Keywords: Audience, Bodily behaviours, Choreographic object, Choreography, Dynamic scenography, Enhanced environments, Interaction, Interactive system, Participation, Participatory mechanisms, Performance, Performance system, Scenographic object, Scenography, Spectators, Stage design, Theater

It has been thousands of years that stage performances have been presented. It might seems that everything has been done. However, the performing arts combined with state of the art technology are considered essential for the next generation of performative experiences. As it is widely accepted that the audience-performance dynamic is of utmost importance, this thesis aims at exploring the blending scenographic objects with audience’s bodily participation.

 

1. Introduction

This research is particularly related to the performative installation Locus which is a design project in progress, created in collaboration with my colleague Amanda Simo Rodriguez. Locus examines how human and non-human bodies are folded on stage, creating an alternative spatial experience in the context of a contemporary dance performance. The movement of the dancing bodies is oscillated between pre-designed choreography and improvisation, which creates an interactive relationship between the performer and scenographic environment.

As collaborators, we explore how a performance, based on an interactive system, creates a network of behaviours between the environment, a non-human body (the responsive choreographic object [1]), a performer and the audience. Questions it addresses are: How can a spatial environment be formed through body movement and contemporary performances? How can interactive, responsive and passive bodily behaviours be involved creatively in the context of choreographies?

In Locus the scenographic installation, performer and spectators are placed in the same spatial environment, collaboratively shaping and evolving their relation to each other. The performer dances within an interactive 360◦ stage environment. Without designated location for the audience, audience members participate actively as individuals and as a group through a nomadic [2] experience on the stage. Blending the boundaries between performer, audience, scenography and the space, the spectacle is perceived by the audience and performer on individual and collective level, from inside and outside. The audience and performers are sensing the space and the movements by the dancer, choreographic object and spectators as the basic parameters of interplay.

My personal field of research in the project concerns the issue of audience behaviour as an interactive parameter, specifically addressing the question: How might dynamic scenography using real-time systems invite an audience’s bodily participation in stage performances? The proposed performance event generated by Locus will be a collective creation based on a continuous evolution of human and non-human behaviour on the stage without being directed by a predetermined structure. Performance is underpinned by a technological design and an interactive performance system [3] redefining the spectacle’s experience.

Figure 1: Locus – Design Project, A. Venizelos & A. Simo, 2018

 

2. Participation

2.1 Definition

The field of performing arts contains a range of complex artistic practices that take place in front of an audience. Theatrical practices mesmerize audiences by combining harmoniously a variety of arts and techniques in their works. Nowadays, theatrical and choreographic performances are enhanced by physical or digital contexts so that the triptych, performer – spectacle audience is extended to include participation. In the arts context, participation is defined as a means of humanizing relationships between audience and performers (Schechner, 1994, p.60). It has been used as an artistic strategy for almost one hundred years, appearing in the movements of Dada and Futurism and continuing through Fluxus and ‘Networked Art’ (Green, 2010, p.85). The participants’ bidirectional relation is the most important development of the contemporary performances and it is strongly linked to spectacle experience. Alan Kaprow noted that the ideal participatory behaviour that is detected in people is ‘not normally engaged in the art of performance’ (Schechner, 1994, p.62), it keeps the natural interactivity meaningful. The vague ‘boundaries’ of realism and performance, performers and audience, spectators and spectacle, are common creative challenges.

In this thesis report the performances discussed, whether in specialized architectural spaces or in less conventional spaces, pursue audience activation. In Locus, a participatory audience contributes interactively and affects the performative result, both by creating spatial conditions and experiencing new bodily sensations.

2.2 Spectators’ community

The role of spectators has been analysed and examined from different perspectives and several researchers. Two of them are Richard Schechner and Cosmin Mihai Iatesen. These approaches converge towards a focus on the importance of audience’s presence to performances and the development of communication channels, as a part of collective experience. Currently, spectators, as a group, have already evolved into a kind of participatory members since they are adapting to this artistic event intentionally and becoming willing to experience the spectacle collectively with the performers. However, ‘our bodies were born to move, and we breathe and experience the world moving’ (Birringer, 2010, p.90). Turning back to Dionysian dances we detect the first authentic participatory fact of performative features. The ecstatic dances shaped primitive performances ‘round the fire’ (Martinidis, 1999, p.25). Following, these primeval rituals generated the first typologies of theatrical spaces such as the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus in Athenian Acropolis that is considered the world’s first theatre, and the Argos Theatre in Peloponnesus (Venizelos, 2015, pp.56-57) divided performers and audience. These spatial arrangements, in relevance with the perceived connection between audience and spectacle, are evident in all subsequent performance architecture. However, the character of the audience-performer community is formed in relation to the work. If the nature of the work changes, as is happening in some current performance practices, the relation between audience and spectacle is affected too. As such, a performance can offer privileged ground where spectators’ sub-communities can be motivated to participate both collectively and individually. ‘Even where audiences are more restrained, the manifest presence of an audience is clearly critical to the sense of liveness’ (Reeves et al., 2005, p.747). Nicolas Bourriaud argues that, according to the level of audience participation, the nature of the art-works, and models of sociability, a particular ‘domain of exchanges’ is generated (Bishop, 2006, p.162).

2.3 Importance of the participatory audiences in stage performances

Act and environment on a contemporary stage space functions as a visual expression ‘synthetizing the message perceived by the public, the receptor’ (Iatesen, 2014, p.226). A participant’s internal world is motivated by the speech, sound, and the narrative images which are presented to them on the stage. However, spectators are able to subvert predefined boundaries of conventional theatre not only through their reactions or feedback, but they are also able ‘to convert their own passivity into a renewed theatrical force’ (Papaioannou, 2014, p.166) if they are engaged actively in theatrical events. Thus, a performance is expanded if spectators’ participation ‘takes place precisely at the point where the performance breaks down’ (Schechner, 1994, p.40), thus turning this into a social event.

 

3. Participation Mechanisms

Performances are built through a creative process that is similar to that of the design of architectural spaces and the machines. The design is based on principals that have been applied previously but pursuing to suggest an authentic result. Additionally, when a design process is completed, the constructed product is delivered to the to residents and users that form their own behaviours relevant to the specific project. Likewise, any art piece and especially the performances are created for recipients, spectators’ group, that will develop their own unpredictable behaviours. The use of the terms ‘interactivity’ and ‘participation ‘in the contemporary artistic field imply that there is a ‘trend to break down the culturally determined distinctions’ (Green, 2010, p.85) between real life and art, affecting the bidirectional relation of audience and performers. However, this project asks whether interplay mechanisms can be formed and activated through the directors’ and scenographers’ visions?

3.1 Activating the audience perception for the stage spectacle

Any stage is designed to host and channel the vision of each performance to the audience, transforming its environment in a simulation mechanism that narrates the play meanings. Performers mark moments using their bodies in the scenographic space as ‘representational vehicles’ (Kirsh, 2010, p.2864). The narrative movements of the performers and stage objects within the stage space transmit these notions motivating the audiences to interpret the meaning of the theatrical event. However, the notion of space is approached by Deleuze and Guattari (1987) not through representation but through a division between intensive and extensive spaces [4]. These two kinds of spaces are related to the human identity. Extensive spaces refer to the boundaries that being outside of humans’ skin and shape the spatial frontiers and reference points into an environment. The intensive spaces are ‘well-defined spaces which are also inhabit but which are less familiar: these are zones of intensity [5]’ (DeLanda, 2005, p.1). According to Elizabeth Grosz, both are linked to ‘two oppositional forms of experience’ (Rubidge, 2011. p.8). This can be applied to the space of performance when audiences are not merely spectators.

3.2 Motivating the spectators

However, the spectators are not immersed completely in the performative world that is disclosed in front of them. Audience ‘can well distinguish’ (Birringer, 2010, p.90) and respond both, in the material environment and the projected world. The physical stage is a fixed and measurable spatial context surrounding the attendees. The spectacle and its space are perceived optically and thus determined by the constraints of the occupants’ visual perception. However, the narrative spaces, bodies and auditory relationships reflected in the mutating space also invite the audience to develop behavioural responses by following their sensorial experiences. Schechner detects that ‘first participation’ [6] (Schechner, 1994, p.44) occurs at the point when spectators feel free to enter the performance as equal bodies. In this context, spatiotemporal vectors of energy, connections of audience members and relation between participants and the materialized space are created through interaction between the three. Further, the stage action can ‘simultaneously be experienced intensively and extensively’ (Birringer, 2010, p.89). Here the audience’s interaction is analysed through both its ‘internal and external aspects’ (Venizelos, 2015, p.21) and its ‘immediate and reflective facets’ (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, p.609). Both of them influence significantly the public’s sense of being and perception. The ‘immediate’ facet is very important for the emergent qualities of participatory public. The ‘reflective’ facet is connected with spectators’ personal experiences which underly their participatory experience. These two facets are intimately connected to the whole aesthetic experience that unfolds during the act of participation in a performance event.

Nevertheless, it is not necessary for spectators to be actively involved in participation during a performance. Sometimes, if this is seen as a prospect they get nervous and react negatively. A kind of preparation seems important for the participatory performances to alleviate this nervousness. Mechanisms that serves this purpose devised early in theatrical history during the ancient Greek dramaturgy. The invitation to be involved occurred both bodily, since spectators ascend a hill to approach the theatre, and mentally, through the introductory speech before the performance started. The staged-designer Dries Verhoeven notes the importance of the audience’s training and the introduction of rules for their involvement before they ‘start to invest in it’ (Czirak, 2011, p.78).

3.3 Communication loop

In a performance event, a communication channel is generated between the performers and spectators. This varies in different forms of theatre. That said, Wayne McGregor notes that ‘you cannot be in the same space as another body and not feel a response’ (Leach, 2016, p.465), as each body in the space elicits responses from other bodies. Participants’ reactions are formed by their familiarity with the behaviours of other human bodies, societal morality codes, personal experiences and theatrical conventions. When discussing the site specific work Dionysus 69, Schechner argues ‘What the audience projected onto the play was matched by what the players projected back onto the audience‘ (Schechner, 1994, p.43). This communicational schema has been interpreted variously and the primitive relationship between the spectator and performer mutated during performing art’s history since the theatrical context tends to change. Due to this fact, through changes in architectural theatrical typologies and spatial divisions between the stage and the dark auditorium, active audience participation has been gradually reduced (after the Dionysian period) over the years. Nevertheless, recent practices aim at enhancing the spectators’ connection with the spectacle.

3.4 Corporeality and spatial experiences

The body and space are linked dynamically with each part of the body- environment schema completing the other through itself. From the beginning of humanity, space has been a corpus that hosts activities, and is considered ‘a product of a mental act’ by Aristotle and Descartes (Iatesen, 2014, p.223). Merleau-Ponty developed a theory which notes that the space is ‘intrinsically connected’ to perception (Capeto, 2015, p.2) based on the linking of sensory experiences and the humans’ intellect [7]. The experiential processes generated by the senses allow spatial orientation and facilitate memory, and the interactions between space and the human body formed by spatial, social, psychological and bodily parameters. Physical contexts designed either for performance events or for daily activities, are created in such a way as to host a heightened sense of corporeality combined with the choreography, or organisation of human bodies in space and time.

Dance is often presented as one of humankind’s fundamental forms of expression. Its rhythmic or arrhythmic body movements, commonly accompanied by music, involve emotions and interaction between people and the space around them. A crucial parameter in dance is the co-presence of audience and performers to develop a real-time relationship. According to an emergent idea in cognitive neuroscience, a fundamental aspect of human interaction is coordinated behaviour between two or more persons [8]. Attending a dance performance might require developing a similar way of observing movements, differently than observations of daily movements, one which involves entrainment between performers and spectators. Spectating constitutes analysing two levels. That is, one hand the ways that humans observe dance and on the other hand the ways that dance affects them through their cognitive and physiological dimensions (Bachrach et al., 2015, p. 4).

 

4. Synthesizing Interaction

Nowadays, creative teams search for visible and invisible spatial ‘guidelines’ in order to activate body movement and human behaviours during performances. These motivations are explored by design teams through a complementary architectonic choreography, ‘based on principles of organizing movement in space and time’ (Birringer, 2008, p. 118). As an architect Zaha Hadid wondered ‘why stick to one when there are 360 degrees’ (Birringer, 2010, p.210). For the design of a choreographic environment this seem like an ideal perspective. Thus, a participatory audience’s perception of extensive space can be simultaneously somatic and experiential, particularly when combined with motion, actual or virtual if the design facilitates it.

The design strategies which are used to trigger audience participation in interactive performances vary. Due to the complex productions conscript highly customised and particular technological equipment, while others present ‘simpler setups’ (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, p.609). The interactive systems can be classified as static or dynamic in according to the nature of their running loop, which can be linear, or closed. In dynamic systems, the running loop can be recognised as ‘recirculating or self-regulating’ (Green, 2010, p.86) which is based on self-adjusting features.

Past artistic movements and stage performances have been clearly influenced through technological innovations. The explorations which followed the growth of artistic expressions generated by industrial designers. For example, the projects of Vsevolod Meyerhold and Oskar Schlemmer have been impacted by machine aesthetics, Svoboda’s scenographic projects exhibited cinematic influences, Merce Cunningham’s choreography was affected by the computer and digital aesthetics.
Technology engraves a pathway for shaping performances freed from the traditional theatre and dance fields through the use of technological systems. ‘Two perspectives’ (Capeto, 2015, p.1) influence the generation of new performances. The first discloses interdisciplinarity of stage performances and the technological approach. Hybrid genres intersect dramaturgy and choreography with innovative stage design, film making and installation art. The second notes that the audience is engaged actively. Spectators perceive simultaneously different modes of communication loop and take part responsively to the challenges the work produces. The artistic production and the public’s reception are two distinct performative levels which progress according the creative team’s visions but ‘both represent the two sides of the same coin and are an important reflection of the cultural and social dynamics’ (Capeto, 2015, p.2) of the time.

Figure 2: Locus Prototype 2, May 2018

 

The project Locus is a complete concept based on the idea of a performance system which encourages the dialogue between the involved parties, the performer and the audience. The choreographic object has been designed as a unit which is controlled by a computer system. This platform collects data from a) the performer’s movement and b) the audience’s bodily behaviours on the stage, thus generating two sets of input data. The information is translated by the system as independent agents regarding the behaviour of the mechanical structure that creates the scenographic forms. Thus, a performative installation, dancers and spectators are agents and protagonists in a collective creation on the stage.

4.1 Reaction or Interaction?

The difference between the reaction of the audience’s group experience of the stage spectacle and authentic interaction is often blurred. A reactive system is predefined and based on a single feedback loop which is established between a self-regulating system and a human. Looking to computer engineering and our daily life makes this easy to understand. The mouse click is a recognisable action is captured by an input device and is turned into an intention so to be utilised by the system. The click is translated as the intention to a goal via the system’s output (window opening) and then the user proceeds determines the next action.

On the interactive side, ‘interactive cybernetic systems’ present dynamic features. They develop a dialogic relationship with the users and modify their goals based on the effect of the users’ action. Gordon Pask, an early proponent and practitioner of Cybernetics’ theory, noted that systems like these have ‘underspecified goals’ (Green, 2010, p.86) which can evolve in a similar manner to biological systems. Their running loop is a progressive process with possible input and output changes at all stages. An examination of the two parts of a dialogic system shows that each one measures the effect of the other adjusting its goal according to that of the other. As such reactive systems provide freedom for choices through a set of fixed potentials. In contrast, interactive systems are unfolded through dynamic loops to develop a kind of ‘conversation’ with us. Therefore, they enable mutual activity that allows participants to evolve simultaneously their system, building their ‘own sense of agency’ (Haque, 2007, p.61).

The Locus system can be analysed through reference to both linear and non-linear processes and reactive or interactive phases. The performer’s body initialises the performative process to initiate the dialogue with the physical structure. Reactivity is presented by the choreographic object which develops behaviour according to the input and runs predefined settings. The dancer is called to interact bodily with the object in terms of existing choreography or through adjustments made through improvisations. The perfect synchronisation on a linear base, without any improvisation, would reveal a reactive system operating between them.

However, the performance system could also tangle this simple communication channel by involving also the audience creatively. Spectators would be able to ‘interrupt’ the linear process set up in the performer object interaction and affect the behaviour (e.g. velocity) of the scenographic transformations effected by the scenographic object. By turning the audience into agents for the physical object’s behaviour, the bodily performance and the initial linear relation is redefined automatically on runtime. Although the response of the machine is detected as a reaction, the dynamic of audience participation increases the complexity of the performance system. The spectators’ ‘team’, as the third agent, automatically introduces the unpredictable and affects the choreography progress directly. The choreographic and spatial experience is therefore formed continually based on this dynamic interactive system and the three agents.

4.2 Designing the Spectators’ Experiences

Performance design in interactive performance and installation is closely linked with participatory mechanisms. The spectators’ experience is designed via a variety of interactive systems which aim to motivate audience’s in terms of performative action. Human computer interaction (HCI) systems form the new generation of technology for experiencing the spectacle. Nevertheless, an innovative approach is not cut off from pre-existing philosophies of semiotics and physical interplay between performing and observing bodies.

Three basic participatory rules, the outcome of a series of experimentations (e.g. by Schechner and Punchdrunk Theatre Company [9]), have been formulated through the years. Initially, the audience experiences a runtime situation in a living space. The act is completed provided that it occurs ‘in front of them’ (Schechner, 1994, p.78). The second one is related to the performers’ anticipations. If a performer invites the public to develop active behaviour, he must be prepared for an unpredictable positive or negative attitude both regarding acceptance of the invitation and the spectator’s reaction. Finally, the structure for participation can be established according a kind of ‘game plan’. This is flexible and adaptive to changing situations, and composed by a set of moves, rules and objectives.

Staged performances often involve a set of predefined activities, a type of ‘orchestration’ (Reeves et al., 2005, p.748) to orient smooth guidelines for the experience. Manipulations and effects of the orchestrators usually are formed through an awareness of effective manipulations on other participants. Their manipulations are hidden or effectively disguised to them but meanwhile are perceived by the public in order to sense the nature of the motivations for participating.

In cases that interaction is revealed in front of audiences, as in a stage show, artists’ manipulations and effects are intended to be more or less visible to the audience, with the interface formed by a variety of design strategies. These principles are classified in four categories, ‘secretive, expressive, magical, suspenseful’ (Reeves et al., 2005, p.745). Secretive interfaces keep hidden both manipulations and effects. This method aims at organising the participation moments and protecting the performer from interference of the audiences’ behaviours. Through expressive interfaces both manipulations and effects are revealed enabling the audience to learn by spectating and prepare themselves for their actions. The category of magical interfaces reveals the effects while the manipulations that caused them are kept hidden. Finally, suspenseful interfaces make apparent manipulations but keeps effects covered until the public takes its turn (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Design principals for spectators’ experience. (Retrieved from ‘Designing the spectator experience’, Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems)

 

Through analysis of these manipulations, the links between reactive or interactive systems and what Schchner calls ‘orthodox’ approaches to performance (Schechner, 1994, p.72) are detected. In orthodox theatrical performances, the creative circle is closed by a performer-audience system which discourages participation. The audience is excluded from the staged world, remaining in the position of observer. Additionally, ‘whatever happens on stage is already known by the actors’ (Schechner, 1994, p.72). Thus, the event is a linear or arranged process where the parameter of unexpected behaviour is minimised. For these reasons stage directors, architects, interaction designers, choreographers and performers face continual challenges related to the space, motion, interface and digital technology.

A deeper understanding of spectators’ participatory experience in interactive performances is identified by the qualities [10] of the audience’s engagement in the performance. Constitutive qualities (e.g. presential [11] and topological [12] messages) or are relevant to the connection between the participants and performance. Heterogeneous cultural and social backgrounds are reflected as they emerge through the interactions (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, pp.612-613). The Epistemic qualities (e.g. value-laden [13] or dramaturgical [14] messages) are referred to that audience members who come to know more about the world, about themselves and the others via observation and own embodied experiences during the spectacle (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, p.613). Critical qualities (e.g. social-political [15] and metacritical [16] messages) are related to the performance’s understanding and the way that values, norms, claims, hidden forces, norms, or power relationship are disclosed (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, pp.613-614). These qualities reveal parameters of audience participation that could be turned on though manipulations during a performance.

In Locus, some form of spectators’ introduction seems to be crucial, although ideally their freedom should be unlimited. Approaches that would help the audience members become aware of how they might participate intentionally, would be notification of the potential for interaction and probably the behaviours aggregating, by tracking individuals as groups, for ease of recognition by the system.

Figure 4: Locus Real Time system, Technical diagram, Prototype 3, August 2018

 

4.3 Dynamic of Real Time Systems: The next generation of performances

In the early 1960s, Roy Ascott advocated for a relationship between art and Cybernetics. He was interested in systems of communication, behavioural sciences, biological processes. Spectators got involved in his work physically by taking decisions so that the art work being ‘pivotal point between the two sets of behaviour’ (Green, 2010, p.86).

Nowadays, new technological tools are changing ‘the nature of creative process’ (Birringer, 2003, p.81) with many theatre and art projects pursue the aim of being interactive. Here, while a spectacle unfolds, a ‘co-constructive’ relation is developed between audience and performers. Nevertheless, the performance is fundamentally asymmetric because a partially pre-designed structure is followed by the artists, whereas audience just participates in this execution. Conversely, in cybernetic systems in which participants have agency to co-create the system, the creative practitioners can generate authentic interaction by designing systems which are in ‘a state of perpetual conversation’ (Green, 2010, p.87). For example, Glimmer [17] (2005), a composition for chamber orchestra, embeds audience in creative process in real-time. Video cameras, novelty light sticks, computer software, multi-coloured stand lights and projected video animation have been used for this performance system. A continual interactive feedback loop engages audience as musical collaborator ‘who do not just listen to the performances but actively shape it’ (Freeman, 2005, p.1).

4.4 Spectators’ Motion Capture and Behaviours

Turning to Locus, the supportive platform developed in Unity3D as a real time system collects bodily information from both the performer and the audience. The input data of participants spatial behaviour are analysed and visualised through the application’s algorithm. This platform bridges the communication between the digital model and physical object via robotic technology (Fig.5).

Initially, the performative object is used, in the context of a contemporary dance field, to develop a dialogue with the dancer in stage performance. The dancer’s choreography is tracked by a Kinect V2 sensor which detects combinations of body joints (e.g. Head – Hand – Knee). Platform runs the simulation code by comparing the joints’ position in the space and examines the object’s transformation that will applied (Fig.4).

 

Figure 5: Locus Platform and Prototype 2, A. Venizelos & A. Simo (2018). Retrieved from Archive of Design Project Locus.

However, the spectator’s bodily behaviour is also tracked giving extra input data which means that the audience becomes the third agent of the performance’s progress. Here the interactive system runs a loop, approaching the body as its start and end points. Continuous performer body’s detection and the audience’s spatial relation with the spectacle produce the physical object’s transformation and the dancer’s performance adaptation.

Although usually performers are the primary users of the interface, contemporary practices can tangle spectators’ interaction deliberately or accidentally [18]. There are varying techniques that aggregate spectator’s input data. Tracking methods range from voting systems, video tracking or motion detectors. This tracking generates choreographic processes that influence the stage experience. The captured movement ‘is abstracted, applied, and influenced through interaction design’ (Hansen and Morrison, 2014, p.29), and uncovers the audience’s hidden dynamic.

Figure 6: Common stage environment and participatory levels

 

The Locus performance is designed to be located in a Blackbox theatre. This is a ‘void’ space, as it is a flexible theatre without embellished spatial division of auditorium and stage. The closer relationship between the participants is not afforded so efficiently by other configurations as in the 360º ‘theatre in the round’. Locus uses the potentials of 360º configuration. The Grid Eye sensor is used as the spectator’s tracking tool which is used to capture the input data. The stage is divided, theoretically, in zones and the sensor analyses a tracked subarea recognising audience’s position and motion in relation to the performed spectacle located in the centre. Each subarea is connected to specific components of the scenographic object. The extracted values are examined comparatively, and they form the choreographic movement of the particular parts. The system examines Grid-Eye sensor’s values and augments the spectators’ experience. Input data about the presence and the nomadic behaviour in subareas are send to the system. The continual reshaping of the structure aspires to generate nomadic behaviour from the audience, and to help them to perceive the spectacle from different perspectives. The positional changes also aim to increase the interactivity and the spectator’s relocations in the subareas.

 

5. Space Composition

Any performance’s spatial environment is formed through the existing architectural context and the scenographical intervention. I define as an existing one, the stage or the actual place where audience and performers meet bodily. The stage’s transformation is determined as scenographical place. However, both are linked bidirectionally on the director’s and stage designer’s spatial vision. Their vision looks forward to performance’s atmosphere and the spectators’ activation. The space’s composition ‘brings events closer to the human soul; it creates the awareness, and complete the satisfaction of going through them, unveiling the interior aspect of the spirit’ (Iatesen, 2014, p.223). The stage is a Cartesian space [19], full of potentials for experimentations and unlimited transformations.

5.1 Importance of the scenography and the dynamic of the stage typologies

The atmosphere created on a stage is diffuse during the performances and awakes the audience’s senses. This activates the public emotionally. Atmosphere, as a tool, mentally transfers the spectators from the real world to the world of the performance that unfolds in front of them. The spectator detects ‘an encounter between the real space, that exists outside of oneself, and the inner or intimate space, constituted by the imagination’ (Capeto, 2015, p.2). This automatically makes the performative environments meaningful.

Stage typologies vary and each one has distinctive features which affect the performance design spatially. Any typology is analysed relevantly to a specific performance. However, the structure of the stage is an objective parameter during the creative process, since it affects the relation between audience and spectacle.

Locus is designed based on the philosophy of the theatre in the round. In this typology, the connection is developed between the participants is better than any other configuration. Here the performer’s movement is set in the centre and the spectacle’s energy diffuses in all directions. The closer connection with the spectacle infuses a sense of identification, participation and intimacy to the viewers. The space composed is subtractive, the scenographic components neither prevent the visual connection with everyone is located in the space nor observation of the spectacle. However, the space’s division into two sub-areas for audience and performers continue to exist. Possibly, this affects any participation mechanism negatively. The flexible typology of the blackbox theater could ideally enhance the Locus project. The open space is a common ground for the audiences’ community and performer to develop a collaborative performance.

5.2 Types of stage environments

The narrative environments in stage performances, ‘be they a singular space, an assembly of objects or devices’ (Weinstein, 2013, p.162), create dialogue between the performers and public. Moreover, the scenographic synthesis can be classified in different types. In this paper, as a way of understanding the stage’s mutability, five distinctive types for stage design are suggested: static, digital, transformative, complementary and enhanced.

Figure 7: And Who Shall Go To The Ball?, Candoco, Dance Company (2007). Retrieved from https://www.torstenneeland.com/new-gallery-15/

Static scenography is featured by the absence of transformations. Usually scenic design represents the reality to the stage, based on the semiotic theory [20] of theatre. It is a scenic image developed in the three-dimensional space. This is an ‘extensive space’ (Rubidge, 2012, p.7), and is related to the script or the performance’s atmosphere. It is a motionless environment, measurable and divisible spatially in subareas. An example of this type of scenography discussed in this section is Candoco’s And Who Shall Go To The Ball? [21] (2007).

 

Figure 8: Unknown Performance, Sphera Dance Company (2018). Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzxSSPlnows

 

The use of projections and video mapping techniques in Sphera Dance Company performance constitutes Digital scenography [22]. This introduces cinematographic frames or digital art to the Static environments. By turning the stage’s components into display surfaces, a digital environment is imported into the scenography to enrich the performance through a layer of animation layer. Through this an attractive spectacle is produced either through the synchronisation between visual art and performance on the stage or through the use of motion’s sensors.

Figure 9: The Upside Down, T. Williams and B. Tsien, (1990). Retrieved from http://twbta.com/work/elisa-monte.

 

Stage mutability generates Transformative environments based on the predefined synchronisation with the performance on the stage. Usually, these transformations, either of physical or digital scenography, happen for representational purposes and they express spatiotemporal changes. Here, ‘intensive spaces’ (Rubidge, 2012, pp.8-7) are activated via scenographic mutability to compose the new extensive spaces. These are non-material spaces that affect the performance’s atmosphere and spatial dimensions which are perceived by spectators. The Upside Down [23] (1990) by the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien is an example, of a Transformative environment (Fig.9).

In complementary scenography, stage design is released from simple representation. Space elements complete the performance as participative bodies. Here stage mutability is approached as a kind of stage behaviour combined with the performers’ movement.

Human and non-human bodies collaborate on the stage in the context of performance. Although, it can easily be confused with the previous category, the dynamic between scenographic objects and performers differs. In the complementary environments, performers interact bodily with scenographic components. However, any spatial conversion is realised either physically by the performers through a bodily interplay, or mechanically through a mechanically through a co-ordinated system. In Complementary scenography the scenographic environments develop choreographic behaviours and produce dynamic spaces. Directions, vectors, elements, textures and shifting are blended in a continuous interplay. The multidimensional environment that generated through this process is defined as an intensive space [24]. Frederic Flamand ‘s Truth 255x/Second [25] (2010) and William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing [26] (2000) are good examples of this (Fig 10).

 

Figure 10a: One Flat Thing, W. Forsythe (2000). Retrieved from https://synchronousobjects.osu.edu/.

Figure 10b: Truth 255x/Second, F. Flamand & A. Weiwei (2012).  Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlpDz9kolEs

 

Purpose-built interactive systems combined with the philosophy of complementary scenography produce Enhanced environments. These real-time systems are able to collect and analyse data from the performing environment at runtime to affect ‘future events within those environments’ (Green, 2010, p.85). This kind of hybrid environments, digital or physical, and such contemporary scenographic practices ‘can evoke forceful and beautiful combinatorics, fusions of the expressive and intuitive with the logical and cool computational circuitry, the subtle bodily rhythms with the brittle digital graphics’ (Birringer, 2010, pp.98-99). Two projects by Claire Bardainne & Adrien Mondot, Hakanaï [27] (2013) and Le Mouvement de l’Air [28] (2015), are based on the ideas of enhanced environments (Fig.11).

 

Figure 11a: Hakanaï, C. Bardainne & A. Mondot (2013). Available: https://vimeo.com/250592894

Figure 11b: Le Mouvement de l’Air, C. Bardainne & A. Mondot (2015). Available: https://vimeo.com/145201272 

 

5.3 Enhanced environments through Real – Time Systems for Choreographic experiences

‘The technology is a source of knowledge and reflection about how to enhance the relationship between body and space’ (Capeto, 2015, p.3). To date, four classes of environments have been developed involving choreographies: interactive, derived, immersive and networked environments (Birringer, 2003, p.91).

Systems that generate Interactive environments are equipped with sensors and motion trackers. Dance movements are translated via the system into signals into a computer program. The interaction platform set the controlled parameters and organises the relational architecture [29]. The usage of motion capture devices produces the Derived environments. These re-animate bodily movements and generate a kind of ‘mapping of the body’s experience’ (Birringer, 2003, p.93). Immersive environments can be real-world [30], or based on Virtual Reality. The body is integrated through stereoscopic devices in front of the eyes. Converts the polysensual movement into an illusion in a digital world. Networked environments allow the interaction in digital performances between two or more remoted bodies.

However, my collaborator and I focus on an interactive system’s design for live stage performances. The proposed choreographic object is oriented for a spectacle ‘outside of the digital world’ (Birringer, 2010, p.98). Locus is designed upon the ideas of a collaborative performance that allows performers and audience to synthesize and reshape the physical stage’s scenography. Kinetics art inspired the stage design for this interactive dance performance. The proposed mutable structure (Fig. 12) is based on the kinetics principles, and it can develop harmonious behaviours combined with the performer on stage. The interactive system (described on 4.3), applies the behavioural changes to the scenic structure. The movements’ understanding and the ‘properties and particularities of these data’ (Hansen and Morrison, 2014, p.29) are turned in design material.

Figure 12: Locus Prototype 3, 2018.

Transformations are achieved through a circuit developed on Arduino and the coding for six servo motors’ operation (Fig.14). The choreographic tempo whose structure is transformed differs if the interactive dialogue is between performer and object, or audience and object. The behavioural scenarios that respond to the performer’s motion are characterised by wavy movement. The behaviours that relate to the audience’s participation intensity increase the reshaping tempo.

Figure 13: Locus – Prototype 3. Design of kinetic system.

 

5.4 Audience’s amplified role

‘Authentic interaction is about co-creating’ (Green, 2010, p.86) and spectators are turned to agents in this performance’s context. Understanding the performance system and their potentials may increase the participating. The sense that performer and audience become ‘part of others in movement’ (Leach, 2016, p.464) is necessary for the perceiving and experiencing of this relational space. Therefore, calibration and experimentations are crucial to ensure communication pathways [31]. The interactive loop needs to be tested to form scenographic object’s responsive time, which helps audience to follow the developing interactive relationships.

Locus is designed to ‘break the monopoly performers and directors hold over the means of production, particularly a monopoly on knowing what is going to happen next (Schechner, 1994, p.83). The mutual influences of movement and the material environment in the context of the stage performance, which is the topic of my design thesis, generate continuous transformation of the extensive space. It is turned into a living choreographic environment via the interplay and networks between performer, audience and scenographic object on stage. The spectacle is perceived by the audience members as an individual and collective bodily experience based on Locus’s collaborative performance’s system.

 

6. Locus: Experimentations, Feedback and Efficiency

6.1 The experiments with the performer

The efficiency of Locus (Prototype 2, May 2018) has been tested in a series of experments involving improvised performance with a professional dancer. My collaborator and I asked the performer to improvise a choreography according to experimentations’ guidelines [32]. Then, her feedback was collected via a short interview. In this section, selected parts of the interview, related to this thesis topic, are presented verbatim.

6.1.2 The scenographic object inspires the choreography – Experiment 1: Feedback

In this experiment, we asked performer to improvise while the scenographic object unfolds behaviours on real time. A significant parameter is that the dancer had not come in visual and bodily touch with the stage structure previously. Experiment 1 disclosed how the bodily behaviour can be inspired by the object’s presence driving the artist to a continual improvisation.

‘When I came into it freely, my instant reaction was to understand the structure by embodying it in my own structure I guess. It’s quite interesting how the joints as there were a lot of them, they were all close together and I felt them as they would be in my body. I was trying to become that character and feel the same mechanism of moving. I felt it very interesting to kind of stick with, and the quality with which it moves is informing the way I should understand it or move with it.’ (Tia Hockey, Performer)

Figure 14: Experiments 1, 2, 3 – Locus Prototype 2, May 2018

 

6.2 Spectators’ presence and the redefinition of the performance – Experiment 4: Feedback

The performer’s experience was then augmented with the experiment with spectators. In this experiment, we asked two of our colleagues to join the experiment as audience members. This shed the light on how future audiences could affect the choreographic approach of the performer if dancer and audience share a common performative environment (Fig.16).

‘In this experience I was trying to think about the connection they were going to see and how I was going to guide that, whether I’d try to be more specific in my movement. So, I think for me, in my head, I was more trying to focus on this and take the information from what they were seeing. Whatever I was doing was going to affect their experience, so it added an extra thing in my own head while I performed it. It was quite interesting to respond to that and not just the structure. So maybe where they move or if their eyes were looking at some points, so they inform me. I was trying to find a connection between all of us.’ (Performer response)

6.2.1 Spectators’ experience

When these experiments were conducted the, interactive platform was not complete. The performance system had not progressed to being able to track audience behaviours, and the experiment was realised in a small space 12 square meters. However, participant colleagues’ comments after the fourth experiment reveal certain parameters in terms of the spectators’/audience reaction and bodily participation. The conversation revealed that a larger space could give a significant bodily flexibility to observe the performance from different distances. This assists in perceiving better the dialogue between the performer and the choreographic object.

Figure 15: Experiment 4, Locus Prototype 2, May 2018

 

The conversation with colleagues also revealed that a larger space could give a significant bodily flexibility to observe the performance from different distances. However, our colleagues underlined that they enjoyed the scenographic structure’s articulations and the way that it moves unpredictably. As the scenographic transformations look differently from each side, the spectacle can actually be evaluated while someone moves around. Additionally, they emphasised that if they had a specific ‘role’ in the performance it would probably be easier to participate. This will be tested in further experiments (See Section 7).

6.3 Interactive platform’s efficiency

Whilst testing the Locus interactive platform (Prototype 3a, June 2018), technical issues associated with the machine’s response time were detected and solved. Nevertheless, this kind of calibration is necessary and usually part of the process for improving the dialogic system. The last platform’s upgrade (Locus Prototype 3b, August 2018) introduced to the system data from the Grid-Eye sensor. Using this type of audience tracking, a specific subarea of the stage is examined continually. This process gives feedback about the public presence’s intensity in this side (Fig.17). Changes in spectators’ number in this occupied area affect the structure movement’s rhythm.

Figure 16: Locus Platform, August 2018

 

 

7. Future Research

This research embodies our initial intentions for a collaborative scenography. The audience is always an unpredictable agent in performances. Therefore, the field of the stage’s transformations through interactive systems should be investigated further through experimentations. When the technical design of this interactive platform is completed, my collaborator and I will proceed in live experimentations with larger number of spectators on stage to explore the participatory effects of the audience on the system. These experimentations will be formed based on axes that emerged through the literature review in this thesis. A series of five possible experiments exploring the dynamic of Locus performance system, are briefly presented below.

Figure 17: Potential Results – Future experiments 1,2,3 Grid-Eye sensor’s assumed values changes between two performance’s moments

 

On the assumption that the spectators’ group are the same for all the experiments. Experiment 1: will explore the audience’s reactions if the scenographic object is static (without choreographic behaviours). Experiment 2: will examine whether the spectators can develop a nomadic relationship with the spectacle, through observing the dialogue between performer and kinetic choreographic object from different perspectives. Experiment 3: In this context, a marked subarea will be revealed to the audience as the tracked zone for interactive participation with the transformative scenography. We expect to understand if this subarea helping us to divide the public in two main groups: Spectators with and without participatory mood (Fig.19). Experiment 4: In the previous experiment division, we can classify members into ‘active’ and ‘passive’. However, in this experiment we will ask spectators to choose a person from the ‘active’ members group. The task demands that the participant follows the specific spectator being always opposite to him spatially (Fig.19). We will explore whether this network could be a kind of manipulation for ‘passive’ spectators and if they can be driven indirectly to the tracked area. Experiment 5: Here the audience will be divided in three groups with different tasks (Fig.19). The scenographic object is programmed so that different selected parts can be transformed gradually. The first group will be guided by the transformations in the choreographic object. The task is to follow the parts which are moving, observing them from closest side. The next group will follow the first group but being always on the opposite side of the stage spatially. The third group is directed by the second one and its task is being to maintain a short distance between them.

We expect to examine how a complex network, between the three groups and the scenographic device, can turn spectators into choreographic bodies. In these experiments, the artist will reshape the performance through improvisations giving feedback for each experiment. These experiments will explore the dynamic of the designed performance system and some participatory mechanisms.

Figure 18: Future Experiments

 

Additionally, the advanced performance system could integrate the Augmented Reality Technology to enrich the audience visual perception. Digital augmentation of this scenographic fabrication or Locus stage environment, could introduce cinematographic techniques and effects in stage performances on real time. The audience amplifying involvement and the enhanced scenography might produce a dynamic philosophy for the next generation of stage performances.

 

8. Conclusion

Any spectacle on stage is formed by the performers, the audience, and the performative environment. Experience of performance is developed through the bidirectional relation between the performers and audience. As a performance unfolds, it seeks audience participation to complete its vision. In participatory performance, spectators contribute interactively and affect the performative result. To date a variety of participatory mechanisms have been used. These aim at generating communication channels between performers and spectators, activating audience perception and forming the motivations for participation.

Contemporary performances are released from the existing space by activating spectators bodily. The corporeality completes the perception and audience experiences the spectacle optically, mentally and spatially. The stage’s environments are formed scenographically where, everyone and everything come in contact. Nowadays, in performances, a variety of design strategies are used to trigger audience’s participation and shape the scenographical environments. In choreographic performances, movements and the bodily behaviours are the agents that form the performance. Technology and Interactive systems have already been and turned the spectacle into an enriched experience. Choreographic practices, scenic design and digital art are combined to form the stage via a complementary scenography. Enhanced environments integrate interactive systems and upgrade the spectacle’s visual and spatial dimension.

Complete performance systems based on the participatory and enhanced scenography could reshape the experience in choreography performances. The ideas regarding the role of the audience that rise throughout this thesis have been formulated creatively through Locus, a design project in progress. This explores, how human bodies and scenography object interact in a contemporary dance performance. The project examines the physical scenographical transformations that generated by the performer’s movements and spectator’s participation in stage performances. It is a collaborative performance, underpinned by Interactive system, that turned into a collective spatial experience. The aim is to find whether this kind of performance system could reveal new participatory mechanisms and affect the future of performance.

 

 

[1] Choreographic objects ‘extend beyond their objectness to become ecologies for complex environments that propose dynamic constellations of space, time and movement. These “objects” are in fact propositions co-constituted by the environments they make possible. They urge participation’ (Manning, 2009).

[2] Nomadic addresses the spectators’ position and mobility in stage performances and it expresses their bodily behaviour (Groot Nibbelink, 2015).

[3] Johannes Birringer refers to the convergence of movement design combined with coding, sound and video editing in interactive, real-time performance processing with the definition ‘performance system’ (Birringer, 2003, p. 81).

[4] ‘The concepts come from thermodynamics where they are defined not as a distinction between spaces but between magnitudes or quantities’(DeLanda, 2005, p1). Two intensive quantities with different degree of intensity (e.g. temperature, speed, pressure), when they are additive, produce an amount change with a new intensity that differs than the two previous. Qualities of bodily movements are changing like

[5]  Zones which are featured by sharp transitions of temperature (cold and warm fronts) or pressure (high and low).

[6] Richard Schechner is referred to the first moment of participation during performance.

[7] Space’s apprehension is ‘only possible because bodies are capable to spatialise themselves through the reasoning of sensory experience, for instance the understanding of depth thanks to visual information’ (Capeto, 2015, p.2)

[8] Coordinated behaviour is defined as the achievement of the attunement of one person’s rhythms to the rhythms of another, an entrainment. The notion of entrainment comes from physics to explain the phenomenon by which two rhythmic processes interact with each other so that they adjust themselves and eventually become rhythmically coupled. (Bachrach et al., 2015, p.4)

[9] The Punchdrunk theatre company uses principals of the Site-specific theater. The vague boundaries between audience and actors encourage each spectator ‘to find the ‘best’ possible way to walk around and experience the space and the performance’, as a collective creative process, rather than a ‘prohibitive’ action (Papaioannou, 2014, p.166). This nomadic experience of spectatorship, combined with the masks’ usage, aims to abolish the audience passive presence converting the spectators in participatory members.

[10] Teresa Ceratto – Pargman, Chiara Rossitto and Louise Barkhuus referred to the qualities in audience participation examining the ‘ADA FTW’ (RATS Theater, 2012). ‘ADA FTW is a play that has been broadcasted over internet. The audience shared their thoughts and views during the play through text messages and twitter. The things they wrote became a part of the scenography’ (Theater, 2015). Spectators’ messages have been classified by the three researchers to form the categories of qualities.

[11] Presential messages are ‘reflect the basic level at which audience members’ established themselves as participants in the interactive performance’ (e.g. ‘ Hi everybody’) (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, p.612).

[12] Topological are ‘those messages that can be seen as actions whereby audience members establish themselves in the performance by referring to the physical place’ (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, p.613).

[13] Value-laden messages are responses, in serious tone, to the questions that posed during the performance.

[14] Dramaturgical messages which related to what spectators know about the story being told through the performance (e.g. ‘How old is Ada?’).

[15] Social-political messages echoed audience understandings and concerns relevant to the current political and societal issues.

[16] Metacritical messages reflect spectators thinking about the ‘very mechanisms underlying audience participation and how social participation was being orchestrated during the performance’ (Cerratto-Pargman, Rossitto and Barkhuus, 2014, p.614).

[17] Glimmer, American Composers Orchestra, Music Director: Steven Sloane, Artistic Director: Robert Beaser, Conductor Laureate: Dennis Russell Davies, 2005, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York.

[18] ‘Accidental interaction may arise through unintended interference with sensing systems, perhaps most obviously a problem with video tracking where spectators can unintentionally interfere by moving into camera view, casting shadows or causing changes in ambient lighting’ (Reeves et al., 2005, p.747).

[19] Points compose a Cartesian space and define objects’ position into this in each moment. The Cartesian system provides spatial data like measurements and distances between involved bodies.

[20] The semiotic theory of theater defines that performance and stage are shaped by a set of signs that enhance the communicational scheme of ‘performer – spectacle – spectator’.

[21] And Who Shall Go To The Ball?, Candoco, Dance Company, Choreography: Rafael Bonachela, Stage Set Design: Torsten Neeland, Music Composer: Scott Walker, 2007, Queen Elizabeth Hall, United Kingdom (Fig. 7).

[22] In the performance by Sphera Dance Company (2018), dance and video-projections are perfectly synchronized, apparently influencing each other (Fig.8).

[23] An enormous folding wall that continually was changing position on the stage. It was reshaping the performer’s available space and audience’s perception, as its size was able to hide and to appear stage’s subareas. (Weinstein, 2013, p.163) (Fig.9).

[24 ]Intensive space operates through shifting qualities and potentials rather than visual points in the space. It is not featured as metrical or topographical space. This, intensive space, is experienced ‘haptically, kinaesthetically, experientially, rather than optically’ (Rubidge, 2012, p.7).

[25] ‘Truth 255x/Second’, Choreography: Frederic Flamand, Stage Set Design: Ai Weiwei, 2010. A harmonious performance by two adaptive and responsive ‘machines’, the body and space. The stage was formed by an interconnected net of ladders, occasionally linked with the body. (Fig.10b).

[26] ‘One Flat Thing’, Forsythe Company, Choreography: William Forsythe, 2000 (Fig.10a).

[27] Hakanaï, Conception and Scenography: Claire Bardainne & Adrien Mondot, 2013. The choreographed performance combines video projection mapping, CGI, and sensors. This scenographic installation responses dynamically to performer’s proximity and movements.

[28] Le Mouvement de l’Air, Conception and Scenography: Claire Bardainne & Adrien Mondot, Choreography: Yan Raballand, 2015. Digital artistry was generated and animated in real time, and original music was played live on stage.

[29] Relational architecture is a not-given space that consisting via the spatial geometries which bodies’ shifting generate. (Birringer, 2003, p.84)

[30] Susan Kozel / Gretchen Schiller Trajets, 1999-2007: Anthony Macdonald/Sarah Rubidge Sensuous Geographies (2003)

[31] Gordon Pask invented the communication pathways to propose a participatory network. These channels allow audience to influence the progress of a theatrical performance via a voting method in real time. (Pask, 1964)

[32] Experiment 1: Free movement of body + Object’s movement / Experiment 2: Movement of three joints: Foot, Opposite Hand and Head + Object’s movement / Experiment 3: Movement of three joints: Head, Neck, Hip + Object’s movement / Experiment 4: Free selection of three joints + Object’s movement + Audience (Fig. 15-16).

 

 

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