The Mixed Reality Performance Lab is an Australia Council ARTLAB, which commenced with a one-week creative research lab conducted with four actors and a visual artist around the classic dramatic text of Ibsen’s Ghosts.
A brief playreading can be found here:
Post reading discussions can be found here:
It was felt that actors would bring a specific intuition around their function on stage that could be correlated with the activities of technology and media on stage to begin a preliminary understanding of these as co-players. One of the first points made by one of the actors, Ben, was that, “acting is about reacting.”
He went on to explain that the fundamental difference he perceived between technology / media and humans is the human capacity to respond spontaneously. In his view, a technology could not be described as ‘acting’ unless it also had that capacity. The visual artist in the room, Lisa Anderson (who was specifically invited to challenge the rest of the team's theatre prejudices) questioned whether a performance was not ‘programmed’ to some extent, like a robot, by the time rehearsals were completed.
Ben explained that the text would always be the same and the overall choices (where the character was going) would be the same, but there was always nuance in terms of how each small choice was made in delivery and intent. Ben's question for technology and media was quite clear: 'Can a robot be programmed to select from a number of responses randomly so that the actor does not know which response he will get, and therefore his ‘acting’ will not become robotic?' This became a crucial question for our week’s investigation.
When the actors were asked, ‘when would you consider technology or media to be a co-actor?’ they came up with the following four key principles:
The technology/media would need to have some form of communication capacity.
The technology/media would need to appear to be reacting to the human actors.
The technology/media would need to have an appearance of life.
The technology/media would need to appear to express emotion.
Whether these aspects would need to appear to exist or to actually exist was discussed and finally the conclusion come to that they would only need to appear to be so. Phill made the point that an actor appears to express an emotion but we have no way of knowing if they in fact are actually experiencing that emotion, and it is in fact irrelevant. The old theatre adage was brought up:
If the actor feels it and the audience feels it then it is theatre. If the audience feels it and the actor doesn’t, it is theatre. If the actor feels it and the audience doesn’t, it is not theatre.
The ARTLAB crew was then taken on a tour of the Deakin University's Motion Capture Studios. Here we witnessed a demonstration of motion capture and the breadth of options available to create avatars and work with 3D imaging.
Communication, reaction and expression of emotion are all key elements of the actors’ ability to induce empathy in an audience, one of the fundamental components of dramatic theatre. In a discussion around technology and media’s capacity to do so, we came up with the following key methods to achieve this:
- The human actors must treat the technology/media actor as living.
- The physical mannerisms/animation of the technology/media must appear to express emotion and reaction.