An Introduction

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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