Even a short survey into the impact of digital technology on 21st century performance could run into many pages. The purpose of this chapter is to review the changes of mindset that are happening, both to the world of performance and to the performative aspects of the world of the spectator. I would contend that the nature of perceiving reality is now being directly mediated in a way undreamed of, even a few years ago.


Since Sony’s introduction of the Walkman, and the use of small in-ear headphones, it has become possible for everyone to create their own underscore track, turning the most mundane of journeys, for example, into an epic quest or inner meditation, depending on choice of music. Life is being mediated in a way which theatre sought to do in the past. The miniaturising the kit, and the growth of the Internet has encouraged the development of such innovations as ‘podcasting’

Mobile telephony has reached a point where most young people have in their pocket a device which not only allows speech and text communication, but records still and video image, which can be transmitted to others; contains a small personal music collection; and increasingly with 3G access is functioning as a small web access portal, as well as performing as a calculator and maybe a torch. It is a conceptual Swiss army 48 knife, unlimited in its practical and creative potential; one that can bring down dictatorships, make small movies.

It is sometimes difficult to remember that the Web itself is a relatively new phenomenon, starting the same year as the IBM PC, 1989; Google started in 1998; but by 2004 over half of UK households have Internet access1. Broadband connection allows for music and video sharing, both legal and pirated, which has lead to a crisis of the model of intellectual property of virtual material. The issue is one of physical presence. It has almost been axiomatic that presence is one element of theatre that distinguishes it as an art form. Drama exists in film, TV and radio; theatre demands the physicals presence of the spectator. As Schechner points out, it is its own ritual, even when cloaked in naturalism.1 That being said, it has been reported that this year the computer game industry overtook DVD sales1; many regard the immersive game experience as an interactive drama, where boundaries are very blurred. The computer game industry already uses theatre design and lighting design practitioners to help create their realities, while actor’s motion is being digitised for both game and animation. We shall see later the influence that games are having on the live experience.

120 Shirky, Clay: Here Comes Everybody Penguin, New York & London, 2008 pp16-17


The Web 2 paradigm, as it is sometimes known, describes a set of fundamentally changed relationships based on social networking. Whether the new paradigm is influencing broader social relations, or is reflecting them; or whether there is a synergy is a moot point: nevertheless, the presence of Web 2 corresponds closely to the postmodern condition.

Clay Shirky argues forcibly in “Here Comes Everyone” for the transformative power of web technology. “.. almost everyone belongs to multiple groups based on family, friends, work, religious affiliation on and on. The centrality of group effort to human life means that anything that changes the way groups function will have profound ramifications for everything from commerce and government to media and religion. One obvious lesson is that new technology enables new kinds of group- forming ….. When we change the way we communicate we change society”120

Photo 20 Clay Shirky http://blog.ted.com/ 49

When we talk of communities in this sense, we are talking social networking – such websites as Facebook; Myspace; Yahoo groups; Flickr; Friends Reunited; Twitter: each of them exploring different aspects of virtual interaction. “ The other big change is that the former Audience, as Dan Gilmour calls them, can also be producers and not consumers . Every time a new consumer joins this media landscape a new producer joins it as well.”121

121 http://blog.ted.com/2009/06/clay_shirky_how.php Clay Shirky: How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history 16 June 2009 122 Larger Than Life: the pleasures and perils of large-scale producing. Monday 29 October 2007, Smithfield, London EC1 www.artichoke.uk.com 123 http://www.thesultanselephant.com/gallery/gallery.php

124 Gisby, Jon. Full text at http://gizblog.typepad.com/gizblog/theatre/ posted 1st Nov 2007

At the “Larger Than Life” conference122, the dissemination event after “The Sultan’s Elephant”123 Jon Gisby spoke eloquently about the networking that had happened during the course of the weekend of the show124. He had two main points: the refusal of the Met Police to allow publicity meant that viral marketing was the only way people got to hear of it. It was a frequent experience to see someone on their mobile phone saying “You’ll never guess what’s going on” then – most significantly – pointing their camera at the event to communicate it. It resulted in an estimated audience of over half-a-million. His second point was about the extent of the recording going on – nearly 12000 photos were uploaded to Flickr over the weekend, and 70000 websites had posted news. Any major event now will have its own ‘digital cloud’ – performances will exist in both virtual and real worlds. Looking through such sites as YouTube, it is surprising the extent to which even more controlled, indoor live shows (such as Cirque de Soleil) have had sections recorded and posted. And which music clips are frequently stripped from video because of copyright issues, the very nature of the community engagement means it is very hard to police. In broadcasting, the plethora of channels means that the holy grail is now User-generated content (UCG); increasingly the boundary between broadcast and internet becomes blurred; the availability of low-cost cameras and editing means that the means of production are increasingly democratised. It is no surprise that Jon Gisby went from Yahoo (Owners of Flickr) straight to Channel 4 as director of new media.

While the digital cloud allows audiences a measure of creative engagement – we will see more examples later – blogging allows artists an outlet for reflection. The relative simplicity of the software tools allows more people to create and run a half-decent website. At the same time, software is becoming increasingly common that allows collaborative working – whether that be on scheduling, creating images, or other 50

information streams, as an alternative to the pyramidal structures implied within many Microsoft products125.

125 See Tufte, Edward R.: The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Pitching out corrupts within. GraPhics press, 2006

126 Piscator, Erwin: quoted at http://homepages.tesco.net/~theatre/tezzaland/webstuff/piscator.html#TheoryPractice

127 Gesamkunstwerk – see Diana Glazer: http://users.belgacom.net/wagnerlibrary/articles/wlar0043.htm 128 E/T/C Audiovisuel http://www.projecting.co.uk/ETC/Projects/Large_Public_Events/Buckingham_Palace_WW2/buckingham_palace_ww2.html


At the same time other rapid hardware and software advances have allowed developments in projection, encouraging experiment in installation and in digital scenography. While there has always been an interest in projected media, both still and moving image – Brecht, Piscator and others had been playing with these ideas in the 20’s and 30’s”

“Film projections, the colour organ, the interchange on stage between light and ‘film light,’ complete motorization of the stage–through these, and how many other, innovations modern creative science can supplant the ancient peep-show. And what would happen if it were to introduce a wholly new architecture, making the stage a play-machine, a wonder-world, an arena for battling ideas, perhaps even setting the audience on a turntable, dynamically bursting the static illusion of the present stage? I do not say that new techniques will be the saviour of the theatre. I merely say that they can express new dramatic contents by liberating the creative forces of playwrights, directors and actors.”126

Going back further, there is an antecedent in the desire to create Wagner’s ideal of total theatre.127 Increasingly sophisticated and powerful projectors allow big effects: the projections on the front of Buckingham Palace, for both the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and for the anniversary of the end of World War 2128, produced by E/T/C Audiovisuel are at one end of the scale; which increasingly adventurous companies such as Theatre de Complicite and Simon McBurney use projection. In “A Disappearing Number”, they illustrate and comment on the mathematics of the piece, underscored by Nitin Sawneys’s digital music. 51

I am aware that Theatre for Young Audiences, and particularly TiE teams, are trying to contact their specific audience through a display of projected imagery.129 “Playtime with Isadora: This week I made a presentation at a conference about the use of Technology in Children’s Dance Theatre, held at FACT in Liverpool. I talked about my role as a digital designer for a children’s dance show called ‘A Different Tune‘, which is currently touring the North West, as well as giving people an insight into Isadora, a very nifty piece of software for digital design”. 130 Marcus Romer, of Pilot Theatre, makes a similar point: “So in terms of the current buzz phrase of digital opportunities, I prefer to use a broader term which we have coined as an ‘online strategy’. What we are talking about here is about connectivity and communication. So whether it is mobile devices that are also phones, computers, and the internet, we are essentially exploring the whole concept of ‘engagement’, and the opportunities to extend and develop this through an online strategy.”131

Photo 21 Master Juba – projection by Digital Fluid Screengrab fom video

129 For example, Glypt’s production of “Master Juba”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe389fTa4FA Master Juba The Show 19 December 2006 130 “Sam Meech of Smeech is a videosmith – he fashions new works from old or crafts completely new ideas from scratch. He also works across other creative art forms: graphic design, animation, video production, interactive installation and performance. Sam’s first love is video production and his newest project is working with ex offenders and passing video production skills to young people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity.” http://www.enterpriseuk.org/inspiring_stories/sam_meech

131 http://www.tya-uk.org/newsarticle.asp?id=59&d=19-May-2009 Marcus Romer is Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre accessed 20/10/09 132 Created the Glypt projections, and the video referred to earlier; in conversation with the author 133 Conversation with Ian Galloway of Mesmer

One of the issues, commented on by several practitioners, is the creation of an aesthetic for digital scenography. Jake Strickland of Digital Fluid132 asserts that video in performance is its own department; as a dynamic performance element it needs to be constructed and tried in rehearsal, if the live characters are to interact with the mediated environment. What doesn’t work is moving décor, as tried by Bill Dudley in the 2004 “Woman in White”133 The most Wagnerian theatre in concept tends to be rock music, carrying the mantle of large radical events. Peter Gabriel’s concerts, designed by Mark Fisher, drip with technology. Lisa Howe, a video projection producer, comments about the “Growing Up Live” tour:

“Working with Real World’s in-house designers to produce an eclectic palette of digital video files for the show’s lighting and projection team to use ‘on the 52

fly’. A key challenge with such a set being to create a bank of video that would not only look spectacular from all angles, but would work on the diverse range of surfaces – including circular stage, spheres, cylinders – on to which they would be projected.”134

134 http://howe2.net/projects/2007/05/01/video-projection-producer-growing-up-live

135 http://www.stufish.com

136 Lepage, Robert http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW0qW39Ozzs Le Projet Andersen 13 April 2008

137 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxqGkLQyDiM Nabaztag opera 23 November 2006

The show was directed by Gabriel and Robert Lepage (originally from Montreal), one of many collaborations between them. The Lepage/Fisher connection extends to fellow Quebecois company Cirque de Soleil, with their production at MGM Grand in Las Vegas of “Ka”. Fisher is also responsible for the design of other large events such as rock tours with Pink Floyd, Genesis, U2 and the Rolling Stones; 135 and of the Beijing Games opening ceremony. There is clearly a synergy going on between theatre and rock. Lepage, in an interview about his one man show “The Andersen Project”, talks about theatre as a narrative form; and that modern audiences, through film (and by implication Rock music) are used to complex ways of storytelling, and multiple visual perspectives, which is delivered by the use of projection, and sophisticated staging devices like travelaters.

“Now the audience is exposed to many ways of telling a story. In television a lot, in cinema; people tell stories in commercials, in rock videos, and they have all these extraordinary ways of understanding stories. So I like to do that in the theatre, I like to tell a story like you do usually in a play; but also to play as if I had a camera. Sometimes there is no camera, but I pretend, I give a different point of view. I allow myself to use all those different vocabularies.” 136

Photo 22 Scene from The Andersen Project 

Software originally developed for video jockeying, supporting live music, such as Modul8, Archaos, Isadora and Resolume, is now finding its way into theatre (that is, drama) use. Perhaps one of the most unusual uses of digital technology is the “Nabaz’mob opera for 100 smart rabbits”, by Antoine Schmitt and Jean-Jacques Birgé. The smart rabbits are Wifi devices originally designed to act as robot-like web interfaces; but have the ability to play music, to light up, and to wave their ears. The score is designed to exploit random delays: 100 electronic rabbits performing together create a beautiful event. 137 53


Another area of current exploration is with the interactivity of GPS (Global positioning system) or satellite navigation. “Soho Theatre, Fictional Media and the London Games Festival have teamed up to bring you The Soho Project, a uniqueハmake-your-own-reality game. Players sign up, choose their fictional identity and form teams to perform acts/missions/challenges in and around Soho.

If you’re filmed by another team performing your acts/missions/challenges, you score points. The more points you score, the better your chance of winning! Winning films will feature in a pilot, It’s Your Soho, to be shot on 27 October 2007 and screened to media commissioning editors.”138 The whole area of game play is of interest to performance people. The Live Art Development agency , working with the Royal Opera House, commissioned Blast Theory to develop what they call a “Mixed Reality Game”:

138 http://www.sohotheatre.com/pl1414.html

139 www.blasttheory.co.uk video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Xe6p28x4nU So, err… by Blast Theory (2009)

140Tandavanitj Nick http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyI78ZFo–Y Rider Spoke by Blast Theory 14 June 2009

141 One example is The Big Freeze, where a large group descended on Trafalgar Square 16.2.08 and on the blast of a horn froze into living statues for 5 minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XugB_yE_ The same event was repeated at

“Blast Theory is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists’ groups using interactive media, creating groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audiences across the internet, live performance and digital broadcasting. Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the groups work explores interactivity and the social and political aspects of technology. It confronts a media saturated world in which popular culture rules, using performance, installation, video, mobile and online technologies to ask questions about the ideologies present in the information that envelops us.”139

In “Rider Spoke”, cyclists were encouraged to attach confessional statements to particular locations. The result is a realignment of the personal and the public; and a new connection to the urban landscape: “There’s a sense that you’re in this community as you are playing it [the Game]; you’re part of this group of people who’ve shared things have given things, and your encouraged to do this as well”140

Photo 23 Rider Spoke British Council

Like flashmobbing, where a group organise themselves using social networking (including SMS texting) to arrive at a particular place, and to perform a particular act,141 pervasive gaming sets out to redefine the social conditions of everyday 54

Liverpool Street station 17.05.08. Both seem to have been inspired by a New York group, Improve Everywhere. 142 Gardiner, Michael E.: Critiques of Everyday Life London Routledge 2000 p119

behaviour. While at one level it may appear childish and silly, at another it critiques conventional behaviour, in the same way as Guy Debord and the Situationist International, subverting the Spectacle:

Détournement involved the utilisation of materials proffered by the spectacle itself – photographs, films, graphics, advertising slogans – transforming the original meaning by placing such materials in anew context or through the addition of other texts or images.”142 It is increasingly common that satnav is being built into modern mobile phones; the combinations of these technologies that are arousing creativity. Nikon have just introduced a digital camera with a built in hand-held projector. Quite often technologies evolve which are solutions to an unknown problem.


As mentioned earlier, there are a series of issues that the digital world, the internet and the mobile phone are creating, to do with property rights. Music file-sharing has now reached such proportions that music producers have real concerns over music production. Profit is only possible now for live performance; where once the show promoted the album, often now it is the reverse. Hence the number of festivals in recent years; the number of revival tours such as that of the late Michael Jackson; and perhaps the number of ‘juke-box musicals’ in the West End. Some art-work is deliberately being put into the public domain, under a Creative Commons licence; recognising the interest of the artist, and recognising their rights to commercially exploit their own work. New drama writing quite often is developed on quite a similar basis: speculative projects in order to gain more lucrative work later on. The concept of intellectual property is based on an analogy: if I create an artwork, I ‘own’ it and create value, which can then realise by selling it. Walter Benjamin was already starting to grapple with some of these problems in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” – what is the difference between the original and the copy – the Leonardo painting and the really good reproduction? Or the Beethoven concert and the recording? The stage show or the film of the same? It is this contradiction which Napster, or YouTube expose: if I use a digital piece of music, it is not expended and expose to wear, like a tool or piece of clothing, or even as a vinyl record used to. In that sense I have shared in a moment – perhaps I have been licensed to share, but share I did. I have become part of a community, and that community must ensure the wellbeing of its artists to make sure there are more moments of that kind. But perhaps there is a problem with the model. 55