How technology is changing theatre

Theatre is a constantly changing organism that grows, develops and spurts off new ideas and techniques which get employed into theatre and performance. It’s something which constantly happens, time and time again. Most of the time we are quite unaware of the change as we, as theatre goers or as a wider society integrate our own life with the the changing developments.

At times these developments are subtle ones, they are techniques which we as audience members would never realise even happened. From all new acting techniques where the performer is developing their acting style in a new method, to a subtle change in the way the lights are focused in a show. Some things just go unnoticed but they are small revolutions within their own right within the theatre.

Yet technology seems to be something that at times we struggle to not ignore for it’s actually causing multiple eruptions of creativity and revolutions that are exceeding the subtlities of performance and instead are being the cause of theatre.

I recently came across this moment where I couldn’t ignore the use of technology in performance when I was pointed towards Fatebook, a fascinating project by New Paradise Laboratories. The concept behind this project is a collaboration through technology to blur the boundaries between realities. The characters of this piece are being developed online, in a virtual reality, all simultaneously. As an online viewer or ‘audience’ member you can witness the characters through a series of beautifully captured videos on selected themes [I recommend their ‘transit‘ theme]. You create snapshots of these characters, unsure as of yet where the links between them are. The project will climax when the virtual reality of the characters are brought into one space, in the ‘real world’ through a performance in a theatre space.

The use of the internet is being pushed into blurring the distinction between when a performance goes from a virtual reality into a theatrical reality. Of course the internet has always been an explosion of creativity for the arts, yet theatre has always been a challenging medium to explore virtually. Theatre’s themselves are quick to build their websites and engage with their audiences through social media techniques, but there has been little in pushing the use of performance into the internet and out the other side.

Take Shift Happens for example, a conference dedicated at exactly the use of technology, the internet and social networks and how theatre can adapt to this revolution. It is becoming more apparent that it is impossible for us as theatre makers, dwellers, audiences to ignore the on going revolutions which are blurring the boundaries between technology and theatre.

Whilst Katie Mitchell celebrated a triumphant talk of the town last year with her work exploring the relationship between media and theatre, notable in her production of Waves [2006/7] and …Some Traces Of Her [2008] at the National Theatre, there are many more revolutions of this sort happening in smaller places, by less well known companies. Yet the point is clear: If Mitchell can bring a revolution of technology into the National Theatre, then it is time for us to think more seriously about the way in which future productions are intergrating the use of technology.

We have already seen, and something which I myself partake in, is the use of Twitter to connect and engage with theatre enthusiasts. Yet theatre is also being created through Twitter. Take The New York Neo-Futurists who have developed the idea of creating plays through Twitter, sparking the Twitter Plays, each 140 characters long and on specific themes. They make an interesting read and can be found here. Technology is being directly used to actively create theatre, if a little absurd…

The outcome: As technologies are constantly being developed, and as theatre likewise advances in it’s development, so comes revolutions where creativity is merged with computers, and the internet. It’s about time we start taking more notice of these new approaches and begin to integrate them more into mainstream theatre themselves… or maybe we still have years to come before this happens?