Digital online performance – Face the Facts and Steer

I would like to use the 1 year anniversary of waterwheel for two things: the first – It is a great platform and initiative to raise awareness of water and online performance platform. The second, and closer to my heart, is digital performance and audience experience and explaining how Steer helps.

I am proud to be part of the Water-Wheel collective that helped to feedback and be the first to workshop with the TAP application. We work for more than a year now, maybe almost two…. Part of the fellowship Suzon had with the Australian council we have created online and onsite performances that work with the theme of water and use Water as a theme and a metaphor.

Waterwheel is a collaborative online venue for streaming, mixing and sharing media & ideas about water. It has its own library of media, articles and forums. The most unique and relevant for this blog is the TAP. The TAP is an online application that allows live streaming at the same time of using the screen as an online stage for images, media, interaction between the performers online and interaction in the chat with the audience members. It’s quite a lot to understand and to summarise in few words.  So I strongly recommend you to go to the website, and look at “how it works” page which explain in more details. I really believe that TAP has a break through with live digital performance. It is still the first year, so there are still things it can imporve, but no doubt offers quite a lot already.

We celebrated the anniversary with few performances that were also projected in Argentina. Personally I was part of “Face The Facts”, which is a scene from The Waterwheel Installation Performance, the culmination of Suzon Fuks’ artist’s residency at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre for the Arts in December 2011. This scene brings together fragments of the faces and voices of 5 online performers from around the globe. The voices bring recent news and facts about water from different places around the world and in different languages. All was live streaming and live operated, we were people who performed from Tunisia, Holland, Serbia, UK and Australia. All of us have different languages and from different nationalities.

As my research focus on audience experience and how digital media affect this connection, I must say that any of the acts that were played in the anniversary did not clearly invite the audience to participate. On the one hand I’m very surprised, but on the other hand, it makes sense. WaterWheel’s advantage (or any online performance platform) is the connection, collaboration, and the option to work together and create together with people from remote places. It also potentially allows to reach a bigger audience from all over the world.

It is only the first stages of this kind of art, it is still emergent. When I say to people that I perform online, it usually follows a long explanation of how it works, where I am, and how they can watch it. Personally, I feel that the “real” advantage is the connection among people. I put on the flag of the human connection that is being created on the “here and now”. If I’ll refer a bit to Steer tools and the kinds of audience experience, it is not only the community/spiritual experience, but also the social/political activism and also the sensual experience. On the one hand it is being in your own room (or wherever it is) in front of a computer, and also be able to relate and connect to others. I believe that the presence of people and their interaction in the performance venue (not necessarily interactive performance) makes theatre and live performance unique.

I ask – what is expected from the audience during live online performance? is it a cinematic event, which means that they are only spectators?  What kind of role, you as a creator give your audience? how does the chat (if there is one) affect the performance, if at all? does it matter that they might be “drifting” and chatting about something else like “where are you now?”, “how is the weather at your place?”, “what is the time for you?”, “how did you hear about this?”, “this reminds me….. ” and so on….

In order to be able to answer this questions, Steer suggests that you as an artist will have an intention towards the audience. What do you want the audience to experience? what do you want them to gain during and at the end of this performance? Having this decision will easily direct the importance of their presence and the way they are present/engage with the performance.

I argue that because online performances are still new, and the rules are not necessarily clear (at any point they can log out and browse something else), it is the responsibility of the director/creator, to guide the audience and explain them how they should be engaged with this performance. If they know what they gain from it, most likely they will follow and participate rather than being suspicious or question what ever is happens in front of them.

Steer gives tools for the artist that can help with the rehearsal process and decision-making regarding audience engagement, proximity with the audience, choice of venue/s and clearer choice of performative genre and language on stage using design of sound, set, costumes and light. I am leading workshops of Steer now. So will not say extensively about it. But there is a lot to explain in each of the elements above.

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