Drama & Dismemberment

by Alphaville Herald on 15/06/08 at 9:27 pm

Euripides’ The Bacchus and the future of SL theatre

by Night Morrisey

Agave sorts through a box of her butchered son’s body parts, cradling his severed head

I must admit… I approached the MUSOFYR Productions recent staging of Euripides’ The Baccus with serious skepticism. I’m a theatre major – a degree that left me spectacularly equipped for my original career as a waitress. All the same, I have devoted many of the best years of my life toiling devotedly in this most personal of art forms. Endless classes and workshops, readings and rehearsals, all in pursuit of that glorious moment where lights, music, and lines disappear, and it’s just real.

But theatre in Second Life? As much as I love the art form, I just wasn’t sure. Of course, through voice, actors could bring the lines to life. But in my mind, so much would be lost to the awkward bumblings and vacant stares of the avatars themselves, because the best AO’s in the metaverse still can’t come close to capturing the deep emotion and meaning held within a single human glance.

But the performance was surprising. Quite frankly, it worked. Not in the way I was used to, not in the way I had thought, but it worked nonetheless. And honestly…I can’t even completely say why. There was a power and profound resonance that caught me completely off guard. So in an attempt to get my head around this remarkable emerging art form, I met for a conversation with Director Phorkyad Acropolis. I hit him with the same tough questions I had before seeing the production, in the hopes that his answers would shed some light on why and how SL theatre works, and its potential for the future.

Night Morrisey: So in real life, you’re a theatre practitioner, teacher, dramatist…
Phorkyad Acropolis: yes and college professor
Phorkyad Acropolis: in place of teacher ;-)

Night Morrisey: so you are well acquainted with the profoundly human, relational struggle inherent in creating live drama…
Phorkyad Acropolis: I would say so

Night Morrisey: So what led you to try to recreate that in SL, an environment where the intimacy and immediacy that seem so central to the experience are just not possible?
Phorkyad Acropolis: I have been working with virtual performance for years…
Phorkyad Acropolis: and I keep encountering people who think that presence is not perceived in virtual environments
Phorkyad Acropolis: that you have to be face to face
Phorkyad Acropolis: and so we are looking at online performance to see if we can overcome that barrier and actually connect to the audience
Phorkyad Acropolis: with this show we were performing for an audience who didn’t interact with us until the very end
Phorkyad Acropolis: but I am considering allowing people to chat back at my next production….to see if interactivity can work.

Dionysus revealed

Night Morrisey: So what’s your experience of that conflict, that presupposition that a virtual world doesn’t afford the connection needed for theatre? Have you found it to be the case? And if not, how have you gotten around that challenge or experienced it differently?
Phorkyad Acropolis: Well, I think we do think avatars are PEOPLE
Phorkyad Acropolis: I wrote a chapter for a book coming out next year about performance in SL, and argued that if romantic relationships and friendships can happen in SL, maybe willing suspension of disbelief can ALSO happen in theatre
Phorkyad Acropolis: One woman who saw The Bacchae had her kids watch with her. Her son said in chat to me “Dionysus was bad! I didn’t like him!”
Phorkyad Acropolis: And others have found the vocal performances moving.
Phorkyad Acropolis: So while it is radio drama with puppet/avatars it is moving closer to real theatre–audience/actor interaction
Phorkyad Acropolis: maybe the interaction isn’t constant…sometimes my audiences aren’t very vocal…but in SL if they don’t leave, maybe they are paying attention–or we can assume they are.

Night Morrisey: In a world where entertainment is a click away, I think you can be sure that if people are staying its because they want to :)
Phorkyad Acropolis: Exactly…I have faked crashes to leave things I didn’t want to be rude and walk out of.
Night Morrisey: Hahahaaaaa!

Night Morrisey: You’re bad!
Phorkyad Acropolis: Well, I only fake CRASHES
Phorkyad Acropolis winks
Phorkyad Acropolis: But people not only stayed, we had surges of audience DURING

Night Morrisey: What was compelling to me was the audience reaction afterwards… and just how many wanted to stay and talk.
Phorkyad Acropolis: And they stayed to support friends, but also to engage intellectually in what they had seen – because we are doing something more than sexbeds and club dancing!
Phorkyad Acropolis: I think SL audiences get it–because they are already here, understand what we are doing, are part of the world.
Phorkyad Acropolis: At one of my RL conferences last year, one audience member at my panel said that he understood this other LIVE thing was theatre, but what I was talking about WASN’T.

Night Morrisey: So, what about your choice of subject matter? It could be argued that in establishing a new audience for a new art form, one might choose something more accessible than ancient Greek drama. Why did you choose that?
Phorkyad Acropolis: One of the things I tell my students is that I dislike most traditions, but I enjoy connecting to the traditions of theatre, which means a 2500 year history
Phorkyad Acropolis: and I wanted to select a pay I thought would work well in SL, and would have resonance for SL residents
Phorkyad Acropolis: so Dionysus wants to be recognized as a god–how many people in SL feel that way?
Night Morrisey: true, true
Phorkyad Acropolis: And so it is a play from 405BC, but perhaps the ideas have not changed. Also, I think Greek drama works when performed, and I have had some luck with it–some people don’t “get” how to stage Greek plays, which I think I do.
Phorkyad Acropolis: and the conventions of the day–fewer characters, chorus, entrances, large speeches–I thought it might work better than something more modern with much back and forth dialogue.
Phorkyad Acropolis: I know others are trying to do Shakespeare but I wanted to start – dare I say it?—simpler.

the cast lurk backstage, awaiting their entrances

Night Morrisey: So, what’s your vision for the future? Has the response been strong enough to begin to look more long-range? And what are the strengths in this new medium you’re looking to capitalize on?
Phorkyad Acropolis: Well my next show is a monologue, with one other person
Phorkyad Acropolis: I did it in RL, and we are bringing it to SL
Phorkyad Acropolis: We had planned on connecting via skype and using the stream, but I don’t like the delay – if people are commenting in typed chat, they are commenting on what I said in the past.
Phorkyad Acropolis: But if we can run his audio into live chat, and I can speak in chat, then we can be simultaneous with the audience.
Phorkyad Acropolis: Then if we invite them to leave mics on and laugh or respond, it could get interesting

Night Morrisey: Dangerous perhaps :)
Phorkyad Acropolis: We also talked about that last year–someone asked, well what if someone flies into your performance space during the show?
Phorkyad Acropolis: And it seems that people in SL emulate RL behaviors in such social situations.
Phorkyad Acropolis: Unless they would decide to heckle, they would probably watch and respond as expected following social norms.

Night Morrisey: Last question… you’re really doing something pretty ambitious and fresh. Looking forward, what do you dream can be?
Phorkyad Acropolis smiles
Phorkyad Acropolis: and smiles
Phorkyad Acropolis: I would like to be sitting here in a special suit, headset on my head, and as I move my arms and legs, my avatar does the same…
Phorkyad Acropolis: …when I stand up and walk, my avatar does the same… so I can ACT.
Night Morrisey: who knows… look at PONG, and we’ve come a long way, baby :)

6 Responses to “Drama & Dismemberment”

  1. Corona Anatine

    Jun 20th, 2008

    Interesting how culture in SL does not get a single comment

  2. pixeleen mistral

    Jun 20th, 2008

    no comment.

  3. Corona Anatine

    Jun 20th, 2008

    this was worthy of thoughtful comment

    I would like to be sitting here in a special suit, headset on my head, and as I move my arms and legs, my avatar does the same…
    Phorkyad Acropolis: …when I stand up and walk, my avatar does the same… so I can ACT.
    Night Morrisey: who knows… look at PONG, and we’ve come a long way, baby :)

    this sounds perfect – an no doupt will happen one day

    i do wonder though how a body suit would handle avatar sex – if the wearer chose the opposite biological gender

    such suits apparently already exist in Japan I think

  4. Saiyne

    Jun 20th, 2008

    Just goes to show how hard it is to get work as an actor.

    Looks interesting. But if he wants that “ultimate virtual reality” in order to act. How about, he acts in, oh I don’t know, real life? ;)

  5. Prokofy Neva

    Jun 20th, 2008

    Because it’s not SL culture, it’s RL culture.

    And once you think about Euripedes a little bit, you realize with all that dismemberment, he was the Second Life of his day.

  6. Enniv Zarf

    Jun 26th, 2008

    I’m sure he does act in REAL LIFE and in SECOND LIFE! The good production companies here in Second Life have actors who act in BOTH LIVES! I am working with actors who are working RL professionals on a national level. This is not some second rated venue where some random person off the street says I’m going to be an actor and then starts reading a part. Many of these actors have done and are still doing acting in real life. So do some homework become making comments that makes one look like a fool….[I'm directing the production of Twelfth Night with SL Shakespeare right now...hence the fool remark]

    Congrats Phorkyad! You are doing great work.

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