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Research context

In the long and rich history of Theatre technology has always played an important role. From lighting to sound to special effects. Technological possibilities have evolved with the shift from the mechanical to the electronic. Nowadays the digital era enables us to merge major technologies together into one tool; the computer. The term multimedia refers to the possibility to play, record, connect and manipulate all media within one language that communicates through the universal logic of zero’s and ones. With this binary logic we can describe, manipulate and show anything we can imagine, including the things that don’t exist in the physical world. Everything that exists inside the computer, other than its hardware and the flow of electric currents through microscopic switches, is virtual; a concept of what could be real.

Theatre is working with this potential of the virtual since its ancient beginnings. Perception of the reality of the theatre-space and the immediacy of the performance is altered through the use of décor, lighting and the possible jumps in time with the change of scenes. This combined with the willing suspension of disbelieve of the audience, can result in experiences of the virtual, where time and space are not following the common rules of linearity and physics, and where people are becoming somebody or something else. With the introduction of electronic and digital technology in the Theatre the possibilities for showing and manipulating this experience of virtual space, time and persona has been greatly enhanced. Many examples in the context of Theatre now show usage of electronic technology through automated lighting, video projection, surround audio systems and robotics.

With the introduction of computers another ancient aspect of Theatre is potentially enhanced; complex real-time interaction with and through technology. In the broader field of the Performing Arts like dance and music we see numerous examples how motion-capture or other input systems drive the output of sound, image and/or mechanical motion. Internet technology has enabled these systems to be connected over long physical distances thus blurring even more the notion of time and space.

The Cartesian mathematical concept of three-dimensional space has been highly developed in the digital field to an immediate feedback simulation of three dimensional virtual space also known as real-time Three-Dimensional Computer Graphics (3DCG). Applications of these technologies range from scientific visualisation research to training simulators in many fields, and of course the computer game industry and other forms of entertainment. The Performing Arts increasingly make use of these technologies bringing immersion and interaction with and through technology into its creative domain, thus blending even more the border of the real and virtual. Especially the real-time aspect and accurate but flexible representation of virtual space and three-dimensional form gives the performing artist possibilities to interact and show its wildest fantasies. These virtual three-dimensional worlds can be shared, manipulated and connected to anything else. Suddenly the virtual décor and persona can be manipulated and changed in an instant, and even become responsive on their own.

With this growing landscape of possibility the amount of complexity has equally grown. Current computer technologies ask highly specialised technical knowledge for it to be instructed to be useable in a new context. Interaction with a computer, or actually all technology, is only possible with some added layer that negotiates between the logic and language of the user and the logic and language of the machine. This is, in the context of this text, called an interface. These interfaces can take many forms ranging from the physical to the virtual, from the hardware to the software. Through these interfaces we can give computers instructions about what to see as input, how to process it, maybe combine it with other input, and finally, how to output it. Al these in- and outputs can be hardware and software, all potentially able to connect to each other. The reality of this potential for connectivity is however one of the greatest reasons why implementation of technology in a new context always seems to take a lot of effort and time. This is simply because in reality all possible systems, being hardware and/or software, use different so called ‘standards’ and interface-logic.

The artist that works with Theatre, or in the broader field of the Performing Arts, who is interested in implementing many forms of media, especially interactive real-time 3DCG, is attracted by the limitless possibilities of computer technology but also confronted with the need for an almost limitless amount of specialised technical knowledge to be able to use this technology in unconventional ways. Although more and more computer technology and multimedia applications are developed with so called user-friendly interfaces the artist will regularly come up with creative ideas for implementation that are not embedded in the technology as such or represented in its interface. Specialised hard- and software is recently developed with performing artists in mind which to a very large extend tries to facilitate the user-friendly manipulation of media and its interconnectivity. These products are for some artist already too complex or for others too limited. Both groups will generally ask the help of programmers to do the job of instructing the computer for them.

The making processes in the wide range of Performing Arts are generally very different from the making process of connecting and instructing electronic and digital technology. Both making processes are in itself creative, dealing with the generation of new concepts and ideas, but differ greatly in the timing of creation phases and problem solving strategies. Most technological making processes are having a quite linear and rigid production flow, from concept to blueprint to prototype to final product. Although brainstorming, testing and changing the product in different phases give room to new creative approaches and possibilities, the whole making process takes a long time and mostly results in a technological product that does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Changing the function of a particular part of technology takes again time to implement. With the Performing Arts there is a much greater potential for flexibility and change during the process of making the performance in every single stage of its creation.

This study focuses mostly on the rehearsal phase of a theatre making process and the role technology can play in this phase. The rehearsal phase of a theatre making process in the traditional sense consist of rehearsing the complete description of text and movement of the actors, timing of the music, lighting and décor changes. In its most rigid form the rehearsal phase is an Exercise of repetition to make sure that everything will be timed and expressed exactly right in the moment of the performance in front of an audience. And although the immediacy of every performance makes sure that no performance is ever the same, the general focus is to replicate the same experience in a pre-described form. In the context of this study the rehearsal phase of the theatre making process is seen more as an intricate part of the creation process itself, meaning not everything has been decided yet but is partly discovered through improvisation methods. This rehearsal phase can be used in several phases of the total theatre making process, thus adding new material and/or new approaches to the existing material.

As mentioned in the introduction it becomes apparent that the nature of interactive digital technology, for it to be able to contribute to the making process of the Performing Arts in a constructive way, needs to be attuned to the nature of the rehearsal phase as an intricate part of the creation process itself. For getting a better understanding of this context this study has formulated three research questions. As mentioned in the introduction these questions will be asked in the context of several projects.