A photograph of a snow covered paddock with four horses galloping through it. The pair of horses on the left are a light palomino colour, and the two on the right are dark brown. In the background, a pine forest and several snowy mountaintops rest peacefully.

Digital Survival and Reinvention:  Covid-Era Theatre, Pedagogy, and Spectatorship

Performances: VR Orpheus opera and the BMO Lab

Thursday, July 8, 2021 | 19:30 - 21:30

Live discussion on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event. 

Join Now in Room B

In response to the world-wide cancellation of in-person theatre, artists and drama educators have been challenged to stage their work on “socially distanced” platforms and to develop forms that speak meaningful within the digital frame and across the electronic chasms. This event will ask whether this digital turn represents a permanent change in mainstream theatre, and how will this impact access and representation? Will theatre companies and post-secondary institutions embrace or resist this evolution? What challenges and opportunities does it represent for theatre scholars and theatre audiences? After introductory remarks by Scott Mealey, the day will feature four consecutive panels discussion among scholars and artists, including “Digital Theatre: A Necessary Evolution” (moderated by Kirsty Segman), “Zoom Plays as Pedagogy” (moderated by Karen Fricker), “The Online Spectator: Exploring Digital Audiences’ Sense-making” (moderated by Kelsey Jacobson), and “The Pandemic Pivot: Artists, Audiences, and Adaptation” (moderated by Michelle MacArthur).

Pre-Event Demonstrations:

“Orpheus: Live From The Underworld” is a live-streamed musical experience that combines operatic performance, realtime motion capture, and computer animation to depict Orpheus' search for their beloved, Eurydice and their encounter with the ruler of the underworld. This performance has grown out of re:Naissance Opera’s recent project, OrpheusVR, a choose-your-own adventure Virtual Reality opera created for the Oculus Quest. Using similar digital creation techniques and tools, this project brings the mythological characters of OrpheusVR to life in a dynamic 2D format so all can participate in the storyworld via this innovative live-stream performance.

Looking past our present of digitally mediated theatre spectatorship, how can computers shape future modes of theatre and performance, including on the traditional stage? The University of Toronto’s BMO Lab in Arts, Performance, Emerging Technologies, and A.I. has been prototyping new forms of digital performance for years. In this demonstration, David Rokeby and Douglas Eacho will share the Lab’s current work on motion capture, spatial cueing, neural-net generation, and more. Though these tools are unpredictable, surreal images, sounds, and texts are a certainty. These experiments can then spark conversation about the relationship between performance and computation in a post-Zoom world.

Douglas Eacho is Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, CLTA at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. There, he also serves as the Assistant Director, Academic of the BMO Lab in Creative Research in the Arts, Performance, Emerging Technologies, and A.I. His research concerns the relationship between modern theatrical performance, technological development, and political economy. Currently he is writing his first book, Boxes of Glass: How Theatre Became Automatic, on attempts to automate performance production from surrealist automatism to digital light and sound control.