Lets imagine for a moment, a stage production that is accessible to everyone around the world instantaneously. Of course, the experience lacks an immediate tactility, but nevertheless you are able to see a production of Hamlet (any play for that matter) virtually. Moreover, this performance preserves to a certain extent the in-the-moment sensation of theatre; in other words, the circumstantial mishaps and follies that more often than not accompany live productions. On top of all this, lets add the fact that production costs are considerably lower, turning theatre into a viral art form of the 21st century. Second Life, an online virtual 3D world, facilitates all of these needs and lends itself readily to the live nature of theatre. After all, Second Life is limited only to the creators creativity, and theatre people tend to dream big. Therefore, the conceptual core of my thesis centers on making performances viral. By using the program Second Life, I intend to transmit gestures from the actors body into another 3D space; the benefits being that this space can be accessed by viewers from across the world simultaneously.
Currently, a number of individuals have been hacking the Wii remote and reprogramming it to work in Second Life. For instance, lifecrawler.com has been reprogramming the Wii remote for Second Life. (Here's some footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1wtAlAYiUE) To a certain extent, the Wii alone has irrevocably altered todays modes of game play. This device lends itself and almost requires that the gamer physically participate in the game. Although the Wii works wonderfully with Second Life, the Wii remote inhibits the actors full range of motions. Consequently, Id like to use the same censors of the Wii remote, but place them on the actors body. Ideally, the programming should work in a similar fashion, but ultimately this is the most complicated part of my project: programming the sensor to respond and move Second Life avatars. Due to what I assume will be the complicated nature of the programming, I plan on spending the first semester perfecting the technology. Once I am able to manipulate Second Life avatars with these Wii remote-like censors, I intend to put on a performance that demonstrates the capabilities and usefulness of this program in the theatre world.
Modeled after a benshi-esque puppet show, my performance will transmit and create a performance in cyberspace. In other words, while the performance is happening onstage, the actors will be controlling virtual avatars of themselves in Second Life. Ideally the cast would consist of four people: two people manipulating a plethora of characters/avatars and two people voicing and narrating these characters actions. This set up is reminiscent of an old narrator driven device, when silent films were first released on silver screens across Japan. Basically, a single man would stand at the front of the movie theater and narrate all of the characters voices and actions for a Japanese audience. The benshi, as he was called, would act as a liaison between the spectators and the foreign subject matter on the screen. Second Life is truly another world; therefore, I would like to rely on narrators, who can act as liaisons between this foreign cyber-landscape and the audience members sitting in the theater. Likewise, through Second Life, avatars can take the audience to a limitless number of locations. In many ways, Second Life is like an expansive film lot in the sense that every desirable setting has already been created. By barrowing these landscapes, play productions are limited only to the creativity of Second Life users. Therefore, staging a play in a virtual landscape online is comparable to staging a play in a park in the real world. Moreover, if I need a prop for the production, I can simply build it cost free. Essentially the relatively minimal amount of funding this endeavor requires is what ultimately will propel theater into the viral realm.
As far as the play itself is concerned, I am considering an epic morality play along the lines of Everyman. Of course, many dramaturges have used morality plays, or versions of morality plays in their work. Bertolt Brecht was famous for the episodic nature of his plays and the alienation effect that ostracized his viewers from the emotionality of the play. By using a play that highlights upon these themes, I intend to use Second Life and the benshi model of Avatar-puppet Theater in order to fully realize Bertolt Brechts Verfremdungseffekt, or the alienation effect. My assumption is that watching Second Life avatars for an hour-and-a-half will exclude the audience from the emotion realities of the characters. Therefore, this process will not only allow me to manipulate the presentation and consumption of theater, but also allow me a space in which to try my hand at a number of theatrical theories.