In partnership with the Stanford Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Departments
Department of Theater and Performance Studies
March 11-13, 2021
The emergence of COVID-19 complicated the way we perceive traditional theater. Many people doubted that live performance would last into the pandemic and to be quite honest, I was unsure myself. Many theater artists were being put out of practice and unable to find work as every performance space closed down to due to quarantine. I experienced it firsthand myself — over one year ago, the final performance of Everybody that I assistant directed at Stanford TAPS alongside director Michael Rau was cancelled due to reports of COVID-19 in the area.
When I heard that TAPS did not hesitate to adapt to this new virtual era, I knew I had to become involved. If any university theater department could address and integrate the intersection of theater, computers, engineering, and design, it was Stanford. I got my first taste of the amazing things TAPS could accomplish by participating in the cast of Beyond the Wound is a Portal in November 2020 where they worked on the development of live lighting and sound systems through Zoom. These tidbits of experimentation excited. When Professor Rau told me about the idea of StageCast, I thought of this as an opportunity to apply all my existing knowledge of virtual and in-person theater.
StageCast was an unbelievable process. After months of listening to crusty Zoom audio, hearing the clarity of the StageCast system was a breath of fresh air. Hearing to the performers overlap their dialogue and sing together without delay made me miss performing with ensembles so much. But that is the amazing thing: in less than a year of being in a pandemic, theatermakers and engineers are already able to surpass the issue of latency. Even once the pandemic is over, I hope that innovators continue building these systems so that one day, we can add digital performance to the list of major art mediums such as film and theater. If we try to emulate one or the other, we are avoiding the most important aspect of art: adaptability. Adaptability is the only way to survive creatively, and that is exactly what StageCast set out to accomplish. Adaptability is the ultimate test of open-minded artistry as it challenges people to take a risk and negotiate with ideas and structures that seem concrete.
The four short plays that we experimented with all framed themselves around the idea of the digital world, but you find yourself in so many environments within this virtual landscape. You saw a traditional Zoom call as friends support each other and a writer pitches her ideas to scattered executives. The unboxing emulated structures on YouTube but also makes you consider the real-time creation of such videos. We witness the projected attempt to return to normalcy when the digital era still somewhat rules our mentality. The ambiguity of the StageCast system enables us to see how our identities and bodies transcend normal physical barriers of "location" when we exist in the virtual world, and I allowed this notion to guide my role as an assistant director.
Adaptability is difficult, but I am optimistic that the arts community will continue to grow in extraordinary ways now that we have explored the intersection of performance and technology. I am so excited to see what the StageCast system will be used for in the future!