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 :)


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