The Rough and Tumble of Tech Part 4

This concludes an email exchange between Sébastien Heins and Torien Cafferata. In this final edition Torien and Sébastien analyze the industry and trade rapid fire top 8s.

On Sep 18 at 11:14 pm, Sébastien Heins wrote:

Hi Torien,

Thank you very much for being forthcoming and honest about your challenging relationship with our industry. It sounds like you have gnawing insecurities as a barrier-breaking artist in the often-conservative Canadian artistic landscape. I’ve shared many of these same frustrations during my career. I’ll respond to some of the questions and thoughts you raised in your email below.

While those feelings haven’t gone away, I’m more at peace focusing on what is within my control to change. In the years I’ve been privileged to work in the arts, I’ve seen half-star reviews, five-person audiences at the Saskatoon Fringe, as well as months of 1800 seater performances with some of Canada’s most cherished actors on some of our most famous stages. Both sets of experiences offered the same pendulum between satisfaction and dissatisfaction. One begat the other until the other arrived, and once more again, again and again – right up until this moment I’m emailing you. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yeah, context hasn’t made that feeling go away.

I don’t think that capital is inherently bad. As I’ll butcher from Yuval Noah Harari: money is the greatest example of human trust in history. Its current distribution and allocations of value is maddening, though, and its ability to incite violence, subjugation, and enslavement are the ultimate betrayal. But in the end, I just think that money is a tool we use to express humanity’s oscillation between greed and love. As such, I think that there are wonderful and beautiful things that are done with money every second of the day. Distrusting money out of principal has brought me little more than self-loathing, tribalism, and bouts of depression.

To address your question, my journey with being “enough” centres around a few things:

I encountered success at a young age
I am racialized
I work in an industry (Arts, Culture, and Entertainment) with massive economic disparity among its practitioners

The first:
At age 10, I was cast in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King at the Princess of Wales Theatre. To say it was a crash course in self-value management would be an understatement. When I finished my contract at age 11, I was often asked by adults, “So … what’s next for you?” Through no one’s fault really, other people’s expectations became my expectations, and it was difficult for me to understand why I was so sad all the time.

The second:
When I was very young, I felt no need to manage the colour of my skin or cultural background. Then it became apparent that there was a good way to be Black and a bad way to be Black. The good way looked a lot like being White, or Western and Eurocentric. I then taught myself to package what’s Black about me in ways that prioritized the comfort of White people. The effects were internalized racism, self-disgust, and estrangement from my heritage.

The third:
Before I went to the National Theatre School (NTS), I was afraid of becoming an actor. I had this fear of becoming an adult who goes to dinner parties with other adults, and
when asked, “So, tell us, what do you do for a living?” says, “I’m an actor,” to which the response is, “Oh, so, tell us, what have you done?” I was very afraid that I would have to spend my dinner-partying days justifying my vocation by citing my credentials and work history to strangers. What I was really afraid of was being mistaken for a “poor actor,” a sign of internalized classism and indirect class violence. All things being equal, the fact that there are hard-working and dedicated actors who live below the poverty line is a failure of the system, not of the actor. It’s taken me a long time to understand that. Also, I choose the people I eat with more carefully.

To answer your question, “Enough,” to me, is when the day ends, and I know that I’ve fulfilled my potential. Not society’s idea of my potential, but my idea of my potential. Nobody needs to have applauded me (though recognition, appreciation, and credit are important for maintaining healthy relationships). Nobody needs to have sent me a fat check (though fair pay for value received are within your right as a creator of connection and artistic experiences). Nobody needs to have given me a role (though opportunities and creative trust are exciting parts of new partnerships).

The feeling I get from doing or writing or creating something new, difficult, and personally or socially developing, is enough. The feeling I get from working hard enough that I can provide someone else with the opportunity to do their best work, is enough. The knowledge that today, I did what is hard, not what is easy, is enough. I believe we evolve daily, by way of our hard actions, our honesty, and the raising of our standards. Yesterday, I fulfilled my potential. Today…well, I’m glad I’m working on this email for you.

Quick answers:

  1. I always recommend NTS. You get to live in Montréal. You’ll meet some of the most creative and inspiring people in your career. You’ll gain a connection to a network of graduates who are working in almost every theatre in the country.

  2. Never used a HUD, really. Looking forward to it, maybe in the next iteration of Itinerary.

  3. Re: player-commands, we did a workshop that allowed for claps, text, voice, and gestural commands — all were part of funny little online games that we built for practice and exploration. With some luck, I’ll be awarded the opportunity to test some higher-tech controls in the coming year.

And here are a few rapid-fire questions for you (up to five words each, no self-judgement):

  1. Best worst videogame?

  2. Best worst play?

  3. Most overrated piece of tech?

  4. Most underrated piece of tech?

  5. Biggest hope for the next 10 years of theatre?

  6. Biggest fear for the next 10 years of theatre?

  7. Dream person to attend your next show?

  8. An activity that brings you contentment and calm?

Thank you for this correspondence, Torien, looking forward to your answers,

Sébastien

On Sep 19 at 2:56 am, Torien Cafferata wrote:

Thank you for taking the time to share your struggles and discoveries, Sébastien.

I’m sure we could have a great conversation about the complex relationship between artists and the means by which we must survive in our current ecology, but then we will be here ‘til next year!

  1. Best worst video game: Every game released for Amiga.

  2. Best worst play: Every Team StarKid musical.

  3. Most overrated piece of tech: VR headsets. Oops.

  4. Most underrated piece of tech: Headphones + synced audio. Dollar-store LEDs.

  5. Biggest hope for the next 10 years of theatre: Immersive that radicalizes and challenges.

  6. Biggest fear for the next 10 years of theatre: Reification, recuperation, and economic disparity.

  7. Dream person to attend your next show: Probably Milton Lim.

  8. An activity that brings you contentment and calm: Eating cheese.

Damn those questions were fun. I’m curious about your own answers but I spent half my queries on existential dread – classic me ;)

T

On Sep 19 at 8:14 pm, Sébastien Heins wrote:

Hi Torien,

I loved reading your answers. I’ll hit you with mine:

  1. Best worst video game: Gameboy games with no save points.

  2. Best worst play: Guys and Dolls.

  3. Most overrated piece of tech: Current VR Headsets

  4. Most underrated piece of tech: iPods (thanks Cohort), magnets, Discord.

  5. Biggest hope for the next 10 years of theatre: Anti-racist deliverables delivered.

  6. Biggest fear for the next 10 years of theatre: Cowardice by leadership.

  7. Dream person to attend your next show: Kid Koala or Crystal Pite.

  8. An activity that brings you contentment and calm: Reading.

This has been a real pleasure. Thank you for all of your insight, consideration, and zeal. You’re a class act, a true artist, and I know we’ll soon get to enjoy each other’s work from afar. Now is the time!

My very best to you,

Sébastien

headshot-sebastienheins
Sébastien Heins is a Canadian-born, Jamaican-German actor, writer, producer, and emerging director. He is the Associate Artistic Director of Outside the March. His credits include 3 seasons at the Stratford Festival, 10 years of immersive theatre with OtM, and international tours of his award-winning solo show, Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera.

headshot_TorienCafferata
Torien Cafferata is an immersive theatre producer, actor, playwright, and dramaturge based in Saskatoon, SK. He co-founded the award-winning company It’s Not A Box Theatre alongside designer-dancer Amberlin Hsu, with whom he experiments at the intersections of interactive play, mixed-reality, and justice.

Read The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 1 here.
Read The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 2 here.
Read The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 3 here.

The Rough and Tumble of Tech Part 3

In this third part of an ongoing email exchange between artists Sébastien Heins and Torien Cafferata, Torien pulls back more curtains and muses on what is “enough”.

On Thu, Sep 18 at 7:02 AM Torien Cafferata wrote:

Hi Sébastien,

Itinerary sounds so cool I don’t even know how to imagine it! I hope I can play it someday. Also, your hurdles are very validating – finding ample scaffolding upon which to build an audience interactivity vocabulary is such a fascinating challenge. Play, game, exhibit, sport, puzzle, protest, etc. Escape rooms as a model makes great sense.

Thank you for pulling back the curtain on specific technology. It can be such a barrier for emerging artists who have little access to robust digital arts communities, mentors, infrastructure, formal education, collaborators, etc. I have found that working in digital immersive in Saskatoon is such a double-edged sword – on one hand it’s nice because there’s no one to tell us how to do it, but on the other, dear god there’s no one to tell us how to do it. I imagine many artists in smaller theatre communities feel similar – there are so many lessons in this burgeoning art form that I know others have already learned, which gives me wicked dread about “wasting time” or “falling further behind” my counterparts in larger metropolitan centres. I’d like to take a moment actually to ask about that. I promise I’ll answer your questions after – they can be my grappling hook out of the pit, lol.

What has your journey with “enough” looked like? I’m curious to hear, if you’re willing to share, about your experience with finding your self-worth and identity as an artist. Our industry is a paradox: it’s filled with the weirdos in high school who defied (or claimed to defy) hegemonic systems of value that told us we were never enough, yet we operate in those same systems in which we compete, sell ourselves, and define ourselves by capital.

The result looks like a bunch of rebelliously dressed artists cosplaying as a business, or the reverse. And if we don’t, we starve. How do you meet this struggle as your company grows? How does this impact your practice? Your spirit? I find that whenever I’m in the work, I can fall in love with it such that there is a single thread of focus between me, the work, and the audience – how our success compares to others is just water under the bridge. But as soon as I take a break, or the work is done, and I glance outside? Toot-toot fools, I’m on the Imposter Syndrome Express straight to Inferiority Complex Town – even if I’m simultaneously enraptured and inspired by the really cool stuff I see from other companies (such as your own!).

It’s a tumultuous cocktail and all my friends are drowning in it, especially in a pandemic that has turned the “capitalism-is-a-meat-grinder” metaphor into a reality. For me, this is no doubt exacerbated by a community that is too isolated and conservative for a robust artistic incubator culture, but not too isolated to see what it would be like to have one. On the bright side, I feel all the greater need to reach out and educate myself, though I have yet to disentangle this from my fear of not being enough – or while trying to grow in a system that encourages self-comparison and the pursuit of financial, social, and artistic capital. Sometimes it feels like whether I stay small or grow bigger, I will still feel small.

Are any of these super fun and pleasant thoughts resonating? This is obviously too long to respond to with expedience. Maybe that was no accident. I’m fine if it gets cut, there’s no need to answer. I’m just having early career complex feelings about what the “next step” should be – in a time when the whole industry is asking the same question.

pshew g r a p p l i n g h o o k

  1. Exciting AR things! I used to feel anxious that most of our AR has largely been sound based (audio stories draped over found spaces), but now I’m enjoying diving deeper into the form. I’m looking at player-operated sound in pod plays (on-screen buttons, dials, recording, sampling, playback, etc.). I’m also definitely pumped to someday use AR target markers in Play Fail Win for cued textboxes, sound and dialogue – like a real RPG! Speaking of…

  2. The HUD in PFW is purposefully generic, aesthetically drawn from 90’s and 00’s dungeon-crawlers with an ethos inspired by Portal, Dear Esther, and The Stanley Parable. Oh, and this weird part-live-action, Myst-esque adventure game from 1997 that scarred me as a child. You can see the HUD for yourself too; our last stream was one of the more interesting ones I think. Have you used a HUD in any of your shows?

  3. We haven’t actually played with any haptics yet at It’s Not A Box Theatre, but I’m looking at these gloves and this vest for haptic-based player input to a performer. Keeping tabs on sensory-substitution tech like this thing – think sound-to-movement! What kinds of player-control of performers have you found success with, other than voice commands?

  4. Glorious and insightful failure? Realizing that we put no distance limit on when players are allowed to give the “fast travel” command, resulting in me running full tilt as an obedient avatar until I could not. Also, there was a build of the game that ironically told the player to only do “Cool” tasks and none of the “Not Cool” tasks, but they didn’t take the bait, leaving the entire story we wrote completely untouched.

I’ve actually been in touch w/ DLT since the spring when they were doing Theatre On-Call. I was going to be a guest on their show, but company mandate re-writing and Play Fail Win took precedence! Any other collaborators or mentors or schools you’d recommend? I was looking at Concordia University’s Intermedia MFA, University of Alberta’s Theatre Practice MFA, and OCADU’s Interdisciplinary MFA (tho I’m hesitant to pay Toronto rent just to take up coding and further divide my time-pie).

Feel free to just pick the question(s) you enjoy. I appreciate your wisdom. Thank you so much, Sébastien :)

T

Torien and Sébastien’s exchange concludes in The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 4.

Kill Your Darlings

screens from BabelODrome

In which multidisciplinary artist Dominique Banoun charts iterations of a non-linear project, from traditional to site specific to COVID time reconfiguration.

I’m part of the collective BUS 1.2.3., a group of multidisciplinary and multilingual artists who use media tools to critique media and its hold on our identity. We find that the definition of who we are, what we believe, what we buy and which group, community, race, nationality and gender we belong to is often manipulated by various media (social, broadcast, commercial and propagandist).

The group started more than twenty years ago. We produced a theatrical work called BUS123 (long before the age of the internet), made an experimental feminist video called Mythofemmes – then we all went our own ways. After a twenty-year hiatus, most original members of the group came together again in 2011 to rethink our eponymous 1992 piece BUS123. We first worked on a theatrical show called Babelle et Barbarie (B+B) which explored the main themes of the group but more specifically, how language is a code that allows or prevents entry into —and understanding of— a culture, that we are made of many cultures and languages and that we should resist easy definitions of our identity and affirm our individuality.

The show was presented at the Winchester Street Theatre in Toronto. B+B is a non-linear play, made up of loosely connected scenes grouped around themes of language, identity and communication. It’s not a narrative play with a defined plot line, therefore it can be constructed utilising a modular structure that doesn’t necessarily require a theatre. However, it needed to be modified because it relied heavily on the use of video-mapping for large —and small— scale projections. The video was coming from a live camera, three live webcams attached to dollies on set, a live GoPro on the ceiling as well as pre-edited digital video files. All those video sources were often projected simultaneously on various surfaces. They were managed from a video and lighting station running Isadora software. Even though the sets were minimal and portable, the video projections were more difficult to travel with because of the number of cues and layers of stills and video.

It was decided to create a more portable and modular version of the piece. Three years later, we presented the site-specific version called Babel-o-drome, as a “promenade” between interactive scenes scattered around the exterior of Wychwood Barns and through Wychwood Park.

The artists became autonomous,creators and carriers of the video projections. To that end, we experimented with iPhones and pico projectors. We also used very small pocket amplifiers and transducers for sound. The iPhones were bought at small repair stores and iFix it franchises. The pico projectors were bought from a private vendor in Mississauga. These allowed us to project video that was already captured and edited as well as capture and project live video, stills, keynote presentations, etc. It was like having a portable mini-computer at each artist’s fingertips. The live video capture and simultaneous projection also encouraged artists to play with the public and include them in either the capture or the projection, or both. In other words, members of the public could become the subjects of the video projected onto someone else, or have their images project onto themselves.

The iPhone-pico projector set-up gave the artists autonomy but also extra responsibility. We reduced the number of apps we were using to three or four and put them on the first page so that they’d appear first when opening the phone. Even though most of us use smartphones, it did take some time to work out when and how to go from live to pre-recorded. We also had to find the best way to organise the multiple pre-recorded videos, which we ended up stringing into one long video with ten seconds of black in between.

Some of the technical problems we encountered were iPhones wanting to update the OS, demanding a SIM card and not always connecting to the pico projectors. We had wanted uniform iPhones so that we could transfer or Airdrop files seamlessly helped coordinate the content on the phones but we had slight variations (different years, S-type, etc), which would cause a few technical hiccups. It meant there were different ways to hook up to the projector. Some did so automatically, others had to be manually connected.

Despite those slight technical problems, using portable set-ups meant that we could take the piece anywhere (inside andoutside), without the need for generators, cables and extension cords. All of our equipment could be charged beforehand or worked on a battery. The artists’ autonomy meant that we could project anywhere and film live. This setup answered many of the challenges we had set out for ourselves but I can’t say it was easy.

The collective was preparing to present Babel-o-drome this past summer at the Toronto Fringe festival. We had the cooperation of the Toronto Railway Museum and were going to perform the work on the expansive grounds of the museum, utilising the trains, cabooses, turntable platforms and train stations as places for interactive scenes. The Element choir —with whom we’ve been collaborating on this piece, performing it together in various locations (Toronto, Montreal and Hamilton) since 2018 —was going to be part again of this in situ version.

Then COVID hit.

At first, it was disorienting because we weren’t sure whether the festival would take place. The lockdown at the time was just going to be for a couple of weeks. Then, as the lockdown extended, and the physical festival cancelled, and all kinds of distancing and mask-wearing restrictions implemented, there was a feeling among members of the collective that we should at least get together virtually.

Zoom conferencing technology was suddenly ubiquitous. Everyone was using it and we decided to experiment with the possibilities and the constraints of the platform. The Fringe decided to hold a virtual festival with all the proceeds shared equally among all participants. We took a chance and said we would participate, not knowing what final form our piece would take. We soon realised Zoom was not optimal for music played by several performers. We had to pause our relationship with the Element choir and work only with the six performers of the collective.

It was hard to transform the piece into an online live performance. We’re used to occupying a large space and having physical interaction between performers, choristers and audience members. Suddenly, everyone was in a little square box facing the screen. We explored which scenes we could convert to an online Zoom format, what virtual backgrounds we could add, what presentation styles would work and how to record them.. As we became familiar with the platform, the scenes started taking shape. As the Fringe requested pre-recorded videos rather than live streamed performances, we tightened some of the scenes in editing. We ended up making two 20-minute videos, subtitled in French and English ( a lengthy process!). They were broadcast as part of the festival and later as part of Culture Days’ online festival.

It’s very hard to know what future live events will look like. In the summer, it’s easier to organise events outdoors, limiting the number of people who attend and ensuring everyone wears masks, even the performers. But in our case, for Babel-o-drome we’re still working on an alternative, in addition to our online video version. It may include a smaller choir, with all performers and audience members wearing masks and direct interactions between them kept at the prescribed distance at all times.

Other live events are presenting hybrid versions, part digital, part live, with drive-ins seeming to be the preferred presentation format. Some are doing live Zoom shows from their living-room and favouring a much closer contact with the virtual audience, bringing them into the show by asking them to share personal stories connected to the theme of the performance. Others are finding ways to have the audience stay in their “bubble” by performing to people watching the show from hotel balconies.

I’m looking forward to seeing how our group can develop even more interactivity – automatic, manual and sensor triggers, text-to-speech projections etc. – with the help of Cohort. I’m also looking forward to seeing what other theatrical productions are developing through Cohort. It’s a big wide field of exploration out there and we can’t wait to jump in.

headshot of Dominique Banoun

Dominique Banoun is a bilingual multidisciplinary artist originally from England. She started out as a computer programmer trainee and contemporary dancer. She now incorporates various analog and digital technologies into her work with BUS 1. 2. 3. Collective while moving between the worlds of performance, dance, theatre, sound and video art. Her multi-layered explorations of topics range from the political to the philosophical, from the serious to the irreverent. Her newest work is Post-Humanum, a non-linear, non-narrative exploration of transhumanism.

Calling the Shows

still from LOT X

Image by Jeremy Mimnagh

Laura Cournoyea is a very busy arts and stage manager who has worked on a wide variety of performance projects, large and small. Cohort asked her a bunch of questions about her work, about using technology on site-specific dance projects like Jacqueries and adelheid’s LOT X, as well as what she likes to do for fun.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your professional practice? How do you choose the works that you do?

I am a stage manager by trade, though I fell into my current practice by accident. I began working in much more traditional settings, calling straight plays and musicals, but soon my work leaned further into site-specific, roaming performance, and contemporary dance. There was a complexity and scale to the work that excited me. Nowadays, I am fortunate to work on projects that I care about and with people I trust and admire. I have an immense amount of respect for dance artists and enjoy the challenge in deciphering its abstraction. And making sense of someone else’s language – the vocabulary that emerges from the process.

Q. What do you do for fun (aside from work)?

I have always had an affinity for a good immersive story. I jump into a lot of rich narrative novels, story-based video games, and genre films. Also, since March, I am knitting up a storm. It keeps my hands busy and my mind clear to take in whatever new story I am immersed in.

Q. Can you tell us about your history with adelheid and how you came to work on LOT X?
I had to delve into my archives to figure this one out. As a stage manager, especially within the dance field, I often work on 20+ projects per year, so time tends to blend together. My first time working with Heidi was through a tour with Kristen Carcone and David Norworthy’s TOES for DANCE. She had choreographed a solo and it was adapted for Ana Maria Lucaciu. Within a month of that project, Heidi reached out about what it’s like and the rest is history. I am forever grateful to the fates (Heidi) for bringing one of the richest artistic collaborations I have experienced professionally.

Q. Can you describe how Cohort was used on LOT X?

Yes and no. When it comes to immersive, traveling works, the stage manager ends up taking on the task of audience management way more than is usual. With LOT X, it felt as though Cohort was akin to an Assistant Stage Manager, doing the work of managing the patrons without direct interaction. I often have to remain invisible, in a sense. If I am seen, some of the magic is lost. And in a similar vein, if I was really aware of all the pieces that go into making that software run, the other elements of the show would likely not run as smoothly.

Q. But you’ve worked with Cohort over several productions. What are your thoughts on how it has evolved?

My first time using Cohort was in 2014 with Jacob Niedzwiecki’s Jacqueries in Miami, Florida. As the software has streamlined, I have watched its uses expand and its usability improve. I am also constantly impressed with how the AR aspects of Cohort have grown and simplified over the years. I am excited to see where we will be in a few years’ time.

My interaction with the software is that it has been incredibly easy to use. This is certainly thanks to the amount of back-end work done to make it user friendly when I am trying to do 10 other things. Over the course of a show, as the stage manager, my duties fall within every working department. Cohort is simply another layer of design and execution, adding to the richness of the narrative.

Q. What do you feel is the impact of these kinds of technologies on audiences?

It opens the walls (both metaphorical and literal) for how and why and when we can engage with our audiences. One of my favourite elements is being able to engage before and after the show, strengthening the connection and bond between audience and artistic work.

Q. What advice might you have for artists who are attracted to using new technologies and how do you manage the complexity these can bring to a project?

Trust your instincts. If you feel that there are ways to simplify the process, it is better to address those as early as possible. Make it work with you, work for you. Don’t be afraid to stretch the limits and boundaries of the four walls of the performance space.

Q. How do you think about safety in your job? Especially now in the COVID era when already established work rules only get you so far?

There is a lot of work to be done. My role hinges on facilitating a safe environment for all collaborators, patrons, staff, really anyone who interacts with the performance space. We have a lot to learn in regards to safe boundaries, consent, and accessibility when we are coming into vulnerable spaces where art can emerge. In order to address these concerns we need to get creative, be clear, and really listen to each other. It is hard work ahead, but it is very important work.

Q. What’s your fave piece of technology, on or off the job, and why?

This may be a boring answer, but my Bluetooth headphones. It has upped my multi-tasking game exponentially. And if you have never met a stage manager, their ability to multi-task is as important as their ability to breathe.

Headshot of Laura Cournoyea

Laura Cournoyea is a Toronto-based arts manager and administrator. She has recently worked with the adelheid, Tribal Crackling Wind, Fujiwara Dance Inventions, Dreamwalker Dance Company, Shannon Litzenberger, Toronto Dance Theatre, Dusk Dances, Ontario Dances, inDance, blue ceiling dance, and the CanAsian Dance Festival. Laura is the Arts Education Manager for tiger princess dance projects and the Company Manager and Community Activator for the dance:made in canada/fait au canada Festival. She was trained at York University’s Theatre Department, earning a Specialized B.F.A. in Theatre Design and Production.

Magic and The Afterparty

poster for Afterparty

The Afterparty was presented at the Bricks and Glitter Festival in Toronto from September 16 to 26, 2020. Director Elizabeth Staples writes about magic in a time of pandemic.

When Jordan and I left that studio on an early March weekday, I remember feeling warm. He had just shown me the first performance draft for a new solo show. My brain was humming with ideas and my body was tingling in the crisp almost spring sunshine. We walked and dreamed; a party, the summer, sequins, our friends, strobe lights, sweat, cheap booze, Lady Gaga. I was full of possibilities. This was the genesis of The Afterparty.

Then Covid Happened.

We were all sent home to wash our hands and read the news and bake bread. Being an artist is precarious at the best of times. Being a Queer artist adds another element to that balancing act. Jordan and I have developed the most creatively Queer bond over the years: the fiercest of friends able to tear up any dancefloor and also dedicated creative colleagues making absurd and fabulous performance art. The nightlife is our community, so we created work with them, for them, and about them.

As June was approaching, a void was starting to form in our little Queer hearts as Pride month was sure to be different this year. We hadn’t been able to see or hug our friends in months. Queer people often find chosen family within their community and friend group. To be isolated from the places and people where you feel the safest is very unsettling. The purpose of all our restless creative energy was starting to unfold: a need for Queer connection.

We waded into the creative process slowly, with lots of communication, caution, and curiosity. The Brandon Avenue Parkette welcomed us beautifully as stage and studio. Jordan and I met in the park, danced at each other, shouted ideas through masks, held eye contact instead of hands, and stayed six feet apart the whole time. The show started to take shape as we realized how much the process was informing us. We took inspiration from The Stranger, a show by DopoLavora Teatrale (DLT) we were in together, had the audience and performer listen to the same track with separate ipods. I have experience in one-on-one performance, and with safety measures in place, it seemed like a great time to explore theatre for one audience member.

The creation of The Afterparty took us on a journey this summer. Pride returned to its revolutionary roots, a spotlight was held to the racial inequalities in our society, a call was made to restructure theatre institutions, and personal pressures were mounting so the piece needed to pause and respond accordingly. The world and the show had a parallel feeling of changing so rapidly daily yet feeling like nothing had changed at all. We talked about how our LGBTQ2S+ spaces were shutting down in the city, due to gentrification or the pandemic. We remembered the origins of gay cruising in parks, and the subsequent arrests and homophobia. We thought about identity and if we had all confused that with proximity to community. Without the hobbies, careers, art, culture, that we had used for so long to define ourselves, there was a feeling of vulnerability. We mourned for the year, opportunities, family members, those who lost their lives due to police and colonial violence, the victims of COVID-19, and our dying climate.

With the many questions raised, some definite answers were also starting to emerge. Our process took shape in rehearsing for one- or two-hour bursts in the park, writing over Google docs and speakerphone, and rehearsing choreography and costume reveals over video chat. We had become experts at hitting the play button on our separate devices to sync the tracks, but only had a small idea on how that could translate to an audience member. I started to understand the personal yet universal need for the possibility of magic. Living in a reality where the future is suspended and days feel stretched out with anxiety, a small moment of joy or surprise is incredibly necessary. In rehearsals, I started to notice so many smiling eyes overtop of masks, curious kids pointing to the dancing person in a wig, dogs racing toward sparkly costumes as owners laughed.

The Afterparty was the perfect container to dream big. With no agenda or particular deadline, a freedom took over the creative process. I remember describing that magic moment when I felt the audience needed to start the piece. Not coming from a design or tech background, I was at a loss how it might happen – until we were connected with Cohort. Having that last piece of technology brought the whole piece together. I was able to cue the track from one source into the app and then into the headphones, hearts, minds, and souls of our audience while it was perfectly in sync with every hair flip, lip sync, and dance move Jord does around the park. The possibilities of adding video or multiple cues to the program was so overwhelmingly brilliant, it makes my mind spin with ideas for growing this piece.

The Afterparty was imbued with fate and possibility for connection. It found a home in the incredible Bricks and Glitter festival, a BIPOC-led activist and arts festival that supported our eight-show run in September. A random draw decided our audience members and each performance was influenced by our feelings and the goings on of the park. As Queer people, it’s not only imperative that we see one another, but that we are seen as exactly who we are. That validation can be lifesaving. Watching each audience member dance with abandon when invited to, or reflect on their relationship to nature and others, was a gift. I was grateful to be grounded in a supported artistic process in such untethered times. It reminded me that community is energy that transcends physical space. And that we all need a little magic in our lives; or at least the possibility.

headshot of Elizabeth Staples

Elizabeth Staples is a Bi/Queer multidisciplinary theatre creator and arts administrator who was born and raised in Tkarón:to (Toronto). Recent credits include: The Afterparty (Bricks and Glitter Festival), Private Eyes (lemonTree creations), White Girls in Moccasins (manidoons collective). Elizabeth is interested in devised, physical theatre that has a social conscience and is covered in glitter.

Creator/performer Jordan Campbell also wrote about The Afterparty experience. Read his Cohort blog post here.

The Rough and Tumble of Tech Part 2

Sébastien Heins and Torien Cafferata continue an email conversation started in Part 1. In this edition the artists trade advice and DIY fixes.

On Thu, Sep 17, 2020 at 7:02 AM Torien Cafferata wrote:

Hi Sébastien,

I have another question: what advice would you give to smaller companies looking to make that leap into operating funding, sponsors, partners, etc.?

Our company It’s Not A Box Theatre is only five years old, helmed by me and Amberlin Hsu, no staff or board. We are still in a very something-out-of-nothing DIY micro-budget world. Overhear started with nothing but iPod shuffles, good timing, and prayers. Over the next two and a half years it evolved into an app (which Jacob developed) and took us to the Prague Quadrennial. That said, we have never found a sustainable model with Overhear as it’s locative audio paired with intimate one-on-one shared performances with the storytellers themselves. Makes it pure magic, but with minimal reach. One end-game approach has been to release the app as a geo-cued storytelling tool that anyone can use, like geocaching, but with interactive stories tethered to landmarks, hidden props, secret architecture, or Uber-esque live performance bookings w/ user-customized audience sizes.

Cueing systems in Overhear are their own unique challenge; we have played with Bluetooth, GPS, manual cues, etc. with varying degrees of success. What sort of digital cueing systems have you found helpful? What DIY solutions of your own have been potent in your immersive practice, even as your company grew?

T

On Thu, Sep 17, 2020 at 11:14 PM Sébastien Heins wrote:

Hi Torien,

To address some of your questions about single-audience experience producing models, I think that you would gain a lot from reaching out to Daniele Bartolini and Danya Buonastella. They run DopoLavoro Teatrale (DLT) along with some other fine folks and created The Stranger 2.0. The Stranger first blew my mind at the Thespo Festival in Mumbai, India, using the city’s pulsating street life as the sandbox for the play’s personalized auditory action. They’ve managed to do Stranger in many places with many performers and producing partners, with various cultural sponsors.

Otherwise, our work building The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries at Outside the March taught us a lot about building a performance schedule which leveraged audience demand with actor availability in a made-to-measure personalized single/double household experience.

I can say off the top, that our primary goals were to provide connection to audiences in isolation and provide paid work for actors whose work was cancelled due to COVID. Those commitments gave us guidance throughout when it came to deciding ticket prices, working with presenting partners, and pushing us to find as much fun and emotional connection with our audiences as possible for the time we spent with them.

Finally, when it came to The Itinerary: Playtest (which started as a one-audience to one-performer model), we messed with the formula and story to make it a six-player experience, which is a more plausible business model reminiscent of escape rooms and team-building activities.

——

Favourite DIY fixes? During Vitals (2014), which we staged in my family home, I had to Assassin’s Creed-style sneak past audiences and hop down a stairway, in order to press just a single button on an iPod, before taking my family dog on an adventure through my family’s garage for her next cue, and then jog down the back alleyway, to drive a rented ambulance into the playing space for the finale of the play.

Also, in Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play, we presented the show using the fiction that it was being staged with zero power from the grid, so instead of playing a sound cue of crickets through speakers, we had boxes of actual crickets chirping in the audience.

Some questions for you:

  1. What are some of the ways you’re excited about using AR?

  2. Tell me more about the HUD for Play Fail Win. What kind of games was it reminiscent of?

  3. What are the vests and gloves with haptic capabilities that you’re experimenting with?

  4. What was a glorious failure during Play Fail Win that resulted in team learning and exciting insight?

Looking forward to learning more about your creative endeavours!

Sébastien

Torien and Sébastien’s exchange continues in The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 3.

Time and The Afterparty

poster for Afterparty

The Afterparty was presented at the Bricks and Glitter Festival in Toronto from September 16 to 26, 2020. Creator/performer Jordan Campbell recovers and reminisces.

Creating and performing The Afterparty taught me a lot about Time — slowing down, catching up, playing with time, taking my time, syncing up and disconnecting.

This piece was inspired by the COVID restrictions. It was designed for a single audience member, standing in a two-metre radius chalk circle in a public park. The audience member is listening to a track through their earphones, which is synced up with the track playing in my earphones. It’s a solo performance, but also a one-on-one interactive journey of dance, drag, outfits, reveals and surprises all around the parkette. The piece is about two queers meeting each other in a park. It’s 30 minutes long and it’s very intimate.

Nothing about making this show was easy. We had to negotiate with the weather, strangers walking through the park, and the necessary public focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. On a personal level, this piece saw me through a partner moving across the country, a death in my family and the closing of my favourite queer bar slash all-in-one community refuge. The theatre community in Toronto has been mourning, cancelling, re-inventing and reckoning with their own structural shortcomings. And my friends have each been going through their own personal crises. All of this against the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic, unpredictable and strange.

And yet, the creative process was incredible. Amidst all of this uncertainty, time slooooooowed down. I worked with my dear friend and collaborator Elizabeth Staples, who co-created and directed the show. We were originally creating this project as a Pride event in June, but when that no longer felt appropriate, we just started working on our own timeline. We worked on the piece when we were inspired, and without a deadline. The piece got so much deeper, darker and weirder. It was able to hold all of our feelings. We worked on the piece out of a need to express ourselves, and a desire to create a moment of face-to-face connection for the public. This felt really important.

I’ve never felt so free and unhurried in a creative process. I can imagine a world where every project was on its own timeline; where artists were just paid to work on their stuff, and they shared it when it was ready to be shared. Really great stuff can’t be rushed; slowing down is at the core of my creativity. This is a difficult model to monetize, but that’s the point.

When we finished creating the show and it felt right for this moment in time, the last piece of the puzzle was finding a reliable way to sync up the audience’s track and my track. We were able to use the Cohort app to do this very elegantly. It may seem quite simple, to have two iPods play the same thing at the exact same time, but for us it was the last bit of magic we needed. All of our low-fi tricks became so theatrical. The audience was asked to close their eyes, then when they opened them, I appeared in a new outfit. The strangers in the park also got a silent show, but the one audience member was in on the secret.

As we got closer to syncing up our tracks, I started to play with time even more. Could I slow down certain moments in the performance, or speed up the choreography to hit certain marks in the track? How could I make sure I wasn’t getting ahead of my own track? If the track was half a second out of sync, did the audience’s brain sync it up anyway? Again, Time became very subjective and fluid.

I loved performing this piece. I could feel all the joy and pain of the audience. It was deeply cathartic. We found our own timeline together for each performance. As we develop new technologies for live performance, we can’t forget that live art isn’t technical and precise; it’s subjective and abstract. For technologies to be truly creative, they have to be malleable. They have to have their own Time. It wasn’t about syncing up our tracks, it was about syncing up our human energies.

We did eight shows at the Bricks and Glitter Festival, which means eight audience members experienced The Afterparty. People kept asking me, “isn’t it disappointing to do all this work, only to have it seen by a small handful of people?” That wasn’t the purpose of this. We really invested deeply in those eight people and gave them each a really special evening. I could not have gone as deep as I went if there had been more people. I didn’t have Time.

Now I am resting. After all of that vulnerability in public, I need a week alone in my bedroom. I am so grateful to have gotten to create this show in these tumultuous times. I’m deeply thankful to my generous collaborator Liz, to Cohort for the technical support, to the legendary Bricks and Glitter Festival for the production support, and to all the people who walked through the Brandon Avenue Parkette and held the space for us. It was the Time of my life.

headshot of Jordan Campbell

Jord Camp is a queer performance artist working in dance, drag and theatre. He is half of the POP ART performance duo xLq with Maddie Bautista — together they create interactive theatrical playgrounds with a queer pop aesthetic. Jordan also teaches inclusive drama classes with Purple Carrots Studio, specializing in neurodiverse programming.

Director Elizabeth Staples writes about her Afterparty experience here.

The Rough and Tumble of Tech

Sébastien Heins is an actor, writer, producer and director based in Toronto.
Torien Cafferata is an immersive theatre artist based in Saskatoon.

Instigated by Cohort, these artists undertook an email exchange about immersive theatre, technology and the cultural sector. We edited, but not much. Here’s the first of four parts of their extended conversation.

On Sat, Aug 8, 2020 at 6:41 PM Torien Cafferata wrote:

Hi Sebastien!

My apologies, our Fringe-but-actually-Not-Fringe Fest just ended, as did our fest run of Play Fail Win (PFW). There is as good a place to start as any! PFW is an interactive first-person play experiment in which a Zoom room of players voice-commands The Guy (a live performer) in an outdoor sandbox adventure game all about embracing embarrassment and satirizing rewarded incompetence. Our biggest challenges:

a) giving the performer access to the player HUD [heads-up display] made thru Open Broadcast System while also being able to climb trees and roll down hills, and

b) how to navigate the public social character-building / dialogue without it becoming too awkward or unwieldy, without the use of NPCs [non-player characters]. Definitely things that can be resolved with more resources as we grow the project and test out better AR gear; super curious about Oculus VR headsets, haptic input from player to performer or vice versa (gloves, vests, etc.), allowing players to take turns being each other’s real-world avatar.

I’ve found myself feeling way more at home with this project, despite the rough-and-tumble tech, because it speaks more to my gamer logic and game studies brain, even though my training is in theatre acting. What sort of challenges have you experienced specifically in the most interactive and digital of your works?

Thanks again for doing this :)

T

On Sat, Sep 12 at 3:32 PM Sébastien Heins wrote:

Dear Torien,
Thank you very much for the trip through your journey thus far making immersive, auditory, tech-powered experiences! I really enjoyed your videos and project breakdowns — your Overhear looked beautiful and was so life changing for its audiences. Congratulations on all of the well-deserved success, and for completing your fest run of Play Fail Win. It sounds like we share a lot of interests and curiosities with our projects.

Our project, The Itinerary is a live action video game that lets you control a stranger’s actions on a very important day of their life. Using your smartphone, you help them explore exciting memories, their imagination, and an emerging harsh reality sitting just below the surface. Groups of six players at a time jump into a story about the Caribbean Windrush generation, living the dream of “young, gifted and Black,” and a lifetime of joy and tragedy a hundred years in the making.

The Itinerary: Playtest, which we did in residency at The Kick + Push Festival in Kingston, Ontario, was a version that allowed us to test a number of theories, including tech infrastructure, media connectivity, story containers, and provided all sorts of opportunities for problem solving. The visuals for the meat of the game (the main character doing activities in a room reminiscent of the Hotline Bling music video meets a cliffside cell) were streamed over Zoom. Using multiple cameras in two rooms we set up a Mission Control room and the Sound Stage. For COVID purposes, we designed the running of the show around the goal that no two team members should be in the same room at the same time.

Mission Control was for our Stage Manager, the excellent Alice Ferreyra, who used Isadora, as set up by Melissa Joakim, our amazing Production Designer, to cue lighting shifts denoting times of day, weather, the radio starting to play, sound effects to signify an audience’s choice had been made, as well as video overlays which served as transitions between major story points.

We also used Switcher Studio as our video mixer, researched by the brilliant Jacob (he’s so smart, eh?), which pulled multiple live camera feeds from Cohort iPods set up in the Sound Stage to pick up the performer as well as in front of the mini games that comprised our climax, “The Dream” (think Mario Party and The Sims meets Big Fish).

For sound and team communication, we relied on a capricious mixture of a wireless Lav mic on the performer (who also had Cohort AirPods to keep them in connected to the SM and the production team if need be) and two Discord audio channels, one set up for the production team, and one for the performer, plus the Zoom audio feed which served the audience/players. We’re going to have the opportunity to give the show its world premiere in Q1 of 2021, online and potentially in-person, in accordance with the most up to date COVID guidelines.

The Itinerary: Playtest at the Kick + Push Festival was an opportunity to test some major questions:

  1. Can we develop a reliable, web-based app which allows the audience to effectively control the action?

  2. How will they know if it’s their turn?

  3. How will latency affect the audience’s enjoyment of the show?

  4. How can we mask latency?

  5. How do we improve the internet speed in a building with a cap on internet infrastructure? (Answer: We ended up getting a Bell Mobile LTE SIM, which we routed through Cohort’s TurboHub)

Best of all, we got to have real audience members trying out the game at home, and learned from their home-gaming habits, like what happens to the web-based app if someone gets a text message, etc.

Right now, we’re having a great time working with Cohort to develop free tools for live performance makers who are also interested in audience-to-performer control, overlaying mo-cap video effects, and low latency side-channel feedback loops.

Sébastien

Torien & Sébastien’s exchange continues in The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 2.

Plays You Play: No Time Like the Future

image from Project )

Immersive theatre artist Torien Cafferata of It’s Not A Box Theatre offers up five things about plays that he wishes he had known five years ago.

It’s a hot August night in 2015 and I am holding my breath in a mess of three sweating bodies in the dark. Six hands pull a single door knob to keep the audience member on the other side from opening it. They had followed us to the exit — and why shouldn’t they? They had been following us around the gallery for an hour and we purposefully had no curtain call. Our only hope now is to keep the door shut tight enough to convince them it’s locked — that it can lock, which it cannot. “What if they get in?” we thought to each other in panic. “I don’t know,” we replied.

I still don’t know.

That was Project O, our first immersive theatre show as It’s Not A Box Theatre. It’s surreal to think about now that just seeing characters on TV shake hands or hug makes me cringe with a mix of anxiety and longing. But this might just be the best time to get into digital immersive theatre. If that sounds intimidating, you’re in good company; the more I do it, the less I know. So time to open the door a crack and let out Five Things I Wish I’d Known Five Years Ago (And Still Might Not) about plays you play.

1. Play it Safe

I wish I’d known that safety means many many things.

Yes, Sleep No More is supposedly very cool but it has also been the gross and not fun kind of dangerous despite being a show that could easily afford to be made safe (and I guess can afford not to).

During our first run of Overhear, our app-guided promenade-style documentary theatre show about personal secrets (yikes), we were short on ushers (more yikes) and one of our performers was verbally harassed by a bar patron across the street. The audience member was standing right next to the harasser but did nothing, assuming he had to be part of the show because the story was about an abusive partner (all the yikes).

Needless to say we changed a few things about staging, ushers, etc. for the future, but nothing will change the fact that this lesson was learned through the suffering of someone working for us. That is a risk you and everyone on your team must understand and mitigate. Give your actors and audiences the tools to protect themselves and others: codewords, consent gestures, panic buttons on apps, clear expectations in the prep, reminders throughout, etc. I promise you can do all these things and still “serve the story” (see #4). Besides, if your audience cannot safely access or exit a story, who is the story for?

image from Overhear
Photo by S.E. Grummett

2. Less is More

I wish I’d known how literal that phrase has no business being.

When my co-AD Amberlin Hsu and I started It’s Not A Box Theatre we had no money for a venue, no audience to fill one, and no idea what immersive theatre was (we still don’t, but that’s not important). The world was ours. Amberlin designed entire universes with light and paper maché, and I wrote words to lure people into them. As it turns out, limitations make audiences more creative too.

Example: interactivity. In everything from video games to salad dressing, capitalism tells us that more choices = more freedom. This has long been disproven, and as someone with ADHD I can assure you: choice is not freedom, the structure required to make a choice is. Promenade theatre and any show that uses an app has taught us that audiences only have so much labour to spend on moving, pressing buttons, looking at a map, listening to instructions, remembering, thinking, responding, appreciating sights, sounds, bodies, etc. Play with one or two of these, start with low-stakes choices, and prepare to be surprised. Your SM might spare you in the night too.

image from Its Not A Box Theatre

3. Gamify the Things

I wish I’d known what “diegetic” meant.

Theatre and game design are secret long lost cousins. How secret? I was a gamer in theatre school and I didn’t discover their treehouse antics until I was done school. Not cool. Many game design lectures and video essays later, it feels like I’m still studying theatre.

“Diegesis” (from the Greek “to narrate”) is already a concept in theatre, literature, film, etc., but in game design it is essentially the art of sneaking the “how” inside the “what.” Examples: a treasure map you see your character actually holding, a health bar built on your character’s advanced spacesuit, or a player tutorial disguised as a health check-up (achieved hilariously in Portal 2).

For digital immersive friends, read: “how do I tell the audience to do the Thing but make it fashion theatre?” The good news is that you are all experts at this already; our audiences are always in the same world as the actors, and boy do we love narrators!

Where it gets tricky is if the Thing requires digital technology and your story is not The Story of an Audience Member Who Used Their Phone. You could try lo-fi trickery like “antique” radios, or you can hide phones in pockets and set audio cues via Bluetooth or GPS. In Overhear we went the opposite direction: we personified the tech, the audio narrator acknowledging that he existed inside a recording inside a phone, so “please be careful don’t drop me.” I recently saw a horror Zoom play that was a “live unboxing gone wrong,” and a horror podplay of our own is a guided “creepypasta” ritual.

If the tech is on your stage, you might as well cast it as a character. Speaking of which…

image from Overhear

4. Cast the Audience

I wish I’d known what I was asking for.

So I’m in your audience and I’m watching your immersive show and then I notice Janet across from me just ten feet away who is also watching you and now you notice Janet too and you talk to Janet and I realize I could be next because we are all on stage with you and now I’m asking “who am I?”

Cue Mad World by Gary Jules.

This is another theatre thing you’re already good at, but I needed five to make a listicle. If the audience is “immersed” in your stage space, you have a greater opportunity (responsibility?) to acknowledge them as part of the world, especially if you want to pre-code in certain behaviours and tasks for interactivity (boom, diegesis). Perfect example: murder mysteries. Scoff at dinner theatre all you like, the sheer amount of conditioning it required to prime a casual theatre-going population to not just be capable of but also enjoy solving complex murder plots with strangers is a staggering feat of game design and theatre.

That said, if you’re like me and live in a community nearly bereft of immersive theatre, most audiences are terrified of any kind of participation. The more interactive, the more they will be silently asking “What if I look stupid? What if I make them look stupid? What if I break the show? What if it’s ‘too edgy’ to be accessible?” We like to cast them in a role that’s diegetic, but one they can get behind; a simple witness, an investigator, a partier, a jury, a ghost, a cryogenically frozen passenger on a starship, etc. — any role that makes them easier to teach — and to implicate.

image from Overhear

5. Do It Your Way

I wish I’d known that the pinnacle of immersive theatre didn’t have to be entire warehouses or hotel floors where everyone’s within groping distance of each other (second jab at Sleep No More, oops).

My first immersive experience was wandering alone in a new city with nothing but a hand-drawn map, an iPod shuffle, and the phone number of a single stranger going through the same show at the same time over 5,000km away. LANDLINE is still the one of the most intimate experiences I’ve ever had — and it literally could not be more socially distanced.
Digital immersive is massive. Digital immersive is micro. It is personal, precarious, and pretty easy to screw up all the time. Immersive is also a spectrum, not a genre, which is why the term only feels useful in marketing and kinda nowhere else. This is a time to embrace the kinder uncertainties of our field and find new forms that feel like you. At first it might not be, and that’s okay — let’s imitate and innovate on each other! Our most recent work was a mash-up of our frustration with Zoom plays and our love of RPGs, inviting audiences to give voice-commands to a performer in a livestreamed outdoor adventure. It was the most fun I’ve had in a while because it felt like us.

To me that makes this the perfect form to respond to our world and it’s already happening, from the Very Cool to the Very Absurd. Not how I thought our revolution would go, but I am grateful; for the new friends coming to play, for the mentors, for the quiet panic that I’m already behind the curve, and for watching a burgeoning political art form learn itself, like a ship being built as we sail it (maybe we’ll even save its soul). There was a lot I didn’t know five years ago (and still don’t). Today I am grateful to know even less.

P.S. Any chance we could un-discontinue the iPod shuffle?

headshot of Torien Cafferata

Torien Cafferata is an immersive theatre producer, actor, playwright, and dramaturge based in Saskatoon, SK. He co-founded the award-winning company It’s Not A Box Theatre alongside designer-dancer Amberlin Hsu, with whom he experiments at the intersections of interactive play, mixed-reality, and justice.

Also coming up on the Cohort blog: Torien’s 4-part email exchange with Sébastien Heins, Associate Artistic Director of Outside the March. The Rough and Tumble of Tech - Part 1 drops next week.

An Introduction

photo_iphones_laptop

Thirty years ago I stepped into a dance studio for the first time. Twenty-eight years ago, I wrote my first line of code. And ten years ago, I had an idea for a dance/theatre work that would need a specific technical capability: cueing portable, synchronized, multi-track headphone audio. Working with an awesome creative and production team, we realized that technical capability (and a few others), and created the show Jacqueries around it.

After all that trial and error (and error and error!), I wanted to make those capabilities available to other creators, and did that in a designer role on several productions. Though all the projects were quite different, I started to see common needs, and found a way to reuse and build on my own work from project to project.

When the Digital Strategy Fund was announced by the Canada Council, it seemed like a good idea to assemble a network of the performing-arts companies I’d worked with, so we could improve and formalize the shared technical infrastructure we’d built, and share it with the wider community of artists and producers experimenting with new modes of presentation. In COVID times, that community has gotten much bigger, as every performing artist has been forced to explore new ways to create and share their work.

I’m very excited to announce the launch of the Cohort Blog, which will feature accounts from and conversations between artists making adventurous works involving mobile devices. Our first post is from producer/performer Torien Cafferata of It’s Not A Box Theatre in Saskatoon, discussing work on immersive projects like Overhear and Play Fail Win.

We’ve spent several months working with our partner companies to develop and prepare the software components that powered their shows for public sharing and use. We’re currently engaged in the first closed beta test of our code toolkit, which makes it easier for performing artists to integrate smartphones and mobile technology in their works. Our partners have used these tools to many ends —including :

  • offering closed captions for live performances (adelheid / LOT X)
  • cueing 3D 360 videos in black-box shows (bluemouth, inc / Café Sarajevo)
  • creating sound walks and geolocated storytelling (It’s Not a Box Theatre / Overhear)
  • sending audience members push notifications with production-created alert sounds (adelheid / LOT X)

To help artists experiment and workshop their concepts, we’ve also built a small lending library of hardware, including wireless and wired headphones and freshly-released iPod Touches. These have been used for multicamera livestreaming; for synchronized, socially-distant, one-on-one performance, and for prototyping virtual instruments and AR – and will be available for rentals to the performing arts community.

And finally, we’re gearing up for our first public event, Cohort Confab, which will happen in mid- to late-November. This will be a gathering of artists, presenters, stage managers, software and gaming folks, and theatre techs and designers. We’ll discuss how Cohort’s been used by our innovative partners in their works, discover new and evolving presentation formats, and develop new connections.

I’m proud of the work that our team and partners have created, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you over the next few months and onwards.

Jacob Niedzwiecki, Project Lead – Cohort