Virtue in Virtual?

Winsor McCay - Gertie the Dinosaur

We have lived through method acting, underwater acting, space acting. Now is it ‘virtual acting‘?

Artists and academics from Bradley University in Illinois, University of Central Florida, and University of Waterloo in Canada are so proud of their recent accomplishment of bringing together a performance using the Internet onstage (covered in a story in this week’s Festival News) — they thought they were plowing new territory.

Using the latest technology on stage to bring together distant actors and actions is at least as old as using the telegraph in live performances of the 1840s. (No coincidence: Same time period as P.T. Barnum’s museum of “500,000 natural and artificial curiosities.”)

One of the most interesting combinations of theatre with the latest technology was created by Stanislaw Igancy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) for his 1923 play, The Crazy Locomotive, (SZALONA LOKOMOTYWA) with theatre and film. Witkacy was hardly a techie. An amazing artist of theatre, paintings, and novels, Witkacy believed that theatre was “last refuge of individual existence.”

Our own Ruben Puentedura has been collaborating with choreographer Cathy Weis since 1997 to create “Live Internet Performance Structures” (LIPS), with artists in NYC, Vermont, Macedonia, and the Czech Republic. Although the work is at the high end of technique, imagination, and cultural exchange, the technology is at the low end. They have used off-the-shelf mid- to low-range computer and video equipment, and ISDN bandwidth (not even DSL or cable modem range) to pull it all off.

There is a bit of irony in the recent live-via-the-internet production: They produced Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine. The play gives a pretty glum picture of anything that dehumanizes our experience.

Where the intersection of technology and performance can become really interesting is in the revelation: How does one use today’s tools to reveal what is most ancient in a live performance — the human experience of an actor and an audience sharing an intimate space, together.

Is “virtual acting” a fad or the newest frontier?

Every new trend in performance confronts a choice of two roads: one of a new fashion; or one of a connection to something essential. Don’t you think that the road that is harder to travel creates the more memorable journey?

- Bill Reichblum

Share and Enjoy:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace

Leave a Reply