The online conference HOPE! from the EU-funded theatre network PlayOn! took place from 4. – 6. April. We focussed on digital technologies which expand the spaces of theatre and attract new audiences. We explored the importance of spatial sound / immersive music and mixed reality (VR & AR) / metaverse through exemplary productions. We also looked at microcontrollers and tracking systems including robotics, and the ways in which the public / virtual space can be opened up theatres and their audiences.
Familiar old conventions of theatre are challenged by digital technologies, new spaces are developed through immersive performances. The spatial expansion into the virtual also allows the audience to take on a new role and become part of the narrative development, co-creating the storyline. However, this is not intended to change the traditional understanding that theatre is a live medium, that audience and artists meet directly – virtually and / or in real life.
We dived into the digital technologies that can expand the spaces of theatre and thus also open up new audiences, including the importance of spatial sound / immersive music and mixed reality (virtual and augmented reality) through exemplary productions. We also explored the question of how this can be used to open up public / virtual space for theatre and its audience.
More than 20 experts worldwide from theatre, technology and science presented outstanding theatre performances, new research approaches and give hands-on workshops. Panel discussions focussed on how XR technologies can expand theatre aesthetics and create new opportunities for set design, costumes and audience participation. The HOPE! audience were able to participate in numerous interactive formats at HOPE! directly.
The Academy for Theatre and Digitality Dortmund is involved in the co-production Berlin@Play as part of PlayOn!
The first public experience of Berlin@Play took place this November, however, the official premiere has been postponed until spring 2022 due to the pandemic.
Berln@Play is an immersive theatre walk based on Franz Kafka’s The Castle“.
Pilot Theatre and Teatret Vårt met in Alesund at the University to explore micro controllers to make interactive props. The collaboration ran across two days and was facilitated by Johannes Payr and Peter Lorenz from the Akademie für Theater und Digitalität Dortmund. Each theatre commonly explored the application of this technology for their productions The Dream Play and Monoliths with artists and technicians attending.
Over the two days, we were introduced to the technology, and invited to explore how we could use microcontrollers in our upcoming theatre projects. The group listened to presentations, typed code into software, wired-up development boards, raised dramaturgical questions, consulted with technologists, created prototypes, and benefited from international exchange and collaboration.
We learnt that microcontrollers are essentially small computers and widely used across society. They are low-cost and relatively accessible for those with some fundamental knowledge of coding and electronics.
As a case study, Peter and Johannes shared with the group how they have been using microcontrollers in their project Invisible Cities, in Innsbruck, Austria. They developed an interactive ‘performance machine’ contained in a pizza box, as a response to the restrictions of the pandemic. It is an interactive experience, autonomous and self-contained, which audiences can order to their home, as if they were ordering a takeaway. By interacting with the pizza box via buttons which trigger the microcontroller, audiences can share their own experiences of living in the city.
At Pilot, we have used microcontrollers before, notably in our project Traitor VR, which allows audiences to affect a virtual-reality experience based on how they interact with a physical prop. But gaining a greater understanding of this technology, and its range of potential applications through the workshop, is encouraging us to consider how this technology could be applied further.
In particular, it was an opportunity for our Projects Producer, Lucy Hammond, to test the possibilities and limitations of using a microcontroller for Monoliths, an in-development project which explores the relationship between women and the Yorkshire landscape. And, for Theatret Vårt, this workshop gave them the space to experiment with how this technology might be used by performers in their upcoming promenade production Drømmespillet.
So, in simple terms, how can a microcontroller enhance the interactivity of a prop? By creating an ‘input’ to a microcontroller, a person can interact with it. The microcontroller can be programmed through computer coding to perform an action when instructed, such as, to play an audio track when a button is pressed. The range of possible ‘inputs’, however, allows the interaction with the microcontroller to be very creative, beyond the pressing of a button: movement, audio, heat and light sensors and many more could all be used as ‘inputs’.
For example, imagine if the object you picked-up suddenly started playing music – how could this be achieved? Theoretically, if a microcontroller, sensor, and audio speaker were embedded within a prop: a sensor could detect the object being held by an audience member, and then the microcontroller could trigger the ‘output’ of playing audio. In this way, the interactivity of a prop in a theatre performance can be enhanced, either for a performer or, more powerfully, for an audience member or participant.
Perhaps the most pertinent creative uses with this technology are for small-scale interactive experiences and installations. But the scope of this technology opens-up possibilities in all forms and departments: unique props within traditional drama; automated devices for gathering audience feedback; and co-creation tools within participatory projects and education settings. We are truly inspired and excited to see how we can use microcontrollers as creative tools, now and in the future
In the first of the People of PlayOn! interview series, Lucy Hammond (Pilot Theatre, UK) talks with Hungarian director Zsófia Geréb following the premiere of Persona at Oper Dortmund. They discuss the process of developing the interactive opera Persona, a chamber opera for three singers, strings and synthesizer for a target audience of 12 to 15 year olds. Find out more about Persona at http://play-on.eu/gaming-dortmund/
‚Persona‚ Creative Team
Director | Zsófia Geréb
Composition | Thierry Tidrow,
Game Developer | Sven Ehrentraut
Dramaturgy | Michael Eickhoff, Merle Fahrholz, Matthias Keller, Roman Senkl
Libretto | Franziska vom Heede
In the first project phase, the PlayOn!-partners studied the way of storytelling in the gaming sector and adapted it for theatre. In the second phase, the new narrative techniques will meet immersive technology.
At the meeting in Dortmund at the Academy for Digitality and Theatre, the theatres presented their content ideas to the network of experts in immersive technology and discussed with them which technologies can best convey the content. Together with the experts, the artists will explore and test the application of immersive technologies in the concept development and daily theatrical life.
An update from Landestheater Linz
Originally, we did not plan to do anything online. We had an idea to tell the story of ERWARTUNG: ERSTER SCHNEE (EXPECTATION: FIRST SNOW) by Austrian writer Sophie Reyer as a game – with different stations, or as a kind of escape game in two rooms outside the theatre, or in two not much used rooms inside the theatre. Then, the pandemic changed everything, and the play was postponed for a year.
But since this virus did not seem to be a fleeting occurrence, we could not count on letting audiences into the theatre a year later as well. So we decided to do it as online version. But to learn on how to make theatre online, we first started with another production. And while we were planning, we found another text that would be great as online-live theatre. So our first project split in three: First Snow, Alienation, and Elektra.
Our involvement with PlayOn!, our thinking of gaming and especially digitality and theatre brought down reservations of us very analogue artists at exactly the right time. The whole Netstage / NETZBÜHNE was a brainchild of this involvement and helped us to reach out to our audiences during lockdown months. Both our film versions of JUNGER KLASSIKER – FAUST SHORT CUTS (YOUNG CLASSICS – FAUST SHORT CUTS) and ALICE IM WUNDERLAND (ALICE IN WONDERLAND) were awarded the Austrian special award of the STELLA*21 „for formats that reach beyond the stage“. We furthermore tried to supply our audience with additional material, short introduction videos and the possibility of live talks with the creative team after the viewing.
The other outcome was our cooperation with the University of Applied Science Upper Austria, their scholars for Digital Arts and Game Design, Jürgen Hagler and Michael Lankes, and consequently their student Nils Gallist, who made a digital copy of our Studiobühne in Hubs by Mozilla (our studio stage, the smallest stage in our theatre), which can now be visited from anywhere and toyed around on. With school classes, we already held digital workshops on it. Have a look: https://www.landestheater-linz.at/netzbuehne/extras/virtuelle%5fstudiobuehne
On Saturday 19th June, Kolibri Színház premiered Watergate, their interactive theatre game about the negative effects of climate change. Their story takes place in two similar Time Crypts, that come from an imagined future, an age when humanity’s drinking water supply has decreased drastically. The audience are not passive spectators, but active participants of the game, revealing some details of the impending social and climatical catastrophe themselves with the help of messages from the future. Whether their mission succeeds, whether they can prevent a forthcoming danger, depends on them. The future is in their hands.
In September 2020, the lead partner of the PlayOn network, VAT Teater, premiered their production of Romeo and Juliet.
The story has been told in every kind of way over the last few hundred years: with emphasis on the good, the bad, the beautiful and the grotesque. But never has the tragedy of Capulets and Montagues been told in the context of VAT Theatre. So, what is Romeo and Juliet like at VAT? Watch this short documentary (with English subtitles) and find out…
Landestheater Linz will also begin rehearsals for their production Expectation: First Snow in May, and have been utilising Zoom to support schools by giving readings to children aged six to nine years old.
In most European countries, theatres have faced closures and interruptions for almost a year. Now that the end of the pandemic is becoming visible, the re-start and reopening of theatres is associated with much hope. Theatres hope to reconnect with their audiences and artists hope to be able to realise the new themes of the time.
The EU-funded platform PlayOn!, consisting of 9 theatres with experience in the artistic use of digital technologies and 9 universities with proven digital expertise, held a two-day Creative Online Forum: Relaunching theatres on the transmedia stage on Thursday 25 and Friday 26 March.
The conference focussed on best practice theatre productions that combine immersive theatre with reality gaming elements and/or use XR technologies. Panel discussions explored, among other things, how theatre aesthetics change and expand through XR technologies and how interactive narrative structures challenge authors and audiences. In working groups we discussed and tested the demands on actors, set design and dramaturgy. Keynote speeches explored the utopias that can lead us out of the crisis and immerse our audiences on these new XR stages.
„As the pandemic closed down social contact and in person experiences we had to think about our production in a whole new way. It will now be a game that audiences will play on their computer based on happy moments in two teenage character’s lives. The entire process has taken place over Zoom and none of the creatives including the actors have never been in the same room with each other. This image is a sneak peak into our first story development phase.“
eˉlektron are programming their own software are therefore able to customize everything for the special needs of theatres or festivals. Beginning of April they will stream their new festival issue of Spooky Action 2021.
Teatro O Bando, our PlayOn! partners in Portugal, recently spent three days preparing for Futebol (Football), their production with Teatro Regional da Serra do Montemuro and Digital Creativity Labs that will debut in March 2021.
You can see a selection of photos from their first meetings on our Instagram page.
On 10th December representatives from the PlayOn! marketing teams met together online. We started by celebrating a colleague’s birthday then we each spent some time talking about how our theatres were adapting to develop PlayOn! projects during the time of COVID-19. We then planned how updates from the theatres can be presented on the PlayOn! online platforms.
In November Teatret Vårt performed Lovely Planet (Deilig er jorden). They intended to incorporate interactive gaming within an immersive audio-landscape to engage the audience with several ethical problems and choices, but COVID restrictions prevented some of these features.
They are also working on an interactive communication tool co-operating with @brageteatret (Drammen, Norway). With support from the @kulturradet, they have been focussing on a preliminary project which seeks to prepare a prototype of the tool. The tool aims to make it easier for the theatres to get and stay in touch with different types of audiences. The communication will be two-way and give both theatres and their (long lasting or potential) audiences an influence on each other.
Despite the pressures of COVID-19, on 3rd of September 2020, VAT Teater’s production of Romeo and Juliet premiered to a limited capacity live audience.
On 26th May we celebrated the launch of the PlayOn! website. Marketing staff from each of the partner organisations joined together for a videocall. We raised our drinks and spent time reconnecting with our European colleagues, learning about how each of the theatres and departments are managing within the current COVID crisis and planning for the future. The experiences and strategies vary for each country and although this time is very demanding our spirits were lifted to see and speak to each other.
A crash course into the gamer´s universe
Budapest (Hungary) February 27th to March 1st
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 and Csaba Kiralyhazi 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 (Gemany), Rachel Briscoe from fanSHEN (UK) and Alexander Benke from Das Planetenparty Prinzip (Austria) 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 (Hungary) 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.
Marketing Meeting Linz | AT
January 16 – 19, 2020
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.
Tallinn | EE
November, 27 – December 1
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.