“Very interesting, playful, and tempting. Attractive and seductive in its ludic and experimental promises, which generate the desire of engaging creatively with the platform.” (Bianca Mastrominico)
“I am already thinking how I could use it.” (Karen Remy)
“Just play around! Play with it!” (Lila Moore)
Create and present cyberformance using UpStage
On the 14th of June Helen Varley Jamieson, who is a pioneer in the field of cyberformance (live online performance) and is one of the founders of UpStage, and Christina Papagiannouli, who has worked with UpStage for more than 10 years in the context of her E-Theatre project, led a workshop in which they introduced the platform and its tools and gave an introduction to devising and performing online. No previous experience or special technical skills were required from the participants – just a web browser and internet connection.
“The goal is that everybody sees everything the same way, no matter what browser they use.”
UpStage is an online venue for cyberformance (live online performance). Remote players collaborate in real-time, using all kinds of digital media including images, animations, audio-visual streams, live text, live drawing, and more, to present live performances for online or hybrid online/proximal audiences.
At this particular workshop, both the performers and the audience were online. Participants logged in from all around the world, which I think in itself assumes an exciting atmosphere since we “come” from different time zones and places to explore something unknown and new together. Space, the stage is given, and perhaps most importantly, it is easily accessible without any difficulty.
It feels unique to be on a stage, that is, on a platform with people and creators who are unknown and yet quickly become familiar. Because connectivity and cooperation become continuous and more direct due to the possibility of the online space and the ongoing communication. Both between the participants and the audience and the performers. This was also repeatedly emphasised by Helen Varley Jamieson during the workshop since cyberformance is live. Therefore, the interaction between the artist and her audience is essential. “I want them to respond”. And the audience has the opportunity to do that, even during the show. They can become participants in the performances, as they can instantly express their thoughts, opinions, and give their feedback through the chat. An exciting, engaging, effective, and innovative way to use a communication tool, as these conversations can be saved so that artists during their preparation process for the following shows can also use them for inspiration or improvisational situations.
However, what also felt new and intriguing during the workshop was the version of this same tool, that is, the chat, seen from a different perspective, especially from the perspective of the performers and creators. Since one of the things that Upstage differs from other similar platforms is that here artists can have full control over their performance. Because, while the audience members can individually customize the chat – they can pick a nickname, edit the font size and the transparency, and presumably other parameters will come too – the artists can also hide it, as they are able to communicate with each other without it. I would be very much interested to see a performance where at some point the audience can use the chat, therefore interact with the performers and each other, while at other parts of the show the chat would be hidden and deprived of this function, the audience becomes “merely” viewers once again. It would be interesting to experiment with control in an online space, especially to see how the course of a theatrical performance would be influenced by it. How does the audience behave when the performers have sole control over the performance? And how does that change when the audience knows that it has a say in shaping events? And if it loses that power, if it is taken away from it, how does it react? Will its relationship, interests, and engagement change and differ from how it was before?
“Make myself bigger, make myself visible”
In today’s world, the Internet and online spaces are an integral part of our days, hours, and minutes. These are places of conversation and meetings. And I hope that I am not wrong, if, as a member of the younger generation, I say that social media is one of the most significant of these platforms where we keep track of each other, of each other’s work, and keep in touch with each other. But where can we create and be present as theatre-makers? Where can we connect with our fellow performers who live all around the world and together with them create a live theatrical performance in real-time and in one venue? I think UpStage provides us space and an opportunity for this or at least offers us a possibility to explore something (new) and experiment with it together. Where authenticity is not required “you can be anything you want to be. You can be nothing”. You can be your avatar without your actual presence on the stage (screen). This is why it brings us something new and inspirational. Because UpStage looks forward to the future and invites us all to create and perform together across continents without sticking too much to our own representations. And is not that what theatre is all about? That I form, shape, and work on the character I want to play. To hold my avatar, and move it around the space, take it off, and then bring it in again. Fade it in and out or make it visible and big.