“Immersion and Theater” presented by Norman


Session Title:

  • Body Narratives

Presentation Title:

  • Immersion and Theater




  • This presentation will look at latent forms in the art of the theatre contained within immersive technologies : the inherent theatricality of virtual spaces must be identified if we wish to get beyond solipsist post-psychedelic grooviness, or hyper-inter-activity of simplistic role-playing dressed up in high-tech razzmatazz. Emerging technologies solicit and implicate us in new ways, generating perceptive illusions which draw us into an unprecedented identity-based realm of drama. How do we begin building this new theater of fictive senses and induced sensations? What framework and latitude actors do have, where selves have become multiple, divisible, and shareable through kinesthetic and proprioceptive mirages? The splintering and interchangeability of the self should catalyze collective creations offering the same exhilarating vitality as numbers by juggler and jazzmen. Yet effective improvisation requires acceptance of common codes : verbal repartee and musical riffs catch on because we recognize the cohesive strength of underlying codes. In the same manner, the novel theatricality born of virtual metamorphoses requires recognition of a common symbolic language. Only then will we be able to start spinning vital virtual yarns, and creating truly new dramatic myth.


    Querying the compatibility of immersion and theater is like querying the compatibility of narration and interactivity: deciding whether or not such notions are antithetical ultimately depends on how one chooses to define them. If narrating means telling a story, to what extent does the story keep a recognizable core when subjected to the umpteen bifurcations,  ramifications and other convolutions that supposedly testify to interactivity? Can infinitely splintering, unforeseeable scenarios be called “narration”, or do they announce a form of collective writing for which we have yet to forge a term? Similarly, if theater implies dramatic representation, to what extent is representation recognizable as such for the wholly immersed subject, no longer an onlooker or bystander, but caught up in the action ? Can totally overwhelming situations still be called “theater”, or do they announce a form of collective experience for which we have yet to forge a term? This text in many respects testifies to “work in progress”, and contains far more questions than answers. Then again, perhaps trying to pose the essential questions is the most urgent task at hand.

    For several years, the Japanese theater troupe Agua Gala has chosen to work at the fringe between theatrical performance and interactive works involving spectator-participants, thereby
    raising many questions central to the theater/ immersion debate. In its latest work, VALE in the Victim, Agua Gala recruits half a dozen spectators upon arrival at the performance site. Dressed in sackcloth cloaks, they are asked to undertake a number of simple actions while ten members of the troupe execute rigorously preordained choreography in a complex sound environment.  The novices begin by walking around the performance space, resolutely indifferent to the sometimes aggressive dancers. Apparently contradictory actions are programmed: the volunteers have been instructed to pick up and carry shoes thrown into the arena, but the dancers immediately tear these objects out of their hands; the volunteers lined up on one side of the space are successively pulled into the center by a performer, and instantly hauled back into line by another. Such situations generate dramatic tension, as does the very coexistence of two different actor categories: virtuoso professionals (Agua Gala has a strong butoh background) versed in the planned work. and more-or-less bewildered outsiders trapped in what is for them totally unpredictable action. But over time, negative ambivalence is particularly felt by the third category of persons, namely the spectators who identify strongly with the volunteers, while scrutinizing them with a vague sense of voyeuristic guilt.

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