- Of Both Worlds: Exploiting Rave Technologies in Caridad Svich’s Iphigenia
Only ten years ago, at the end of the last century, the inclusion of digital media into a live theatre event still provided a relatively novel spectacle. In the United States, the important work by groups within academia like Mark Reaney’s Institute for the Exploration of Virtual Realities (i.e. VR) at the University of Kansas,1 David Saltz’s Interactive Performance Laboratory at the University of Georgia,2 and, outside of academia, the George Coates Performance Works,3 Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre,4 and, in the United Kingdom, Steve Dixon’s Chameleons Group5 (among several others6) became models of startling and exciting innovation, their productions revealing the rich possibilities that digital technology and media held for the art of the theatre. It seemed a brave new world for these pioneers, heady days before the dot-com implosion, the iPod revolution, the ubiquitous cell-phone camera, and the itchy, social scourge of “CrackBerry” addiction. But from our current perspective in this country, as we accelerate toward passing this kidneystone of a decade, such intoxication may seem quaint, may even engender a certain watery nostalgia for a more hopeful era. That was pre-9/11 thinking.
Today, though not quite the rule, digital media7 in live theatre is no longer so exceptional or novel. Although I remain uncertain of how and or to what degree the work of the afore-mentioned groups have been influential on the current theatrical scene in the United States, it is certainly true that many of the tools and approaches of these and other pioneering groups and individuals have been widely adopted in the academic, amateur, and professional theatres. Media content is now relatively commonplace in theatrical production and has even reached that most mainstream of venues, the Broadway musical (e.g., Wicked, Spamalot, and so on). In 2004, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Woman in White opened in London’s West End and later, in 2005, on Broadway. The musical featured completely computer-generated scenery projected onto six large, curved screens. Critical reception to both productions was mixed, but it is striking how closely the responses to the digitally enhanced Webber musical echoed several responses I received to i.e. VR’s early productions—not the bad reviews, mind you, but the comments about the moving scenery being “vertigo-inducing.” Reviewers and producers of The Woman in White report several of the same advantages, techniques, and assumptions that i.e. VR exploited, “discovered,” and imagined: the ability to rapidly change locations; the experience of actors “appearing to move without moving”; and the risible delusion that adopting 3D computer-graphic imagery as a scenic medium would be a money-or time-saving method of producing scenery. Almost precisely duplicating the closing image of a brief science-fiction tale I penned for the opening of an article about the early work of i.e. VR,8 one of the producers of The Woman in White, expecting that she would save money on future productions by storing the set on a computer, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “That was my dream—a design in a handbag” (Pincus-Roth 10).
A more likely (and more humble) explanation for the widespread integration of digital media into theatrical practices in the United States than the influence of those “early adopters” of the 1990s is the smashing success that consumer-level digital and telecommunication technologies have had in [End Page 223] the marketplace. Cheaper, simpler, more sophisticated means of creating and manipulating content coupled with cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more powerful projectors—the manner in which most media content finds its way into theatrical production—have made it relatively easy for even the most indie, gritty, and monetarily challenged of theatre and performance companies to incorporate digital media into their work. Popular software applications like PowerPoint, iMovie, Flash, and so on are great democratizers. These and other technologies have made it possible for nearly anyone with access to a computer to become a creator of media content. Indeed, the democratization of media, though the phenomenon can be (and has...