Commentary: Video is transforming theatre design, whether we like it or not

Dougal Shaw, Technology reporter for BBC News, 3/26/12

"Vidiots, they sometimes call us," admits Timothy Bird. Some people in the theatre industry don't take kindly to the innovations that Mr Bird and his team at Knifedge are introducing to the stage. Innovations like a computer-generated avatar sword-fighting an actor live on stage in his most recent show Pippin, transporting the audience to the world of a computer game. Impressive feats like these by Mr Bird and others like him have meant that in the last five years the role of "video designer" has become increasingly common -- a term hardly known a decade ago. In a movement some critics are calling "technodrama" and "mixed reality", shows across the globe have been embracing the latest digital technology. 3D projections, virtual-reality masks for actors, stop-motion camerawork and computer animation have all been put to use. And as the hardware and software become ever cheaper, the methods are trickling down to fringe theatre too. But is there a line technology should not cross, when the drama itself becomes compromised? Many in the theatrical community have openly attacked the work of video designers, saying it distracts the audience, breaking the spell of the performance. But some influential voices have spoken up to defend them. "It would be crazy for theatre not to embrace new technology, especially video projections, the results can be brilliant," says the Guardian's critic, Michael Billington. Technology can also be overpowering on stage, but that is the fault of the directorial concept, adds Mr Billington. Dick Straker believes a new generation of video designers is waiting to burst onto the stage, and it will change things in ways we cannot yet imagine. Could Xbox Kinect cameras be used to trigger effects on stage? The trend appears to be towards ever more interactive sets, with effects triggered by actors live on stage. The "vidiots" may yet take over our theatres, with even more impressive tricks.


Internet-based theater company lives between cyberspace and the stage

Joann Pan,, 3/24/12

A small Philadelphia-based company called New Paradise Laboratories is re-creating theater for the connected generation. It's incorporating social networks like Facebook, Skype and Chatroulette into the production and presentation of shows, pulling theater into the virtual space. "A few years ago, we realized there was a whole audience of people that weren't really participating in theater but they really heavily influenced by the Internet. They grew up online," said Katy Otto, NPL's activity coordinator. "NPL had a lot of interest in making theater that would appeal to these people." Extremely Public Displays of Privacy is the newest experience presented by NPL. The play's three acts are available online. Act one consists of videos of the two main protagonists meeting online for the first time on Chatroulette. In addition to molding the two characters' lives online, the play also incorporated geo-location technology where a character guides you through a park. Audience members could download a sound file for a 45-minute guided tour in a Philadelphia park. Online audiences can take a virtual walk online via YouTube. The third act completed the play with a real-time performance in Philadelphia. NPL is currently working on its next interactive play called '27', based around the idea that the lives of creative individuals such as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain end around this time. The production will debut next fall.


Commentary: Are we reaching a tipping point with QR code art?

An Xiao,, 3/23/12

QR codes are on the rise. I've spotted them everywhere, from subway ads to billboards to movie posters to business cards. And so they've inevitably cropped up in art. I was recently pointed to the work of Kyle Trowbrdige, who is exhibiting in Miami's Dorsch Gallery. Trowbridge painted 8 foot square QR codes in the vein of abstract geometric paintings. The objects themselves look interesting, like Mondrians meeting pixellation, but they also point to quirky conceptual phrases. "qr.7947423," for instance, tells me: "I've Never Enjoyed the Price of Freedom." "qr.2697401" offers more prosaic advice: "A picture is worth a 1000 kilobytes." But only if they're web-ready. And then I stumbled across the QR code portraits of DataSpaceTime (Ray Sweeten and Lisa Gwilliam), who showed their work this past December at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn. The semantic content of their works, which includes wallpaper prints of QR codes, is composed of five-word combinations least used in the English language, according to Google's NGRAM Book Project. The most eye-catching, at least from my computer, is a portrait of late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, made entirely of QR codes that point to YouTube videos. With the QR_Stenciler I just looked at, I have to wonder if we're reaching a tipping point with QR code art. Indeed, I see them now in placards at galleries and museums and in artists' business cards. It only makes sense that they should appear in art. We're already so busy snapping pics of art with our iPhones - why not get QR code data as well?


Announcing the premiere of 'the world's largest collection of ringtones'

Norman Lebrecht, ArtsJournal blog Slipped Disc, 3/25/12

In September, the town of Erfurt in Germany will stage the belated world premiere of J.W. Hässler's 360 Preludes In All Keys, which the soloist generously describes as "the world's largest collection of ringtones." Hässler (1747-1822) wrote the set in 1817 but, since cellphones had yet to be invented, the scores have languished for the better part of two centuries in a Moscow archive where the scholar and clavichord player Dmitry Feofanov retrieved them. Dr Feofanov has written: "Hässler (1747-1822) was a German composer and a klavier player, perhaps most remembered for his contest with Mozart.... after a period of touring around Europe, ended up in Russia, first in St. Petersburg, and then - for over a quarter of a century - in Moscow. Apparently, he considered his coming to Moscow something of a being "born again," because his works there begin with Op. 1 for the second time. Or, perhaps, he was just re-cycling some material for a new market, one cannot be sure. It is from the Moscow period that one of the most bizarre works of Hässler comes - a cycle of 360 preludes in all keys...Arranged in the circle of fifths (C-major followed by c-minor, then G and g, etc.), each set contains 15 miniature preludes, some lasting as little as four seconds. To call this "the world largest collection of ringtones" would not be far off. Because of sheer numbers, the complete cycle runs to over 95 minutes, and ends with a sadly profound chorale prelude in f-minor." Here is one of the 360 prelude-ringtones (very short).  

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