The 24th instalment of The Drax Files takes to the boards to bring us a story of the theatre, performing arts, Shakespeare, plays, stage adaptations and more, as offered to the virtual community through the remarkable folk at the Avatar Repertory Theatre (ART), the oldest and longest-running live theatre company in Second Life – and probably the metaverse as a whole, as we currently regard it today.
Storytelling has been a central part of humanity’s development since pre-historic times, and has fulfilled many role: as a means of preserving history, educating the young, providing cultural structure through mythological / religious tales, and, of course, as a source of entertainment.
As such, it’s really no surprise that theatre is an art form which we have brought with us into the virtual realms. Like the spoken word, as exemplified by the likes of the Seanchai Library, or the use of film to provide machinima and episodic series like The Blackened Mirror, live theatre is presented with many opportunities and advantages within virtual environments which are not so readily available in the physical world.
For one thing, virtual environments offer any incredibly cost-effective means of presenting a stage production. Where else, for example, can a repertory company with an interest in Shakespeare establish its own reproduction of London’s Globe Theatre in which to stage their performances? How else could they recreate scenes for a production that can completely surround and immerse the audience itself?
Then there’s the fact that the virtual medium has such a global reach, couple with a unique way of bringing people together. No longer is a company’s members or its audience constrained by geographic location, virtual reality truly makes a theatre production a world-spanning event.
These points are beautifully and engagingly made by MadameThespian Underhill, an actor / director with ART, and an actor in the physical world. Not that ART is made up entirely of professionals; another great power of the virtual is the way in which it forms a melting pot of creative talent, everyone working together equally to present a production to a live audience.
Through Madame Thespian’s eyes and words, we’re given an insight into the creative and technical complexities in bringing together a virtual world production which, as well as potentially offering greater immersive richness for the audience, present broader technical challenges for all involved – the actors, the backstage staff, the musicians, and so on. Actors, for example must bring together voice acting talents and controlled pupeetering of their avatars; gestures must be developed and tested, musicians must work to produce suitable pieces which can be pre-recorded and then added-in to productions at the required points, and so on and so forth.
The virtual realm perhaps offers one of the richest environments in which technologies such as facial expression translation, motion capture, immersive headsets and so on all have a real and far-reaching use. In short, it’s an ideal testing-ground for such capabilities, as Madame Thespian notes towards the end of the video.
More than that, taken together, live theatre and these emerging technologies offer audiences something even more unique and not so easy to be translated into the physical world – they could potentially become part of a production, fully immersed in what is happening, and even – to a degree – participating in in as extras. The Basilique Performing Arts Company, for example (the subject of the Drax Files #18), used scripted pupeetering and custom-made avatars to make the audience of Paradise Lost an integral part of the story.
There’s also a very human dimension here as well, growing out of the freedom of expression virtual environments like Second Life give to all of us. “I’m ageing out of most Shakespearian roles,” Madame Thespian notes. She continues:
But then again, in Second Life, I don’t have that problem, because we have these avatars that we can make look like anything we want them to be. That levels the playing field when we interact with each other. The value for older people, not only for actors, is wonderful! The ability to be able to, from your home, interact with other people from all over the world of other ages. You are being judged by what you say … the pure essence of who you are.
And that’s a powerful thought on which to close.
If you’d like to see the Avatar Repertory Theatre live, in addition to their scheduled productions, they offer an ongoing series entitled Plays Around, a kind of “open workshop in which the company performs a series of staged readings, monologues, drama and improvisation. Generally held at the company’s theatre, Plays Around takes place on Fridays at 17:00SLT, and members of the public are invited to come along and watch.
Coinciding wit the release of The Drax Files World Makers on Friday, November 21st, the ART company is hosting a special Plays Around event, Shakespeare By Request, which you can read about here.
- The Drax Files episode 24 on You Tube
- Avatar Repertory Theatre website
- ART New Theatre SLurl, Cookie
- The Drax Files World Makers in this blog