When Skype Met The Stage
Are you ready? Two theatre venues in separate countries, with actors and audiences, tethered by Skype to present one simultaneous and highly interactive, trans-media, trans-atlantic play, all live streamed to the web, and responding to the input of tweets from audience members across the web. Theatre has a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Thanks, Skype.
Beth Burns’ idea to execute a stage play across the internet via video-conferencing sprung from her desire to collaborate with London’s vibrant theatre scene minus protracted travel. She approached me about feasibility, and we agreed that this project must be an application of theatre which is essentially technologically driven, and an application of technology which is inseparably theatrical. We selected Skype specifically for its features and familiarity, and crucially, for its easy accessibility to the people of the world.
To create this mutual dependence between theatre and technology, Burns wove a narrative that is an investigation of what is real in a relationship when physical proximity is unavailable, and when video-conferencing fills the absence. The play occurs simultaneously in London and in Austin.
In the story (entitled “You Wouldn’t Know Her She Lives in London” in Austin and “You Wouldn’t Know Him He Lives In Texas” in London) two long-distance lovers (Ryan and Lizzy), who conduct their relationship over Skype, determine to introduce each other to friends and family. When you attend, you are graciously pressed into service as the friends who watch as Ryan and Lizzy create a shared community. Until it goes wrong.
To maximize interaction, we used Skype and deployed an environmental, ambient microphone set up in each space as well as move-able DV cameras to provide dynamic video. In each venue, incoming audio is amplified and video is displayed by projector or plasma.
We then extend our reach a big step further by live-streaming to the web both sides of the Skype call, resulting in live video of the play showing Austin and London looking at, and speaking to, each other. Additionally (and excitingly), we encourage interactivity from the web audience via a twitter hash tag (#TexasLondon), displayed in both physical locations and the live-stream web page, enabling actors and audiences to respond improvisationally in real-time to queries and feedback.
The results is one contiguous visual and aural theatre space wherein one play is serving 3 discrete audiences: Austin, London and the web, while enabling real-time interactivity with all three audiences, and, by extension, from anywhere on the planet. Everyone gets connected around the digital and physical campfire of a story. We live in the future.
Beth and the Hidden Room Theatre have the good fortune to collaborate with Mimi Poskitt of London’s Look Left Look Right, who produced and directed the London performance, and Conor Roche and the Roundhouse team who provided both London space and technology service, including live-streaming.
This is only a beginning. We’re working out dates for a tour of international theatre festivals. At our SXSW panel we announced a public LinkedIn group dedicated to creating conversation around this type of project. We hope you’ll join us as we forge a new form of theatre, Digital Interactive Theatre. We’re excited.