PlayOn! is planning several meetings over the four year timeline, where different groups of artists and experts will gather for 2 – 4 days. There, the participants have the opportunity to have personal exchanges, discuss their new projects, and share experiences by working on a European level.
The leading organisation, the Estonian VAT Teater, located in the huge building of the National library, was the host of the first PlayOn! – meeting. About 40 people from all over Europe, Artistic and Managing Directors of the 10 project partners and gaming and digital experts, came to Tallinn for 3 days to start the 4-year-adventure of PlayOn! The programme was packed with speeches, TED like talks, discussions and hands on workshops. First, the Artistic Director of the project, Dirk Neldner, gave a detailed overview of the complex project structure.
Richard Hurford, a British playwright, approached the PlayOn! theme “ Concrete Utopias in the Digital Age“ as a writer. He referred to the German philosopher Ernst Bloch, who had used the term for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century. And he asked himself what “concrete utopias” could mean to him as an artist and for the participants of PlayOn!
The TED like talk “Make AI great again” was given by H.E. Max Haarich. Max is a consultant on arts and technology with a focus on ethics in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since 2017 he is Munich’s (DE) Ambassador of the Lithuanian artist Republic Užupis. The embassy builds bridges between arts and technology and engages in policy making for ethical AI. In his talk he explained the embassy’s focus on ethical values and presented examples of its activities to make innovations more inspired, accessible, and ethical.
In his TED like talk “A Future for Humans and Machines”, Marek Strandberg, Estonian scientist, journalist, businessman and politician, asked questions without giving final answers:
When technology is developing with accelerating tempo, does that mean, that in (near) future machines can go past humankind? Would machines be interested in power or understand the concept of money? Or can we predict a sudden progress in humans to stay in front of this race?
Marcus Lobbes, Artistic Director of the Academy of Digitality and Theatre Dortmund (DE), spoke about “Games and Theatre” – a field, where he – as a theatre director – is very experienced. Marcus introduced the participants of the meeting to the dramaturgy of images in computer games and how they can be connected to the performing arts. He spoke about which forms of gaming can be found in theatrical contexts, which images does the theatre use, and how can mutual questioning of the narrative device contribute to the development of the respective genres.
Professor Marian Ursu, the Director of Digital Creativity Labs at University of York, UK and one of the PlayOn! partners, introduced the audience to the possibilities of confluence of creative practice with technology. Over the past twenty years he has led research in the creation of new forms of mediated communication and artistic expression as well as dedicated digital technologies for their realisation. His lecture about research and innovation in immersive and interactive storytelling and gamified experiences was of great interest for everyone.
Johannes May and Julian Jungel, gaming experts from Germany, spoke about “Game Mechanics and Theories of Fun” and enabled the participants to experience a game jam on the subject “Build a new society” in practice during 1 ½ day. This extraordinary experience made it easier for the theatre practitioners to open up for new production formats with the inclusion of gaming elements.
An important element of the meeting was the visit of a performance at the hosting VAT Teater: The adaptation of the famous book by Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, directed by the Artistic Director Aare Toikka, was the final diploma project of the theatre students of the University of Tartu, Viljandi Culture Academy, in 2019 and gave an impression of the high artistic quality of the work of the Estonian PlayOn!-partner.
In January 2020 marketing personnel from across the PlayOn! Project came together in Linz to meet for the first time, exchange ideas and hear from experts in the field of digital marketing.
After introductions from each theatre we shared our hopes for the project as marketers. The productions for PlayOn present an interesting challenge for the marketing departments with unusual formats and different types of audience interaction.
A tour of Landestheater gave the group insights into the working life of the theatre. From metal and wood workshops to the costume store and theatre spaces we saw how a production at the theatre would be created in the buildings from rehearsal to stage.
In the afternoon we started the session with Katie Connolly, a digital marketing specialist from the UK. She highlighted the fast-paced and eye-catching nature of digital marketing and showed us several examples from film industry that could be used in theatre. An interesting approach she mentioned was to foreground the story in short-form videos and leave any crediting to the end. There was a wider discussion around the difficulties of leading with the story in marketing rather than the credits when working in more traditional theatre settings.
Following Katie’s workshop the PlayOn marketing plan was presented to the group along with the team’s strategy for communicating the progress of the project to other professional networks via social media. There was a call for interesting digital material from each theatre to ‘feed’ the project’s website and social media.
The group set of for Arts Electronica, the world’s leading museum dedicated to media arts. In the music section a piano that can replay the exact key strokes of a virtuoso pianist was a highlight of the tour along with artworks that showed how mass data can track and illustrate human behaviour. The visit finished in the Deep Space projector room where super high definition video can be projected across the room and in 3D. Exploring these new technologies was inspiring for the future productions as part of PlayOn and gave the marketing teams an opportunity to play and explore the methods the artists in the project may be using over the four years.
In the afternoon the group reconvened for world cafe discussions covering several topics including the WIKI that will be created as part of the project with an aim to inform the arts sector in Europe around the methodology and technology used as the pioneering projects for PlayOn are produced. We also discussed the challenges of digital marketing for work that involves audience interaction and the D&T labs that will involve collaboration between partner Universities and the theatres.
The discussions were a great opportunity to allow further cultural exchange amongst the group and further understand the practices of each theatre and the marketing departments.
There´s no way back anymore – the adventure has truly begun now. The artistic teams of PlayOn!-partners have started their journey towards the first PlayOn!-productions, that will premiere in the 2020/21 season all around Europe. As the first production focuses on the gamefication and interactive storytelling, the Budapest-meeting was dedicated for speeches and discussion sessions by and with experts of the gaming field.
An extra bonus was, that the sessions took place in the Central European University, a symbol of free thought, liberal values and innovation.
Because the theatres came with the first rough concepts of their production, the goal of the meeting was to inspire the participants and give them fresh perspectives for their visions.
Game developers Sven Ehrentraut (DE) and Csaba Kiralyhazi (HU)gave theatre practitioners a crash course into the rapidly developing gaming world and explained, how interactivity and non-linear storytelling works in the games.
For best-practice-examples three performance groups were introduced: Emese Bodolay from Anna Kpok (DE), Rachel Briscoe from fanSHEN (UK) and Alexander Benke from Das Planetenparty Prinzip (AT) gave an exciting overview, how their theatre groups have dived into the ocean of web, games and interactivity and found interesting links between these worlds.
Professor Tibor Dessewffy from the Etövös Lorand University of Sciences (HU) explained the newest trends and possible next steps in the development of the web and artificial intelligence.
As important as the creative exchange between the PlayOn!-partners in Budapest, was the possibility to meet so many experts of the digital sector. Every theatre brought an expert from their country and together with the top researchers from University of York and Theater Academy of Dortmund an amazing group of experts with different backgrounds and interest was assembled. Two days of intensive talks between the theatre practitioners and the experts brought forth a multitude of new ideas and possibilities for the productions. From the talks rose an important and more general realization: the goal of the first production (and of PlayOn! in general) is not to “turn” theatre into a computer game or a TV-surrogate, but to explore the quite unknown space between performing arts, computer games and digitality. The current world crisis and global lock-down shows us, how important this space can be not just for theatres, but for the continuity of international creative exchange and the involvement of society.
Now, as the crisis continues, the theatre practitioners have enough time to reflect on the ideas they got from Budapest-meeting and dig even deeper into the digital rabbit hole.