29 April 2012
Skype interview-chat with artistic director of Imploding Fictions and Oslo International Theatre Øystein Ulsberg Brager, co-curator of You are Invited performance (2011, Anywhere Theatre Festival) with Philip Thorne.
CHRISTINA PAPAGIANNOULI. How did you come up with the idea of using the internet in You are Invited performance?
ØYSTEIN ULSBERG BRAGER. We were invited to participate in the Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane by our contact over there, Paul Osuch. Unfortunately, we could not go all the way to Australia, due to lack of funding. The concept of the festival is performing theatre in non-theatre spaces (as a response to the lack of theatre spaces in Brisbane). So You are Invited was born out of the combination of these two things: Wanting to participate in a festival we could not travel to, and being challenged to make work in other spaces than ordinary theatres.
The third initiative for the show was the desire to collaborate with friends and colleagues of ours that we knew from various places (college etc.), but who were spread all over the globe, which made collaboration difficult. Making a show comprised of five mini-shows under the same heading, performed from five different countries, was a perfect solution to the problem of not having the finances to travel to work with everyone.
Would you suggest that internet is a tool or a space (cyberspace)?
Both. For us it was a tool to make collaborations happen that would otherwise not happen, but it is also a space in the sense that it is an arena where people meet. In our case: Audiences meeting performers.
Which is the most appropriate term for you to describe this online theatre form?
We simply called it a “skype show”. It is an online performance. You could perhaps call it “mediated theatre” – but that is obviously a paradoxical term. With internet the definitions do change. Before, the dichotomy between recorded and live, film and theatre, was quite clear. With internet a new form has arisen: The live performance which does not require audience and performer to share the same physical space. This was partly possible with TV or the phone before that, although not explored to the same extent – internet has opened completely new possibilities for interaction.
In relation to your other work, what was the difference in terms of directing methodologies in online performance? Directing an online performance means automatically a different directing methodology?
To be fair, in this show we did not really direct in the strictest sense of the word, we were more like curators. Philip and I are credited as curators on our webpage. We invited five performers/groups in to make their own show in response to a common theme and title. We gave some feedback to some of them to reshape minor aspects of their show, but the directorial input from our side was minimal. The five performers/groups responded very differently to the task – only one of them interacted with the audience, the others performed what could be described as a live film.
Looking back to your online collaboration with the artists and the feedback you gave them, would you suggest that the online performance director is closer to a theatre director or a film director?
It is a happy medium I think, with elements from both worlds. You are directing a live show, which needs to be able to be repeated in a similar way many times, to make this happen elements of theatre directing are applicable. At the same time you are working with a camera (at least in our show) and deciding angles and what you catch in each frame. The show from Texas even involved a moving camera. But then you are also working with a lot of internet specific tasks: We had to time each show to make sure they would not get two calls at the same time. We had to guide the audience through a set route of five shows, each show giving you the next number to call at the end. We had to have an entry number to call first, where I sat and told everyone how the show would take place and was a gatekeeper to ensure the flow of callers was spaced out. The logistics of the whole thing turned out to be more complicated than we first thought, and therefore an internet director has its very own issues to deal with. Also I was chatting with all of the performers throughout the show to check they were okay, some times some of them were offline due to technical difficulties, and then I had to make a new route for the audience through the show . . . This could be the directors job or be more like a stage managers job – anyhow, many demands of internet shows are specific to that genre only, and not necessarily comparable to theatre or film directing.
What are the key advantages and disadvantages of using the internet as the basic platform of a theatrical performance?
Advantages: Reaching across the globe. Being able to see a performer somewhere else on the planet, in real time. Being able to communicate with that performer in real time, interacting with the show, creating a sense of connectedness. Teaching us – or making us curious to learn about other people elsewhere. It reestablishes theatre a social and political tool.
Disadvantages: Currently, many disadvantages are technical. These problems may be temporary, but right now internet shows are at the mercy of both your own and the audience’s broadband connection. The show could be cut off unexpectedly at any time, or the image be hopelessly blurred. You cannot control the outcome in the same way that you can with film or theatre, the visual and audio result may differ widely from what you imagine at your end.
Other disadvantages: Well, it is not a disadvantage really, but it is worthwhile noting. Internet performance does not replace neither film nor theatre. It is another medium with its own specific possibilities and limits. Both film and theatre work differently, and therefore all three art forms deserve to live side by side.
Please feel free to make any comments you wish in relation to You are Invited online performance. Maybe any surprises that came out during the show or whether you plan to continue working with online performance or not.
I think our main surprise was how complicated the logistics of the whole thing were. My role as a kind of conductor of the show, constantly checking if everyone is online and sending the next audience member through at the right time was a complicated and essential task.
If we have another good idea for a show, I’m sure we would go into another online project. Currently we are focusing on several theatre projects in Norway that take up most of our time. I would love to explore the idea of interaction further, making an online show that is less like zapping between TV channels and more like meeting different people you can talk too. Maybe create a show where there is not one set route, but where you have options. Like a murder mystery game or a treasure hunt. Also involving other elements, like online gaming, or letting the audience member play a character in a story, would be exciting. But all of these ideas are technically demanding and expensive . . . So we’ll see if the opportunity arises.
Interviewed by Christina Papagiannouli on 29 April 2012