Integrating mobile technology in Theatre? Here is a series of possibilities: from incongruous to ingenious ideas...
Did you know that our brains can perceive up to 30 billion metaphors per second?
That’s why theatre made sense to me. It's a place where I can process and express metaphors in dynamic audio-visual performative ways. I fell in love with theatre at a very young age. But as an actor growing up, I realized I didn’t really want to memorize and repeat somebody else’s lines. As a playwright, I wasn’t crazy about the linear story lines. As a director, I didn’t buy the into rigidity of the staging. I wasn’t sold on Theatre’s conventions, I was excited about its potential. What I envisioned was cinematic, shape shifting, magical, like a hallucination without the drugs. So since early 2000's, I have been exploring new ways of storytelling, and inevitably discovered technology. Not being a scientist, two things happened: I was provoked to think differently and more metaphors happened!
What if orchestras flew in flocks of drones from city to city deploying must everywhere? What if Artificial Intelligence choreographed a ballet? Or rewrote a show every single night? What if our every action became part a live global interactive plot?
Today’s theme is mobile:
and mobile is so much more that a smartphone, it’s really a handheld supercomputer.
And a transitional device for the deeply wired world we are about enter with the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, Mind Controlled Objects and Environments. Mobile will eventually become integrated within another mobile technology: our own.
Today my phone is: my teacher, my trainer, my doctor, my navigator, my messenger, my translator, my entertainer, my memory, my memories, my secrets, my secretary, my mall, my network, my life!
My phone knows me intimately. And that is not a metaphor. There is just so much power, functionality and personality in this device. So… What if we used this handheld supercomputer in Theatre?
We’re here. Houselights go down, we can feel the built-up anticipation buzzing from the audience around us, it’s like we are children again, and in the darkness we hear: "Ladies and Gentlemen: Turn your phones off NOW. One ring and you’re OUT. One picture and you’re DEAD. The use of flash photography is strictly prohibited". Ok, I understand: there are rules and regulations, and you want my undivided attention. But surely we can work this out! And if a show is extraordinary, you will have my undivided attention. And so, while most shows begin with this announcement no matter how creative it might be, one in two Broadway attendees still to pull their phones out during a performance. Why could’t we invite people to leaves their phones on, participate, interact, and yes please, be my guest: take pictures, post them, share them, tag them, tweet them, snap em, promote it!
Some are concerned that Technology will dehumanize the experience. The argument is that theatre is a communal act. It sounds true, it appears to be true, but is it really true? I may go to a show with a friend, but I don’t know who the person on my left or right, or three rows below me is. Why couldn’t we create a real communal experience? And get to know everybody before the show begins or afterwards, with our phones.
Crazymission comes and I want a cocktail. I call it crazymission because it is: a crazy mission. I’ve got 15 minutes, I’m on the second floor, there’s one bar, and the line starts: from my seat….Couldn’t I pre-oder a drink or snack from my phone and have it ready for me by then? I understand it’s been tested and didn’t work as planned, but it might be worth exploring again. We are entering an on demand economy.
If I don’t have a cocktail, I may want to find out about the show. I could open the Playbill Passport app or read the real Playbill. Or use both with Augment Reality. Head shots come to life, actors talk to me and share the mishaps of putting up the show and promote the next one. It could be perfect for Amélie!
My preferred style of theatre is universal. Language-free. But musical and plays have dialogues, and only the people speaking that language understand it. Yet my phone can translate on the go. Walking into a show should be like walking into the United Nations on steroids. Translate any play, in any language, in real time.
Let’s imagine I were from Switzerland, which I am, and didn't speak English, I should be able to enjoy Le Livre des Mormons: "The Book of Mormons", en français, in French, as the play unravels before me. Those opera glasses project super-titles in the language of your choice in real-time during the show. The Theatre de Paris plans on marketing the glasses to arts organization worldwide this year.
What we are really talk about here is accessibility…. Then what about the estimated 285 million people around the world who are visually impaired? My Singularity University colleagues have developed an app that uses artificial intelligence and your phone’s camera to describe what it sees in real time. The algorithm is still learning and will soon understand complex scenes and could describe an entire ballet or Cirque show. Your very own arts commentator, how cool would that be!?
Theatre, from Ancient Greek Théatron, means “a place for viewing”, a place “to see”. But our current spaces don’t allow us to see everything. What if we could use our device to peak behind the curtain? The ultimate backstage pass!
I would love to follow Al Pacino backstage as he bird mans down the corridor. We could even stage actions backstage as part of the play or engage in micro moments not accessible from our balcony seat. Cinema does this with close ups, we could do this with that.
What about creating an entire show where the action hip hops between the stage and our screens— whaattt?
I love Movies but they ruined everything for me. In a beautiful way. After experiencing a film at the movie theatre at the highest resolution and sound definition, it’s hard to get back to low res live theatre. I just saw Hamilton (which was fantastic) and the album I play on my desktop sounds better than the live experience. Why couldn’t we hear the sound as richly as it is intended to be? This company has created earbuds that act as a studio in your ears. It gives you a volume knob, equalizer and special effects to transform real world audio. What happens when we can sound design our own musical, play… life?
Theatre is sensorial experience but we can’t feel much from a tactile point of view. My friends at Emerge are developing a technology where you can feel touch in thin air. Imagine the possibilities. Feel the phantom touching you softly….
What about tailor making a show for its unique public: Ben, Bob, Brian, Chris, David, Eric, Erin, Greg, Mark, Nick, Nina, Sarah, Scott, Stephanie. I know you’re here! Or what if there was a play called Gossip whereby using face recognition software and your Facebook data, actors on stage would talk about everyone in the audience. The new smart comedy hit? Or what about allowing the audience to dictate the outcome of a show? Whirligig, a company in Austin has done it. Deus Ex Machina is a choose-your-own-adventure performance that gives total control of the play to the audience. It tracks to 1 of 12 potential story lines, that includes 12,288 possible experiences. Future playwrights may work in tandem with video game designers.
Let’s talk about the elephant— in your palm! Augmented Reality.
We are witnessing a phenomenon with Pokemon Go, which tickles the surface of what’s to come. Augmented Reality will redefine the way we experience life. Especially when mobile leaps from our hands to our eye balls.
There is an opportunity to digitize, dematerialize and democratize special effects on stage. Special effects which we are and will be seeing more of. Because instead of building heavy scenery which is cost prohibitive and cumbersome, we can use projection mapping to transform one set into millions of environments, sensors to trigger the space with all sorts of animations. Animations which can transcend the stage into our hands, into your eyes, into our rooms. We could have Broadway in our living rooms!
Let’s talk about VR and its funk phenomenon. It’s no longer Theatre in the round, but Theatre in the doughnut. Instead of sitting in a round, looking at the the show; We are now standing in the center, looking at a 360 degree field of view, with the freedom to go anywhere and connect the dots of our own storyline. This doughnut phenomenon will accelerate the emergence of immersive experiences like Sleep No More here in NYC, site-specific, interactive work, in which the audience walks at their own pace through theatrically designed rooms.
Immersive Experiences use processes similar to the making of Virtual Reality and can easily be translated for it too. In turn, those developing content for VR may rehearse and test in physical one. We might see interesting cross-collaborations evolve between the two. Back to Immersive experiences, now add a Global Positioning System in your pocket, and the director knows exactly where you are and can prompt experiences accordingly. Amplify this to an entire city, and the entire city becomes your stage. Have a look at Detour which produces GPS audio walks:
Speaking of mobility! What I can’t wait for is an STG: A Show To Go. Have you heard the news? Uber is allowing customers to summon self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Google, a leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years. Tesla offers Autopilot. Ford announced plans for autonomous ride-sharing service. Call it what you want: cars that drive on their own are here to stay. What happens in car if we no longer need to drive it? Order a Show To Go of course! Open the app, pick a play or act you want to experience, the car pulls up, get in it and let the actors entertain you while you reach your final destination. I love this idea. I would order a Show To Go all the time!
But this is not what I am working on this right now... My colleagues and I are developing a new show called Billion Billions (HUMANODE). It’s a roller coaster trough time in real time. So the show will be different every time you see it. It contextualizes real time data in theatrical ways, so that we can feel it, and animates it through projection mapped environments that the performers interact with. It’s cinematic, sensational, and transcends the space. Imagine if actions taken during the show could affect the world outside? We are leveraging mobile technology and real time data to create a production that responds to world events, and where the audience can respond back.
Imagine watching an exhilarating scene that features climate change: wind machines are blowing, the music is peaking, performers flying, visuals vividly surrounding intermixed with CO2 statistics, it’s cathartic, your phone lights up and allows you to donate to an organization tackling that challenge, the wind has stopped or blows harder, the next scene unfolds. You’ve just done it. You took action. It was simple. entertaining. meaningful. I believe in bridging the best of showmanship, technology and social impact for good.
There is everything to rethink about storytelling. And it may not all work out. But we won’t know till try it, test it, risk it, have fun with it. We’ve been stuck in a climate of rules and regulation, repeats, and remakes… It’s time to invent! Things are moving at unprecedented speed. It’s not just a saying, it’s happening. It’s Moore’s Law combined with the Law of Accelerated Returns. Every Industry right now is at risk of not being relevant if they are not willing to self disrupt. Theatre is ripe for innovation. That means content also needs a system update and step up to the interconnected intricacies and information of today. As do we.
This mobile 'thing' is nothing other than a hyper extension of ourselves connected to everyone and everything at anytime. If our brains can process 30 billion metaphors per second, surely we can come up with a few solutions.
Talk Transcript at the Google Performing Arts Summit, at Google Offices, New World, New York, September 16, 2016
⦿ Theatre de Paris & Atos, Augmented Reality Glasses & Opera
⦿ Aipoly, Vision Through Artificial Intelligence
⦿ Here One, Control Real-World Sound
⦿ Emerge, Mid-Air Touch
⦿ Magic Leap, Augmented Reality
⦿ Whirligig Productions Choose Your Own Adventure Shows
⦿ Pokemon Go, Augmented Reality Mobile Game
⦿ "Theater in the Doughnut" Term coined by Jay Iorio, Director of Innovation for the IEEE Standards Association
⦿ Sleep No More Immersive Experience
⦿ Detour, Guided GPS Audio Tours
⦿ Uber, Self Driving Cars
⦿ Google/Waymo, Self Driving Cars
⦿ Tesla, Autopilot
⦿ HUMANODE Interactive Reality Experience
"Mobile will eventually become integrated within another mobile technology: our own."
"There is everything to rethink about storytelling, and it may not all work out. But we won’t know till try it, test it, risk it, have fun with it. We’ve been stuck in a climate of rules and regulation, repeats, and remakes… It’s time to invent!"
"This mobile 'thing' is nothing other than a hyper extension of ourselves connected to everyone and everything at anytime. If our brains can process thirty billion metaphors per second, surely we can come up with a few solutions."