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Technology in the Performing Arts

The Future of Theatre. What does the system upgrade of Theatre look like?

Hello! My name is Natasha Tsakos and - you do not want to meet in an elevator! It’s been a challenge having to describe my work when I meet people for the first time. What’s interesting is, as we start to move exponentially faster, definitions may update themselves by the hour. Our vocabulary may become a real time algorithmic word bank. Could you imagine having a conversation like that? Where the meaning of words constantly adapts?

Now: I am not a programmer or an engineer. My knowledge is as general as yours when it comes to technology, but I have been under the influence- of boggling information over the years, that has provoked, and inspired me to think differently about what I love so much: Theatre.

And I realized two things:

It’s not about technology. It’s like knowing how to speak and having nothing to say. You'd make a lot of funny noises. We need content... I know the word “content” doesn’t mean much nowadays. “Content” ranges anywhere from the logo on a can of soup, dogs dancing on youtube, to the coding of an app. It’s confusing. For me it’s about telling relevant stories in unpredictable ways from an original point of view. It’s about traveling. Because theatre is a voyage into the archives of the human imagination. It's pure teleportation by means of suspension. It's a passport to all what ifs. It’s not about technology. I have seen shows that use projections, motion tracking systems as a gimmick. Sometimes they are so experimental, they give me a headache, or act as cover up for a lack of content. Or -- could it be that the content doesn’t measure up to the technology? Could it be that Theatre needs a content update?

The second thing is: It’s all about technology. Technology is changing us on profound existential, biological, and neurological levels. Look around. Pass Botox and Denial, is the next Generation, and they look at little like this: they are born with computing power, the world at the tip of their finger, at ten turn hacker, and live most of their lives in a virtual state. How do you reach them? It’s more than targeting an age range, it’s addressing an evolutionary shift.

I talk to my furniture. My furniture has distinguished personalities. And I wouldn’t confess to such lunacy if it weren’t for the fact that we are entering an age of intelligent life. Your fridge, Philip, will order food when it is running out, your carpet Flora will call 911 if you fall at a certain impact, my favorite: Teddy, your pillow will remember your dreams and replay them during the day becoming a video screen. Why not?

What if Theatre was intelligent?

What if a show transcended its physical space? 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? What if Cirque du Soleil had acrobats perform with acrobots in stunts never seen before, the New "Greatest Show on Earth”!? What if a production was tailor made just for you, with the environments you selected, your playlists, colors, filters, through augmented reality glasses? What if you could leave your digital imprints on stage for as log as the show ran? An ever evolving plot.

Really. What does the system upgrade of Theatre look like? How will the performer-audience interaction change, now that we are so used to participating in the lives of strangers? How will the immersive world of video games transform the theatrical experience? Will the crew be computerized, intelligent and mobile? Will the next generation of performers have digital enhancements? Augmented voices: music synthesizer chip implants? Will the audience control physical objects on stage from their seats? And at that point, who is performing, where is the show really happening? Is it still Theatre? What do we call it? and here we go: back in the elevator.

I wasn’t always like this. I come from a classical theatre conservatory training. I have Shakespeared my Molière to Tenessee, and I am Wild for Becket! But I got a little tired of the redundancy. I find that Theatre, like other art forms keep playing the same track on repeat. If you’re lucky you get a remix, or a mash up. But I wanted to deejay my own concepts, ideas and theories. So I decided I’d create the shows that I would want to see. I didn’t know what I was doing. The only thing I knew, was that I would give myself permission to imagine anything, and reverse engineer my way from there. Shortly after producing my first show a world opened its doors to me. And it wasn’t Theatre. It was the entrepreneurial, science and tech world. I think because, by nature, those worlds have to stay up to date, opened and flexible in order to keep up. I love being in dynamic environments and meeting people who have nothing to do with what you do, because they bring foreign bits of information that spark synapses, and open new pathways of understanding. That is my favorite moment in the creative process, when all those dots connect and surprise you in completely unexpected ways.

A couple of years ago, I became fascinated with data visualization; it was also then that I realized we were relinquishing our memories to the clouds and was simultaneously reading about Memory Palaces, the places we make up in our minds to remember. So I thought, why don’t we create a show that recalls the story of mankind and spatially animate data on stage through projection mapping. A historical roller coaster. The show is called OMEN and takes you through 5 billion years of history in 20:14 seconds through the eyes of a character who looses his head. The next step is pull all the data we project in the show in real time. So OMEN will constantly be up to date based on world events. The show at 7pm will be different than the one you see at 8pm, then the one at 9pm. And that is just the surface of what is possible. Now that we’ve got content, we can weave technology within its fabric and make magic.

Science is no longer fiction, but reality may become one.

I believe in creating original stories that feel as exciting as a video game, and look as sharp as movie. I believe in getting this new generation excited and inspired, and waking them up from a numb, content dumb saturated place. I believe in stories that are non linear, as we are (hopefully) driven by electronic dance beats and classical music, that move quickly in response to the speed at which we process information and clear reduction in our attention span. I believe in a theatre where we are told to leave our phones on so we could participate. What if Theater was the Pong of the the digital Ping?! A place where the live experience had a function? Did you know that for the first time in history we are seeing thousands of young people playing, not against each other, but cooperatively via video games to solve real world problems. Imagine that on stage!

We’ve become the spectators of our own mutation. We may not die human anymore. But what makes us human?

This may not be your thing. But realizing this is happening is important. The generation to come may not tolerate anything less than that. We are reaching levels of high experiential comfort and our standards will keep rising. We want to feel, we want to experience, we want to connect, we want intelligence, and we want to play!

Ladies and Gentlemen: A new theatre is on its way.

Are you coming?

Talk Transcript at TEDxBroadway at New World Stages, New York, New York, February 24th, 2014



"It’s more than targeting an age range, it’s about addressing an evolutionary shift."

"Theatre is pure teleportation by means of suspension. It’s a passport to all what ifs."

"Theatre is a voyage into the archives of the human imagination"

"What if Theater was the Pong of the the digital Ping?! A place where the live experience had a function?"

"We’ve become the spectators of our own mutation. We may not die human anymore. But what makes us human?"


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