HFC Presents: The Tempest
The Tempest is the first production in Michigan and the second production in the world (The University of Kansas was the first) to use 3D stereoscopic projection and real-time VR navigated scenery. The Tempest is selected as a regional winter in The Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre festival.
American College Theatre Festival
Certificate of Merit: Digital Stage Crew: Alan Contino, Bob Biestek
Irene Ryan Nominations
Check out the VTL website for detailed information on The Tempest.
Directed by: Dr. George Popovich
- Prospero: Greg Kjolhede
- Ariel's Voice: Joanna Eckmann
- Caliban: Jason Mercury
- Miranda: Natasha Rose
- Antonio: Jason Thomas
- Stephana:Joanna Eckmann
- Gonzalo: Willie Kendal
- Boatswain: James Sliewsenski
- Alonzo: Victor Walker
- Sebastian: Daniel Frederick
- Human Ariel: Tara Umbarger
By George Popovich, April 2003
The concept of using digitally created scenery and sets first occurred to me back in 1993, with a viewing of the film, The Lawnmower Man. I thought the aspect of combining VR and animations with traditional live theater held great possibilities. In 1995 I was awarded a grant from Henry Ford Community College's Technology Improvement Fund to explore the use of computer assisted teaching aids. While most of the grant was for classroom items such as presentation software and hardware, I reserved a small portion of the grant for investigatory research in the area of computer-assisted theatrical production. From 1995 to 2000 we worked our way through various programs and hardware devices. Our task became additionally complicated because of our desire to use 3D stereoscopic projection. We tested various imaging programs and stereo display options. In early 2001 I was awarded a grant by HFCC's Technology Improvement Fund Committee to purchase 4 Barco projectors and a polarization-preserving screen so that our images could be projected in 3D stereo. In October of 2001 it was decided that we would use Lightwave as our stereo animation and rendering tool. It was at that time that I met Bob Biestek, who was to become our animator. Bob and I were immediately faced with a new set of problems. There was absolutely no information or literature about rendering in 3D stereo in Lightwave. It seemed possible in theory and indeed there were several people on internet chatboards who claimed to have rendered Lightwave in 3D stereo. A period of experimentation ensued where we tried to "interlace” left and right eye stereo renderings for 3D stereo output for display on LCD video projectors. Eventually we arrived at a suitable method.
The next consideration was whether or not to make this a purely "real time VR" play or to incorporate some pre-recorded elements such as animations. While the purist concept sounds good in theory, it contradicts several already-established principles of live performance. One of these is the fact that several "pre-recorded" factors of real time performance already control the structure and pace of live theater. One of these is the script itself. The playwright's use of language often creates a rhythm and pace of its own. The entire discipline of dance is predicated upon the axiom that the pre-recorded (canned) music is interpreted by the artist. There are effects that animation programs can do that "real time" programs cannot accomplish. It was decided to incorporate a variety of live and recorded elements into the show to have a wide creative palette from which to choose.
The next consideration was the choice of play. The most obvious choices for shows using new media technology are ones that can utilize styles such as surrealism, expressionism, impressionism, etc. Our department is no stranger to stylistic experiments. In 1991, I staged a version of Macbeth based on the principles of Antonin Artaud and in 1993 staged a version of A Macbeth; these two productions still remain two of the most controversial shows ever presented in the Metro Detroit area. Additionally, I published a paper concerning the use of digital techniques in Artaudian theater production in 1996. The issue in this production however, was different. The first requirement was that it was necessary to demonstrate the possibilities of the new technology to as broad an audience as possible. Rather than produce a "freak 'em out in your face" style production, we wanted as many traditional theater audience members as possible to view our show. The point was to demonstrate how digital techniques could be applied to traditional theater and not just the obvious choices such as performance art and other stylistic experiments.
The Tempest was chosen because it was easy to design the show with a science-fiction look, which seemed an appropriate choice for a show using such futuristic technology. Once the script and production concept was chosen, work began on the scenery and animations. It was decided that we wanted to give the robot Ariel a little more to do that just flying in and out. We located a program called Magpie Pro. This program was a lip-synchronization program that allowed an actor's voice to create accurate lip movements on an animated model. The task was time consuming because a different model had to be created for each vowel sound. Finally, we decided that we wanted to add an element of real-time object manipulation. We located a program called World Up, which allowed an object created in Lightwave to be imported into it with an intermediary program called Polytrans and controlled by a joystick.
The Nature Of Stereoscopic 3D used in The Tempest
Unfortunately, most people get their exposure to stereoscopic 3D from IMAX, which is essentially intended as a novelty rather than a serious application of art to technology. A major problem is IMAX's practice to give the entire film a negative parallax so that the entire image is projecting out into the theater. In this case the right eye sees less of the image at the left of the screen than the left eye. This makes the image look odd and is very disturbing if one looks away from the center of the screen. Thus, most of The Tempest images created an illusion of depth without jarring the audience out of the world of the play by pushing objects into their laps. Our goal was for the images to appear natural looking and cause as little eye strain as possible so that the audience could enjoy Shakespeare's words as well.
The Design Of The Show
It was intended that the show would resemble 1950’S science fiction films such as The Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). (The Forbidden Planet was a retelling of The Tempest: Dr. Morbius was Prospero, Robby The Robot represented Ariel, and The Monster From The Id represented Caliban.) Thus the space ship, stellar images, effects and planetscapes evoked the ambience of the beginnings of filmed science fiction. Additionally, our production was intended as homage to the early days of filmed 3D, which had their first wave of popularity in the 1950s.
All images were original to this production and were created by Virtual Theatricality Staff and Students. All actors and technicians were students and were enrolled in a class entitled "Virtual Reality In Theatrical Production." The images are in stereoscopic 3D. A left and a right eye view is created via imaging programs and outputted through polarized projectors. Glasses polarized at different angles for the left and right eye are worn by the audience. The glasses force the eyes to maintain separate left and right eye views, thus creating the illusion of depth in 3 dimensions.
There are several different technological aspects to the production. The major areas are:
3D Stereoscopic Animation
The images are drawn, painted, and animated in a program called Lightwave 3D by Newtek. The animations are then processed again using a technique called “interlacing” that combines left and right eye views corresponding to the odd and even video fields in a video frame. The final animation is synchronized to the soundtrack in a digital video editor. The final animation is burned to DVD for playback on an ordinary DVD player for the production. The introduction (Space Storm) was rendered in such a manner.
3D Stereoscopic Animation with Magpie for Lip Synching
The role of Shakespeare’s Ariel was portrayed by an animated character in the form of a robot. The robot’s voice was provided by HFCC actress Joanna Graham. Her words were synchronized to Ariel’s lip movements using appropriate vowel and consonant images. The HFCC student who created Ariel’s lip synch movements is Nick Riley. Bob Biestek designed Ariel.
3D Stereoscopic Digital Video
The VTL has a stereo video camera that feeds images into a digital video editor.
The VTL has the capability of creating 3D stereo images of actors. That is how the large image of Prospero was created. It was done in our green screen room and combined with a star field background. Our chief engineer and systems designer is Alan Contino.
Interactive 3D Stereoscopic Images
One of the most exciting of our production experiments is the ability to create objects that student operators can manipulate in real time. The bundle of wood, pignuts, jay’s nest, and berries are such objects. The Light wave objects designed by Bob Biestek were imported into a program called World Up. World Up is a game developer’s software that allows real time manipulation of objects. The object was outputted in stereoscopic 3D and controlled by a joystick. Our World Up technician was Nick Riley. Our programmer who wrote script for World Up that allows for advanced functions like geometry substitution (allowing objects to transform in to each other) was Margaret Green. Our World Up controller was John Wilson.
The rehearsal process was challenging and exciting. We went through many evolutions regarding our technical setup. At first we positioned our "control central" maze of computers, wires, video mixers, and sound equipment behind the screens, but soon found that it was necessary for all technicians have a clear view of the action. Additionally, we started with all technical elements for the show in place with our first rehearsal in January as opposed to the traditional theater method of bringing in technical elements a week or so before the show opens. This allowed experimentation with timing and methods. About half way through the rehearsal process, our video mixer operator (Alan Contino) experimented with combining scenes and objects: the result was much a much more dynamic stereo. We discovered many axioms regarding the use of digital scenery. One was that real props do not mix well with digital scenery and props. We originally had a complicated device that Ferdinand assembles during the second scene between himself and Miranda. It took three actors to place and remove the device. Compared with the speed-of- light scenery changes capable by our video mixer, the change seemed clunky and archaic. Thus we radically altered the use of those props for the scene. Part of the creative process was very much like making a film. Thus animator Bob Biestek and I discussed concepts and visual themes and created storyboards for the opening sequence much like working on a motion picture. Sometimes the simple things are the most complicated. For example, you will probably just take for granted that the nut, jay's nest, berries and wood created by Caliban appear and disappear. This effect was impossible to accomplish with a video mixer and script had to be written by computer programmer Margaret Green. The research and resulting work took about 20 hours. The onscreen effect lasts less than one half second.
We consider tonight's performance an experiment in possibilities We have discovered some interesting advantages to be had from using digital VR scenery and props. Obviously some of the advantages include the ability to change a physical scene in less than 1 second as opposed to the mechanical methods of traditional scenery. Another luxury of design afforded by the digital approach to theatrical production is the ability to change what doesn't work in an efficient manner. If a painted drop does not work, it must be taken down, whited out and completely redone. Digital drops require nothing but reworking and retouching of already extant files. Digital scenic stage techniques can present a play in a visually stimulating manner, incorporating 3D stereo effects, animations, transformations and other effects that would cost many thousands of dollars for each show if attempted along traditional lines. With computer generated scenery, once the initial cost of imaging and production equipment is absorbed, costs for future productions become minimal.
I believe many of the things my cast, crew and I consider disadvantages have to do with the work and research of actually setting up the physical part of the show. If theaters were equipped with stereo imaging systems and computers featuring animation and VR programs as part of their standard equipment, the creative process would be free of much clutter, confusion, and hassle. I have no doubt that this will come to pass. In the theater of the future, I believe that the scenery, props, and maybe even some cast members will exist on a disc that will be placed in an imaging system capable of creating astounding digital scenery, characters, and props.
I would like to thank my student Nick Riley, who has been with me since the beginning of this project. His constant experimentation and dedication are responsible for a large part of tonight's unique performance. He never gave up. Never. I appreciate that deeply. I would also like to thank our video engineer and videographer, Alan Contino, who came aboard at the beginning of The Tempest rehearsals. His professional help has added another dimension to our show. Geoff Collins in HFCC's Voice and Data department was instrumental in getting some of the VR software and hardware to function properly. Margaret Green in HFCC's Computer Information Systems department helped us immensely with writing code for the World Up program. I would also like to thank my Dean, Dr. Ed Chielens and my Associate Dean, Mr. Rick Goward. Both of these gentlemen were instrumental in making our way much easier. They believed where others with less vision would not. The both contributed a great deal to this project. I would especially like to thank HFCC's Technology Improvement Committee, whose generous grants allowed us to develop our vision. I am fortunate to have such supportive people on my side.
The Virtual Theatricality Lab is dedicated to forging the live performance technologies and styles of the next millennium. The VTL exists to nurture the daring creative visions of performers, designers and technicians who will embrace the multidimensional technological performance arena of the 21st century and beyond.
Artaud Unleashed: Cyberspace Meets the Theatre of Cruelty
By George Popovich, Theatre in Cyberspace: Issues of Teaching, Acting and Directing. Stephen A. Schrum ed., American University Studies, Series XXVI, Theatre Arts, Vol. 28, Peter Lang Publishing New York, (1999) pp. 221-237.
Any examination of Artaud is interpretative. That is the legacy of a prophet and the great power of the Artaudian mythos. The two theoretical/performance directions of Artaudian interpretations can be divided into the "Low Tech" approach and the "High Tech" approach. The Low Tech approach is best exemplified in the classic work of Grotowski. The concept of The Holy Actor, with emphasis not on technology, but the actor's voice and body, not only led to an understanding of Artaud but revolutionized acting theory as well. The High Tech approach is best observed in the work of Robert Wilson with emphasis upon a striking mise en scene. While often considered at odds with each other, these two approaches eventually must come together since Artaud did mention both in his writings. It is the purpose of his examination to explore the technological and practical production applications of the High Tech Approach. The examination will be divided into three sections:
- Theoretical Considerations: This section will outline the major theoretical concerns of Artaud.
- Artaud in Production: A narrative account of an Artaudian production with the objective of identifying certain constructs that apply to be the utilization of technology in Artaudian theatre.
- The New Technology: A discussion of image manipulation software, VR, and related applications and their relationship to Artaudian production.
It is not the purpose of this examination to delve into the details of Artaudian acting theory. Several concise and practical approaches to this have been written, mostly notably Acting With Style by Harrop and Epstein, although acting will be considered when necessary in this discussion to illuminate how the live performer must kinetically interface with the computer and multimedia images and sound. Part of the Artaudian dilemma is that, instead of tangible works, Artaud has given us an agonizing account of the process of creation. In Artaud's writings we are witnessing an intellectual consciousness destroy itself so that it might transform and transcend itself. Artaud's ideas were never rendered in any type of accessible form that could be considered an oeuvre, but presented in a series of cryptic and hallucinatory writings in the collection of his essays, The Theatre and Its Double.
There is an important qualification to consider as we attempt to delineate Artaud's revolutionary and apocalyptic theater for the purposes of practical theatrical production: Artaud advocated a permanent change in the archetypal consciousness of humankind, not just a surface restructuring of social, economic, and political systems. This idea will distinguish Artaudian productions from entertainment-oriented media productions using technology as currently showcased in venues such as Universal Studios, Las Vegas, and Disney Enterprises. It will also prevent us from considering any obligatory "multimedia blitz" (currently fashionable in rock concerts, circuses, theatrical musicals, web sites, traditional plays and musicals as generically Artaudian in purpose. It is the intention, rather than technology, that distinguishes an Artaudian production from others. Intense, visual and auditory assault for its own sake does not constitute Artaudian Theatre, although many seem to believe that this is true. This is not to say that certain elements of popular culture and entertainment could not serve as part of an Artaudian mise en scene if placed in the proper context. For example, the 1997 horror film The Relic, while no means a great or even good film, contains an astonishing image reminiscent of Artaud's call for "huge mannequins, enormous masks, and objects of strange proportion", and even the "animated hieroglyphs" who "signal through flames," that Artaud wanted his actors to become. The film's last twenty minutes offers a rampaging genetic monstrosity, a creation that has merged on the sub-molecular genetic level with a human being. This visually apocalyptic climax becomes more than another slick Hollywood effect. As the beast is set aflame with explosive chemicals it pursues its would-be-prey through the labyrinth corridors of a museum. The image is one from the lost and dark recesses of the collective unconscious that envelopes the frame with a disturbing teleprescence that not only assaults the spectator's senses but triggers off an autonomous, hallucinatory holocaust of personal horrors and unspeakable thoughts within the spectator's imagination.
Such diverse artists as Jim Morrison, Karen Finley, Lydia Lunch, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, The Pogues, Trent Reznor, and Sankai Juku, film directors such as Jim Jarmusch, Brian Depalma, Oliver Stone, and David Lynch, and theatre artists such as Jean Genet, Samuel Becket, Fernando Arrabal, Jean Claude van Itallie, Jean Vauthier, Thom Sokoloski, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Gunther Grass, Peter Weiss, Peter Shaffer, Roger Blin, Michael Cacoyannis, Peter Hall, Peter Brook, and Robert Wilson, each in their own ways (whether consciously or unconsciously), have utilized what can be termed Artaudian techniques in their art. Some deliberately sought to achieve their own vision of Artaudian Theatre. Some have accidentally incorporated Artaudian elements into their performance styles. Indeed, even some of the artists have approached the haunting intention of transforming the psyches of audience members through an experience that is psychically a "crisis resolved by death or cure."
In The Theatre and Its Double, Artaud's chief metaphor of the plague illustrates the effect he wished theatre to have upon the psyches of each audience member:
The plague syndrome is complete without gangrene of the lungs and brain, the victim dying without the putrefaction of any member at all....
Artaud then isolates the two organs that are affected by the plague: "the brain and the lungs, are both directly dependent upon the consciousness and the will"(21). A terrifying scourge occurs. It is "cruel," but has a "cleansing" effect. Artaud's plague does not destroy the human body, but transforms it. Artaud's theatre was not only cruel to the audience but to actors as well. (Grotowski's "Holy Actor" strips himself [via negative] of all his actors tricks and lays himself bare before the audience.) Artaud's theatre was theatre of ordeal, not only for the audience but the actors as well.
Harrop and Epstein succinctly listed Artaud's beliefs that theatre should hold:
- Break through the veneer of contemporary culture by a rigorous assault on the senses of the audience.
- Reject the literary text as a primary method of theatrical expression.
- Return to a theatre of myth and ritual.
- Emphasize dreams, fantasy, and archetype.
- Create an all-embracing sensual impact and spectacle.
- Achieve a therapeutic purgation resulting in a permanent psychic change in the spectator. (300)
According to Artaud, the more important aspects of existence are those submerged in the unconscious, those things that cause divisions within people and that lead to hatred, violence and disaster. He believed that, if given the proper theatrical experiences, people can be freed from their demonic behavior and can express the joy that civilization has forced them to repress. It is the responsibility of the artists involved to create the images from a comprehension of the play that deconstructs the text into the appropriate Artaudian metaphors, both visual and aural.
Artaud in Production: The Limits of Traditional Theatre Technology
It is the purpose of the following narrative to describe an approach to Artaudian theatre production using traditional stagecraft, to enable the reader to compare and contrast the approach using the new technology described in section three of this discussion.
Our Theatre program at Henry Ford Community College (Dearborn, MI) attempted an Artaudian production of Macbeth in 1991. Subsequently, the production was redesigned and presented again in 1993. The techniques and staging described herein were reflected in the 1993 production. The initial instinct of the production team was to discover the concrete, physical guidelines that Artaud described. No secondary sources or interpretations would be consulted, only The Theatre and Its Double. One of Artaud's more literal descriptions served as physical basis for the production:
The action will unfold, will extend its trajectory from level to level, point to point; paroxysms will suddenly burst forth, will flare up like fires in different spots.... For this diffusion of action over an immense space will oblige the lighting of a scene and the varied lighting of a performance to fall upon the public as much upon the actors and to the several simultaneous actions on several phases of identical action in which the characters, swarming over each other like bees, will endure all the onslaughts of the situations and the external assaults of the tempestuous elements, will correspond the physical means of lighting, of producing thunder or wind, whose repercussions the spectator will undergo. (97)
Artaud suggested that "huge manikins, enormous masks and objects of strange proportion will appear with the sanction of verbal images" (97). He described lighting equipment capable of "spreading the light in waves, in sheets with an element of thinness, density, an opaqueness with a view to producing sensations of heat , cold, fear, anger, etc" (95).
The production team was immediately drawn to technological implications of Artaud's literal descriptions of this theatre. Scaffolding was erected along the walls of the auditorium with the objective of leaving the open space exposed so that the walls could become projection" screens". Seventeen fifty-foot long ropes were hung at various viewpoints from the ceiling of the auditorium. The ropes were made accessible to the actors by a series of catwalk grids above the audience. About forty percent of the auditorium chairs were removed and replaced with a system of platforms connecting all the parts of the auditorium. Seventy-Five traps were built in the platforms and the actors accessed the traps via a series of tunnels under platforms. This was an attempt to enable actors and objects to become the "apparitions" Artaud described in The Theatre and Its Double by allowing masses of actors to appear anywhere in the theatre. All platforms and traps were carpeted to minimize noise.
All lighting was kinetic. If traditional instruments were used they were equipped and modified to produce kinetic light. However, anything resembling disco light or High Tech Broadway stage lighting was avoided. High Tech Instruments, such as the Intellibeam and its various clones were not used, nor were any of the many devices that go by names such as "Moonflower," etc. (All of these devices operate on the same principle: light is emitted through colored lenses via a motorized mirror assembly.) Thirty-Five millimeter film projectors and any photographic devices were a avoided for fear of creating a multimedia type environment such as might be found in a museum or dance club. Also avoided was any device resembling a strobe, including "strobe cannons" and "strobe tubes". Video projection equipment was not used in order to avoid creating a rock concert ambiance. The design team could find no affordable extent technology that could process video images in such a way that they would not be recognized as video images. (Since then, the circumstances have changed, as will be discovered in the third section of this essay.)
The lighting served two purposes: 1) Kinetic non-image effects were used to light actors, audience and various points of action, and 2) Kinetic image projections bathed the entire walls, ceiling, audience, and floor of the house with appropriate kinetic Artaudian images. A mist (as opposed to fog) machine was used to infuse enough vapor into the air to render all lighting rays visible in an attempt to physicalize the lighting. The following effects and devices were used in this production to achieve a kinetic light environment:
- Scene machine (2000 watts): All attachments for The Scene Machine including the Film Machine, the Spiral Machine, Kaleido Machine, and Prism Machine were employed. The Scene Machine is a powerful and durable lensed projector capable of creating larger images at a short distance. Images are produced either by 4x 5-inch steel patterns or non-heat-resistant glass using high temperature paints. The images produced this way are static: polarized filters, spinners and the various attachments for the Scene Machine were used to animate the still slide images. The Film Machine produces a moving image by transporting a Mylar film loop or a steel film loop on a roller assembly between the Scene Machine's lens and the machine's light source. The Spiral Machine, Kaleido Machine and Prism Machine produce kinetic patterns rather than definite images: they can also be used to distort slide images.
- Optikinetics Projectors: These projectors, though of relatively low wattage (250) when compared to the 2000 watts of the scene machine, offer a variety of effects at low cost. The Optikinetics projectors have an interchangeable series of cartridges that are capable of producing various beam effects through mist, Thus the Optikinetic projectors were used in place of traditional instruments to light actors for monologues and scenes of two or three characters and also to illuminate the witches and other performers as they climbed the ropes and performed in space. The Optikinetics projectors are also capable of projecting images through a wheel that fits into the a gate of the projector. Further distortions are achieved by motorized prisms and wheels that fit in front of the lens. Images for the wheels can be painted on heat-resistant Mylar with high temperature paints.
- Image Pro: These units are a most cost effective way to project images other than scene machines, but at less wattage (750 watts). These are lens units that fit over a traditional PAR. The units accepted 4x 5-inch slides made of heat-resistant Mylar. The Mylar slides were replaced with heat-resistant glass and images were created in a manner similar to chemical/glass system employed in creating slides for the scene machine. Polarized filters and spinners were used to animate the slide images.
- Lasers: By addressing the MIDI in ports of the lasers via computer, it was possible to program the lasers to produce images and beams more appropriate to the production than the pre-programming effects that came with laser sequences. We also discovered that one laser could do the work of two using a system of mirrors and beam splitters. The lasers were the devices that were most successful in achieving a 3-D lighting environment (although using a mist machine to render all lighting rays visible was very effective). Using MIDI technology, a huge pulsing laser tunnel was created that enveloped the audience. Several lasers and several beam splitters were used to ensure that each audience section received a laser tunnel. With the laser light almost touching them, the audience was captured in a dense and opaque lighting environment.
- Pattern Rotators: These "Twin Spin" units accept two traditional gobos that spin in opposite directions. By combining various gobo patterns, a wide variety of effects can be achieved.
For the most part, instruments capable of producing bright and large images were chosen. This was done so that the walls and other "found" surfaces of the auditorium could become environmental light screens 400 feet wide and 150 feet high. Artaud suggested that, "The lighting of a scene and the varied lighting of a performance would fall upon the public as much as the actors. "Six 1000-watt instruments were used with six pattern rotators to accomplish a kinetic wash of the audience when necessary. All instruments were on tripods and each was operated by a crew member. The gobos were changed when other effects were utilized. In addition, The Spiral Machine, Film Machine and other attachments for the Scene Machine were also available for this purpose.
All performers wore wireless microphones. The microphone receivers were fed into a sound system using a sixteen channel mixer, as 500-watt stereo amp, an Alesis 3630 Compressor, an Opcode Studio 4 Interface, an Alesis MIDI Verb, and Proteus FX Board. The purpose of the Opcode MIDI interface was to record actor voices and sounds during rehearsals and process these sounds for performance effects. Several synthesizers were available, but most of the sound for the new show was created by the actors themselves and then processed to create a "sound floor" as well as individual effects.
The effects interfaces worked best there was a constant interactive kinesis between performer and technology and was least effective when used as "scenery". This phenomenon (done successfully) was noticeable in Laurie Anderson's concert entitled Home of the Brave, in a segment featuring a large (16x20 foot) projected film image of a revolving radar screen. The performer appeared in front of the screen and as her song commenced, she began to revolve in the opposite direction and at speed differing from those of the projected image. Thus a kinetic interaction between performer and image was established and the performer psychically connected in space to the image on the screen.
Fortunately, rehearsals for Macbeth began with the set built, ropes hung and all props and effects equipment (both visual and sound) ready. The rehearsal became a laboratory wherein the company experimented with space, effects, set and props. Ultimately, these devices were used to assault the senses of the actors and to affect their psycho-physical thought and reactive systems to create directions, rhythms and tempos for each scene. The Artaudian assault on the senses can be used both ways for the audience and actors. In preparation for this technique for using effects as a creative stimuli for actors, the European Le Coq-trained theatre troupe Theater Grotessco was commissioned to lead a two-week, five hour a day workshop for all actors in the production. The cast members who took the training seriously were able to transcend their "bag of tricks" and let the technology guide them. The workshop focused on creating Artaudian hieroglyphs and metaphors from external stimuli such as the light and sound effects. Every rehearsal made full use of all technology in this process approach to production.
The basic approach to the "techno improv" was as follows: A scene would be chosen for development. As actors ran the lines, the technicians would execute various effects and sounds until one of the visual or sound effects "hit". (The actors discovered a direction to take with the scene.) In one scene, a rape metaphor was discovered from the 200 foot diameter rotating spiral created by the Scene Machine's spiral attachment. Ultimately, the scene's hook became the physical rape of Lady Macbeth by her husband. The actors psycho-physically connected to the image and charged the entire space with a deep energy and power in a way that could not have been accomplished by actors alone.
Another effective discovery came from Lady Macbeth's exploration with the ropes that were suspended in air above the audience. She physicalized her sleepwalking soliloquy into a compulsive, repetitive action of climbing up and down the ropes. The actress portraying Lady Macbeth eventually had the character commit suicide by hanging herself on the props high above the audience (with the aid of a safety harness).
Sound effects were also useful tools for creation in rehearsal. The actor's voices were processed and then played back for immediate use as creative tools in rehearsals. Sometimes the voices of the actors would be processed as they spoke, so that the actors could react physically and emotionally to the sounds of their own voices through the technological deconstruction of language.
One of the most successful technological aspects of the productions was the creation of kinetic light environments that were not only used as production elements, but as creative tools in rehearsals as well. Another peculiar aspect of the kinetic light environment was that actors and not the technology, controlled the tempo-rhythm of the scene in performance. Since all non-image device motors were on the rheostats and were controlled by individual operators, and all lighting instruments were on dimmers, the devices could be adjusted to the tempo rhythms of the actors as they played the scene. This would not be the case with the film or projected video images. A unique discovery made during rehearsals was the ability of the technology to aid actors in creating directions for the scenes. Utilization of creative technological stimuli eliminated lengthy philosophical discussions between director and cast t; more was accomplished. (Note: the first production attempt in 1991 did not use this technological approach for creation, and hence only about six or seven genuine Artaudian moments were created. In the 1993 production, moment after moment was achieved.)
Another successful technological aspect of the production was the non-image patterns, shapes, and beam effects created by using the pattern rotators, lasers, and the various attachments for the Scene Machine and Optikinetics projectors.
The largest shortcoming of the production was to be found in the projected, non-kinetic images. The projected images could not be changed quickly enough. The Image Pro and Scene Machine slide changing mechanisms are cumbersome and not manufactured for speed. Even multimedia image computer-controlled image systems (that were deliberately avoided in this production) were not capable of manipulating the images in free-flowing real time as was the case with non-image lighting effects. Not only the images could not be projected fast enough, they could not be manipulated with as much relative dexterity as the non-image projections and sound effects. Fortunately, in the last five years there has been significant development in computer technology that make image creation and manipulation available to the general public rather than solely the province of a multimillion dollar effects studio. In Section Three I will address this technology and its implication for Artaudian Theatre production.
Artaud and the New Technology
A myriad of video, art, and image editing programs abound that offer the ability to manipulate the projected image elements of theatrical production on an almost cinematic level of finesse. Application software such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Macromedia Director, Strata 3D, Elastic Reality, and Virtus Walk Through Pro (among many, many others) are capable of producing astonishing visual effects at relatively low cost, compared the price of having the images processed at a professional video or film studio. Video projection capability, combined with stereo and virtual reality hardware offer new vistas of Artaudian theatrical production and experimentation.
The two approaches resulting from new technology offering the most promise for the realization of the Artaudian mise en scene can be divided into the Clean Video approach and VR Approach. The Clean Video approach is best exemplified in techno-performance artist Laurie Anderson's 1994-95 tour, Nerve Bible. The video used in this production differed from that used in her earlier concerts such as Home of the Brave in that rear-projection screens were located downstage as opposed to being located upstage behind the action. Moreover, the rear projection screens were black and the background was black, so that the images appeared to be real images rather than projections. In addition all images in Nerve Bible were kinetic. Some were rotating geometric objects, similar to the spinning 3-D chair used in Anderson's Home of The Brave Concert, although the chair had a definite "cartoon" appearance while most of the video images in Nerve Bible were real objects. The Clean Video approach relies upon high quality digital video and is now available to the general public through digital video cameras that were introduced in 1996. The chief advantage of digital video (beside its broadcast quality images) is that it can be directly transferred from camera to computer via the 1394 ("Firewire") interface, for image manipulation, then back to camera or digital video player for playback. Copies with first generation quality can be made endlessly from the other copies. Clean Video requires high quality video projectors or data grade projectors. Video projectors are also capable of creating stereo images with additional polarizing filters. Another option is to use an LCD data grade projector. The basic approach to Clean Video is place black rear projections screens against a black background. Images are processed with black mattes around them (easily done for example, with Adobe Premiere). This processing eliminates most screen glow; the rest can be eliminated by adjusting the contrast and brightness controls on the video projector. The result is a 3-D image floating in space. The 3-D effect is enhanced when the images rotate or are inherently kinetic in some way. Projectors and screens can be hung and suspended from the top or the sides of the house, etc. Additionally, non-image patterns can be created with the aforementioned programs and can be projected on the audience similar to the techniques described in the second section of this essay. Indeed, Artaud's visual requirement seem to call for an "immense space" from which images and actors materialize as if emanating from psychic space of pure archetype and the Clean Video Approach is capable of doing this.
Video editing programs such as Adobe Premiere and plug-ins such as Elastic Reality offer many ways of altering video images. While many Premiere filters and plug-ins offer pre-fab effects reminiscent of their slicker Hollywood counterparts, the ability to tweak and customize effects from original images insures that unique and new images can be created by the imaginative user. Form does not have to be without content. It is possible to design a coherent visual style with these software applications.
There are three drawbacks to Clean Video approach. The standard video capture and processing boards on most AV computers are not of sufficient quality to produce superior full screen, full motion video. Another board, such as the Targa Video board, is usually necessary. This adds another two to three thousand dollars to the cost of the computer. As described in section of two of this article, one article advantage of using a technological approach to Artaud is that technology can become creative tool in rehearsals to stimulate actors. At present, video images cannot, be manipulated rapidly enough for instant playback. The rendering time for some effects in Premiere, the major multimedia non-linear editing program, is one or two hours for a one minute segment. Computers used by Hollywood and other strictly commercial enterprises and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars can achieve results much more quickly, but those machines are not available to collegiate or, in most cases even professional, theatres. The third drawback is that, no matter how inventive or imaginative the images created with digital video, the inability to control the playback interface (the lack of interactivity) make the production a slave to the rhythm created by the video. Thus, the most feasible alternative to video is the VR approach.
Once merely a plot device of science fiction films and stories, the emergence of virtual reality tools for creative use in the arts is fast becoming a commonplace. The use of VR by mainstream corporations such as automobile manufacturers, the armed forces, and the medical profession have earned VR a permanent niche as a creative tool in industry, government, and the arts.
The term Virtual Reality has come to mean anything from interactive adventure games to the concepts developed in such motion pictures as The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity, and Strange Days and earlier films such as Brainstorm (1983). VR (at least in the present stage of technological development) can best be described as a temporary reality that places the one of ordinary life. In some cases the virtual environment is obviously a fabrication reminding one of a slick cartoon (the Japanese computer animation in The Lawnmower Man, for example). In other versions, the VR world's indistinguishable from reality perceived by the five senses (Strange Days, Brainstorm).
The most significant academic experiments with VR theatre to date those conducted by the Film and Theater Department at the University of Kansas in the mid-1990s, represented by their productions of The Adding Machine and Wings. For The Adding Machine, scenes were modeled using Virtus Walk Through Pro. Walk Through Pro enables the construction of navigable VR environments. The basic building of The VR environments accomplished using primary shapes. The Walk Through Pro tools such as the "Slice Object Tool" are used to create more complicated shapes. A basic rule of the Walk Through Pro environment is that any shape also contains an "inside" as well as "outside" and it is possible to "jump" inside the shape or enter it through an opening created on the surface of the shape. Another feature of Walk Through Pro that it contains a number of libraries of VR objects, already designed for importation into virtual worlds. Plug-Ins are also available, such as "Alien Skin Texture Shop," (a texture library capable of creating custom textures through "mutation" ) and "Science Fiction," which contains pre-designed scenes built on a science fiction theme. While Virtus Walk Through Pro is available for IBM and MAC, not all plug-ins are available for both versions ( Alien Skin Texture Shop is available for Mac only, Science Fiction for IBM only). One of the complaints commonly associated with the computer generated VR worlds (at least on this level) is their cartoon-like appearance. This can be partially compensated for in Walk Through Pro by a judicious use of textures and the shading option.
The basic technological set up for The Adding Machine was a large (40x 25-foot) black rear projection screen coupled with various computers, projectors, and video equipment. Virtual scenes for the show ("The Graveyard", "Zero's House", "The Prison", etc) were designed in Virtus Walk Through Pro. Two identical images of a particular Walk Through Pro environment were created and each image was converted to NTSC video and routed to a separate video mixer. Image size was further increased by adding plastic frensel lenses to the overhead projectors. Mark Reaney describes how the illusion of stereo was accomplished in his essay on "Virtual Scenography:"
One projector was assigned to right eye views only, and the other to left eye views. Each was then polarized with the "direction of polarization" in opposition to the other. These opposite polarizations were done in such a manner as to match the polarization of the special glasses given to each audience member. Using the glasses, the audience could then see the projection from each projector with the appropriate eye and 3-D illusion was formed.
In fact the operating principle of LCD projection pads decrees that they are always polarized. So, the task of correctly polarizing them was accomplished not by adding additional polarized filters. Instead an optic material known as a half wave plate or retarder was used on one of LCD pads to "turn" the polarization 90 degrees, then being opposite to its mate.
The application of polarized lighting principles to create stereo color images for motion pictures has been extant since the early fifties, and 3-D movies were made as early as the 1920's. Originally, two projectors were used with polarized glasses, but since it was difficult to keep both film reels in synch due to the mechanism of the film projectors, a technique was discovered to allow the optical printing of both images on one film stock. In recent years, entertainment venues such as Universal Studios have "reinvented" polarized 3-D polarized on a large scale for some of their amusements.
The factor that distinguishes The Adding Machine from being a theatre experience as opposed to a film or amusement experience is that most all visual elements in The Adding Machine occurred in real time as opposed to being pre-recorded. Images of live actors were incorporated into the environment via a chromakey technique. A small chromakey screen and video camera were positioned behind the rear projection screen. Video Images of the actors were sent to the mixers. The Walk Through Pro worlds were also navigated in real time. Since The Adding Machine is classic work of theatrical expressionism, it adapted well to the Walk Through Pro interface. By emphasizing a particular aspect of the VR set and/or adding live actor images, it was possible to depict the mental state of the hapless protagonist Mr. Zero.
By far the greatest advantage of VR for Artaudian theatre production is its ability to manipulate the various perspective and view points within the virtual scene. In effect, once the VR "set" is created, the result is that there are many "sets" possible. This is due to the fact that the scene can be viewed from an almost infinite member of view points.
At present, the VR "look" is limited to the graphic capabilities of VR programs such as Virtus Walk Through Pro that still have the look and feel of an animated cartoon-like environment. As previously mentioned, textures can be partially used to disguise this fact and Quick Time Movies and photographic images from programs such as Adobe Photoshop permit in the pasting of still images and video images as textures on Walk Through Pro constructions, but any such pasted images are not virtual and appear as "wallpaper" within the virtual environment.
The implications of VR for Artaudian theatre production are far reaching as the vastness of cyberspace becomes an analogy for Artaud's magic space wherein objects appear and disappear. Arthur C. Clarke, noted science fiction writer, once stated , " Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
For the theatre of Artaud, the new computer technology offers a possibility to erase the line between magic and technology forever.
Artaud, Antonin The Theatre and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Press, 1958.
Harrop, John, and Sabin R Epstein. Acting With Style. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Reaney, Mark "Virtual Sceneography". Theater Design and Technology, Winter 1996, pp. 36-43.