first show is Emoticon (formerly titled Onthe Nose) by Steven Bloomer and Sophie Lifschutz - a woman's monologuebefore having cosmetic surgery. She is seated behind a laptop, talking to herfriend online, revealing her expectations, and the improvements she thinks thisoperation will bring to her life.
Behind the actress is an interactive whiteboard screen where her face isprojected. During the course of the monologue the portrait we see on screen isdigitally modified according to her feelings and the way she sees herself inher head.
The audience was taken aback by the technology; although it seemed thescreen took most of their attention. Later, at the debriefing the creative teamwondered whether the actress should have been given the opportunity to use herphysical presence more...
After the showing, Adam ran a short feedback session with the pupilswhile the room was being reset for the second piece of the day, Saudade (formerlycalled Breaking Up) by Steve Bloomer and Sophie Lifschutz. Thiswas a Skype ‘duologue’ between a couple in a long distance relationship.
The chairs in the auditorium were set up along parallel lines with ascreen at each end, and the audience facing each other. The screens at eitherend showed the characters' Facebook pages.
At the arrival of the audience the actors were sitting in the auditorium.Once the spectators settled down, the actors left for their separate booths.These were hidden from the audience, so that they could only see the actors’faces on the separate screens.
During the course of the piece we could experience the relationshipbreaking up mirrored by the deterioration of the Skype connection.
The students found it tricky to focus on two screens at the same time.This was an interesting comment from a generation that by means of variousgadgets is often simultaneously engaged in the present and online. Why are theirexpectations more conservative when it comes to theatre?
The third piece, Two Sides by Tara Robinson was theartist’s nod to performance art and installation, and was built as anindividual audience experience. The piece evolved around the notion of overhearinga conversation.
As the 'audience' entered the room, they saw a white wall. From behindone could hear the subdued argument of a couple. Or rather, one side of it.
The audience had to go to the other side of the wall to hear the otherperson's replies. Only at this point could the 'eavesdropper' realise that whatthey may have thought was an argument about infidelity and jealousy, was infact a parental disagreement about the upbringing of their teenage son.
The piece got mixed reviews, partly because it only emerged during theshow how crucial it was as to what instructions the entering audience would begiven beforehand, and how the conventions of the 'eavesdropping' in the roomwere established.
Gareth Nicholls' and Gary McNair's piece, Fess Up, tookplace in a traditional classroom setting, and played to three groups ofstudents between Years 8 and 11, with the artists following the performanceslive on the phone from Glasgow.
This was an interactive show where the audience took an active part,directed by lines projected onto an interactive white board at the front of theclassroom. The unsuspecting pupils entered the room, where what would turn outto be a troll started a dialogue with them, via commands appearing on the board.The students immediately understood the game, accepted his authority andfollowed the instructions.
Once this was established, the teacher entered the room, briefed onlywith the instruction to read out loud anything that came up on the laptopscreen on her desk.
The dialogue triggered a dynamic exchange between class and teacherbased on a short 'whodunit' scenario. As the pupils' and teacher's lines wereprojected onto separate screens (each screen only visible to either the teacheror the students), no one knew what the other would do or say next, the energylevels in the room quickly rose.
The students were witnessing, acting, prompting and helping the show, aswell as, in the end, suffering the consequences of adhering to their script. Asthey played an active part of the performance, their expectations as to whatwould happen next were high, and despite the occasional technical hiccup, theywere very engaged throughout.
At the end of the third showing, the audience was stunned to find outthat the artists had never left Scotland in the process of creating the piece,and joined a live conversation with Gareth and Gary.
The creative team rounded off the day with a debriefing session. ThisR&D project has been fully documented throughout. Pictures, videos as wellas an evaluation report will be available shortly.
For now, it's time for everyone to get some sleep and reflect on how wecan use what we have learned during this very intense week!
If you're interested in getting a more detailed glimpse into the project, Katalin's full evaluation report and video of the project will be available shortly.