The Drax Files 24: let the virtual world be our stage

ART-logoThe 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?

The Avatar Repertory Theatre Company's reproduction of the Globe Theatre in Second Life
The Avatar Repertory Theatre Company’s reproduction of the Globe Theatre in Second Life

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.

Madame Thespian Underhill: "When people ask 'what's the purpose of doing theatre in virtual reality?' Well, we as human beings relate to each other by telling stories ... this is another avenue that has been opened-up to live storytelling
Madame Thespian Underhill: “When people ask ‘what’s the purpose of doing theatre in virtual reality?’ Well, we as human beings relate to each other by telling stories … this is another avenue that has been opened-up to live storytelling”

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.

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6 thoughts on “The Drax Files 24: let the virtual world be our stage

  1. Hello Inara Pey,

    I have an off topic question for you where I would like to know your ideas about.

    Would you think, or how would you think about when Second Life (or a similar service such as a grid or a new software application) would go back to the day and age where only prims exist in world. The time where everyone builds and is able to build and create again without creator classes like you have now.

    If you could would you vote yes to go back to that time?

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    1. It is a bit off-topic, yes.

      However, to answer your question: We can still build with prims today, so I don’t see any need to “go back” to anything in that regard because nothing has actually gone away.

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  2. Any can build any now in world, be mesh, sculpts or reg prims,
    yes the tools to create from reg prims, sculpts and now mesh, with a very low land impact in most cases, are not free, but they allow to build all inside world.
    I still believe LL should offer a tool to convert reg prims into mesh for free but well…

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post about Avatar Theatre. Beautifully written. Thanks.
    Jessie Darwin in Second Life

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