The ‘real-time’ Web is prime territory for artistic exploration. Its structure is defined, in part, by the applications/platforms that facilitate seamless, live communication using all digital media. Its constitution is forged by the individual and the personal narratives that s/he creates as the sum of activities across these platforms. Each “activity” is recordable, reproducable and forms a digital ‘artefact’. Combined, these artefacts constitute the basis of an emerging culture – borderless, transient and democratised.

Theatre practice remains strongly rooted in the physical world, but the impact of the real-time Web on the infrastructure of theatre is undeniable. It is changing the way we encounter theatre, the way we learn and talk about it, and it has given rise to new exploratory practice. Performance in virtual online envrionments goes back to the beginning of the Internet (and beyond), but only in the past few years with the Web 2.0 paradigm has it become viable to produce live online performances for live online audiences.

Curious to find out more about the possibilities of performance in this context, I spoke to two artists from The Netherlands about their work with theatre in Second Life (hereafter SL). SL is one of the Web’s largest 3D virtual worlds, built to a great extent by its users who interact and socialize via personal avatars. Joyce Timmerman is a member of the Amsterdam based theatre company Slapelozen. She has a personal interest in SL and sometimes uses it in her creative work. Ze Moo is an “information-artist” and (live)media-expert/consultant based in The Netherlands and in Cyberspace.

Second Life
Second Life Logo

Andrew Eglinton (AE): Thank you both for taking the time to participate in this online discussion. The aim is to try and paint a picture of what ‘theatre’ in a virtual online environment such as SL might consist of and to find out what some of the implications are for ‘real world’ theatre.

I understand that you’ve both been involved in a particular project that brought live performances in SL to an audience in a venue in Amsterdam. I’d like to start by asking you both to outline the event so that we have a common ground for this discussion.

Ze Moo: First of all, I should point out that Joyce and I met in SL. We share a mutual interest in the field of theatre, and I mean ‘theatre’ in the broadest possible sense of the term. I co-organized the ‘Live Machinima Theatre’ event on August 30th 2008 in Amsterdam in collaboration with the grassroots art & technology lab ‘Meta.Live.Nu‘. Joyce was an essential member of the production team. The show you’re referring to was called Goodbye Dollar. It took place in SL and it fused musical theatre, performance art, stand up comedy and experimental cinema.

Joyce: In Goodbye Dollar, the ‘real’ or physical audience watched the SL performances on a screen in an auditorium in Amsterdam – the venue was De Balie, it’s well known for housing experimental art work. There were numerous acts in Goodbye Dollar by artists from around the world and the SL medium provided the possibility for audiences to interact with the artists.

AE: Interact? In what sense?

Ze Moo: Some audience members had laptop computers and were connected to SL so they could use text or audio chat.

AE: So the audience was split between people in the physical space at De Balie and people logged into SL from around the world, what about the cast and crew?

Ze Moo: The night was divided into time slots and the artists were responsible for the content of each slot. All artists were operating from home, or in studios. In terms of the crew, there was a production team present at De Balie.

AE: What did the production team do?

Ze Moo: The production team (of which Joyce was a part) had to coordinate the programming and facilitate the various technologies used in the event. I directed the whole night at De Balie like a TV channel showing different ‘programmes’ in real time. But for those accessing the event remotely and not logged into SL there was also a live TV stream broadcast on the Web. So we had multiple streams of media running in parallel.

<em>Goodbye Dollar</em> Event viewed from inside De Balie
Goodbye Dollar Event viewed from inside De Balie

AE: Let’s move on and talk about the role of the artists. Could I ask both of you to choose one particular artist involved in Goodbye Dollar and describe a particular performance? Starting with Joyce?

Joyce: I’ll talk about the stand-up comedian Lauren Weyland and her show “LaurenLive: The Dollar Undone”. What you saw on a virtual stage in SL was the avatar of a pretty girl combined with Lauren’s deep masculine voice, cracking sexist jokes about men.

Lauren’s performances are all about playing with gender identity and stereotypes. You see the graphic image of a woman but hear the physical voice of a man so you’re always conscious about both levels: the physicality of the actor and the virtual avatar he uses.

The strange thing is of course that as a stand up comedian you are very aware of your audience’s reactions, their laughter, their silence etc., but in SL it’s different. People react and laugh, but you cannot see their faces, you can only hear those logged into SL who use audio headsets.

Ze Moo: Large parts of audiences at Lauren’s performances always use microphone headsets so it’s possible to hear real laughter and comments in real-time about Lauren’s material.

Joyce: This can create a strange effect at times and it’s one of the areas that needs working on if virtual theatre is going to improve in the future. I’d like to be able to see the facial expressions of both the actors and the audience.

Performance by Lauren Weyland - Live at Hobo Island 2 in Second Life

AE: Would it be possible to see everyone involved in the performance simultaneously?

Ze Moo: Not at the moment in SL, but it will be possible in the future I am quite sure. People can already project their webcam faces onto their avatars. There have been numerous experiments with that, but technically speaking it’s still at an embryonic stage.

AE: Could you clarify what an avatar is in the context of SL?

Joyce: The avatar is the ‘doll’ you walk around with in SL, you create it yourself by selecting your own appearance, gender, skin colour, shape etc., and you can even become a beast if you want to. This opens up a new range of possibilities for transformation, both for the actors and the audience. In the theatre, you need to use your imagination when it comes to seeing actors perform complex roles. In SL that transformation is immediate and seamless.

AE: So the SL audience no longer needs to suspend its disbelief?

Ze Moo: Virtual theatre is more immersive, like being part of a live, interactive movie.

Joyce: Yes, it is like cinema. More is possible, so as an audience we might expect more; when I see a beast on stage I can accept that it’s an actor who delivers the roar…but in a movie I want to see the beast in all its three dimensional ferocity!

Ze Moo: But imagination definitely still plays a role and in my view the stimulation of the brain in SL with all kinds of visual illusions can be an even more intense experience.

Joyce: Imagination is an interesting aspect of SL right now; everything is possible, but we still tend towards reality. There are artists now who are changing that in SL they are exploring ways of stimulating their audiences’ imagination.

AE: Are the artists beginning to develop a ‘vocabulary’ of performance that is specific to the context of SL?

Joyce: Yes, I think so.

Ze Moo: The ‘Bunnyken’ were created specifically for performance in SL by Arthole in a piece called Orientation. Arthole is a US/Brit art collective who use SL as their main medium.

AE: Was this also part of Goodbye Dollar?

Ze Moo: Yes Arthole performed at the Goodbye Dollar event. They were one of the top art collectives in 2008 to use SL as a medium of expression.

AE: Could you describe their performance in more detail?

Ze Moo: It began in the SL reception area that Arthole had created. The audience was instructed to gather in this space before being told to swap their regular avatars for ‘Bunnyken’ creatures.

Bunnyken in performance
Bunnyken in performance Orientation by Arthole

The Arthole members ushered the audience, now dressed in Bunnyken avatars, around the performance space. Don’t forget that this was being observed on the big white De Balie cinema screen in Amsterdam. And since some people in the auditorium had laptops, they were able to participate as Bunnyken.

AE: So an audience watching an audience?

Ze Moo: Yes. In the SL performance, the audience were made to sit in rows in an amphitheatre. They had to listen to strange alien-like speeches; the whole thing had an Orwellian feel to it. There was an atmosphere of intimidation, of control and the speeches were a form of ‘white noise’. Amazingly, most of the SL audience went along with this and did what they were told to do. In the end they arrived in a type of factory where they were made into a sort of pink mud food.

AE: Right…I see. What was the ultimate direction of the piece? Were Arthole working towards a particular outcome?

Ze Moo: A machinima was produced from it a week later (the event was projected on a live Web video stream as I mentioned earlier). Seeing it live on the large auditorium screen was far more impressive than the YouTube viewing experience.

machinima: ORIENTATION by Arahan Claveau & Nebulosus Severine of Arthole.

AE: What makes you say that?

Ze Moo: It was the thrill of being there combined with having the option to interact in real time. My aim as director of the experimental ‘live-cross-reality‘ art section of Goodbye Dollar was to try and bridge theatre and film in a way that has not been done before, while at the same time exploring the boundaries of art, media and technology.

AE: Thank you for sharing your accounts of the two performances. Your last point Ze Moo, on bridging theatre and film segues nicely into the last two themes I want to pick up on: ‘liveness’ and interaction. Starting with liveness I’d like to get a sense from both of you of what it was like to be a spectator at this event. Did you feel part of a community in the De Balie auditorium?

Joyce: For me, there was more a sense of community online than in the auditorium, simply because by nature of the virtual environment there was more potential to interact and participate as a virtual audience member then a physical one.

AE: Could you give some concrete examples of interaction?

Joyce: So in the comedy show I mentioned, Lauren Weyland could hear you laugh or speak if you were online. Also, every performance throughout the evening took place in a different SL location; so you had to ‘teleport’ yourself (avatar) to a destination. This act of teleportation engages the audience from the start. Then there was another performance in which the audience could help build a giant tower.

Ze Moo: Interaction options in SL consist of: text chat, voice chat, individualized avatar shape, looks (fashion) & animations (body language). And also: building (aka ‘rezzing’), moving, altering objects and backdrops and environmental sounds. This adds a whole new ‘live narrative’ (non-verbal) layer to communications, that thus far hasn’t been humanly possible.

AE: I’m curious about Joyce’s teleporting. What’s so special about it?

Joyce: Well usually you don’t teleport in such large numbers in SL. Walking in the SL environment is often a solitary thing. But as a group there’s a sense of community just by walking together. It’s very much the same phenomenon you experience in a real life installation or promenade performance.

AE: Thinking about the audience in the auditorium, to what extent would you have to be knowledgeable about SL to appreciate the whole event?

Ze Moo: Good question.

Joyce: SL users got more out of it I think. For audience members who weren’t familiar with SL there was a narrator in the auditorium who provided voice over commentary and explained what was going on. There were also volunteers present, explaining the event on a person-to-person basis.

AE: One final question. How important was it from the production side of the event to create a ‘streamlined’ show? Presumably there were many stops and starts for technical reasons?

Joyce: Actually, it was surprsingly smooth, but Moo was incredibly busy!

Ze Moo: We were all very busy. Getting everyone in the right place at the right time took a tremendous amount of effort. We prepared several months in advance for the event and worked to a tight schedule. In the end it all went much smoother than I had expected. The only serious technical failure was in the video documentation of the event. But I don’t believe it would be possible to completely document/archive such an extensive interactive live experience anyway. That is why we concentrated more on preparing the live event itself. We are doing the same for one of our largest upcoming events of the year: The ElectroSmog Festival in Autumn 2010.

AE: Thank you both very much indeed for your time this evening. It has been a fascinating discussion. I have many more questions to ask and I hope there will be another occasion to explore this further.

25 Responses to “Theatre In Second Life”

  1. Lauren Weyland

    2009-02-18T10:36:01+00:00

    Ha, so you think I’m a guy? Just joking. SL is a wonderful medium for many reasons. One of which is the ability to be judged on talent and not looks. Another is to reach such a vast geographical audience. And finally the big money, Linden dollars. Thank you so much Ze, Joyce and all of you for the opportunity to have been a part of this.

  2. Andrew Eglinton

    2009-02-18T14:30:12+00:00

    Lauren, thanks very much for stopping by. It’s great to have one of the performers present. I’d love to know more about how the stand-up rountine works – just in practical terms. Presumably you are at home when you perform live in SL right? So how do you engage with your audience without being able to see them?

    Are there any comedic devices you have created that are specific to performance in SL? And do you perform in the phyiscal world too? If so do you carry any of the SL performance traits over to the physical world performances? It would be great if you could tell us a little bit about your experience. Thanks.

    • Lauren Weyland

      2009-02-18T15:17:16+00:00

      What I do I could not do in what I call FirstLife since my entire life is REAL. In FL (firstlife) you’ve had Milton Berle, Dustin Hoffman, Flip Wilson etc….men as unattractive women which in itself is demeaning to women. But, as I once said to a crowd, “I am the voice of all women.” and someone in the audience answered, “And again it’s a man.” So whatever I say here has the limitations of not having ‘ovaries’.

      The show came about for two reasons. First, I was already a woman in SL and Thinkerer (SL’er) was interested in creating improv comedy in SL. Voice in SL didn’t exist yet but it was coming. We were talking in “Team Speak” while in world (SL) and Think, Geo and I were bouncing ideas when I stopped, laughed and said, “You guys are looking up my skirt?” And they were. And then I knew I had a show.

      What I didn’t realize was how I would be so accepted by audience and friends (about 80% women). For several months I did my show in voice stream. No audience audio feedback but lots of chat answers. But stream back then was delayed nearly 30 seconds so there was no way to stop and let the audience laugh..Important in comedy.

      Comedy is the hardest of all entertainments in the MetaVerse. Live music is oftern recorded and then the performer just speaks between songs. Also musicians can have a group of songs and hardly ever have to add anything. And finally they are very well paid in SL terms.

      So, when SL voice (real time) came I was the first to perform using it. A few people would leave there mic open and I knew where they laugh. But most shows people just type in chat. However, I read the chat as I perform and there is no delay so I have some feelings of the audience.

      I write all my shows (in the beginning I worked with a woman Jane) and many ideas come from my women friends. I need to make each show different and carry a few jokes back and forth. But interaction is integral to success and I can’t do many shows (like other entertainment. dj’s, musicians etc.) or I’d be stale.

      So, I engage the audience by talking to them. I see their names or see them say something in chat. I’ve done over 100 shows so far in front of all types of Metaverse audiences. From as few as 17 to as many as over 300. I love having this little career and I was honored that Ze and Joyce let me perform and CallieDel who intorduced me to them.

      I know this has been a long answer but if you want more depth let me know. Also some of my work can be googled under “lauren.weyland” from earliest recorded by blip.tv (Meterverse.TV) to the latest by Chantal Harvey. Also Geo Meek and Thinkerer Melville have recorded shows.

      Finally, I’ve been involved in other theater productions in SL with Rekka Berchot of Ivy Falls and Marin Mielziner of Act-Up. With two blockbuster shows “In The Pink” (in cooperation with Eve Ensler’s V-Day.org) and MidSummer Night’s Dream which Rekka designed and built the sets and produced with Ivy Falls and Act-Up produced with Marin Mielziner directing. And with poetry at the Blue Angel run by Persephone. Also, “Some Like It Hot,” erotic poetry run by Skylar Smythe. (I can’t say everyone’s name but I would like the thank the alphabet for supplying with names for my friends)

      • Lauren

        2009-02-18T16:27:27+00:00

        one more comment….the show was NEVER….”Woman With Balls”. I do not think of myself in SL that way and it would be sexist. In order to understand my show just think of me as a woman with a deep voice. I tried to explain that in the other comment but failed. Milton Berle etc. were men as women.

        • Andrew Eglinton

          2009-02-19T08:48:57+00:00

          My apologies for the discrepancy in the title of your show. I’ve changed it now to reflect the proper wording.

  3. Dusan Writer’s Metaverse » Live Theater in Second Life

    2009-02-26T07:05:14+00:00

    […] arranged an interview with Joyce Timmerman and Ze Moo, who co-organized the ‘Live Machinima Theatre’ which took place […]

  4. Steve Millar

    2009-03-04T15:51:54+00:00

    Hi Andrew,

    Ze Moo just alerted me to this article.

    ‘Orientation’ was the first time Arthole tackled live performance in Second Life and we were unsure if it would work in the way we hoped. None of the participants knew in advance why they had been invited or what was going to happen, this was crucial in getting everyone to play along with it. We wanted to give them an experience that was immersive, surprising and unique, something that is quite rare in the often predictable world of Second Life.

    I used my skills in filmmaking and sound design and worked with my partner Nebulosus to come up with the concept and make it a (un)reality. It was a very rewarding collaboration and took a huge amount of planning and coordination to pull-off, fortunately all the elements came together really well on the day and everyone that attended seemed to have the experience we had planned so carefully for.

    Artist and critic Amy Wilson was one of the participants and she wrote this review which might interest you –
    http://amyfreelunch.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/orientation-by-nebulosus-severine-and-arahan-claveau

    Much thanks,

    Steve Millar (aka Arahan Claveau / Arthole)

  5. Stephen Pitchers

    2009-04-15T08:11:24+00:00

    Fascinating article and a really intriguing event. I just wonder how affective a performance can be when its audience is dislocated and separated. It says that for ‘Goodbye Dollar’ there was a mixture of interacting and non-interacting audience members, I would be interested to hear if there were differences between how these two groups received the event. Is this a type of cyber-promenade and depends upon the audience following and being led into the performance? Does the interaction become the essential element to performance or the extra luxury?

    Seems like the problems or slight hindrances that hold this back from being a fully realised performance is the technology. It seems to be teasing at the idea that we can pretend we’re in a comedy club when we’re actually at our computer. If the premise of the performance is pretence, and perfecting it to become as close to real-life as possible, is this not a step back from what performance can be? It would be interesting to see if there is material which can flourish with this type of performance. Maybe theatre that would normally be restricted or limited by its location?

    • ZeMoo

      2009-04-17T09:52:14+00:00

      @Lauren, @ Steve: Cheers for your replies here!

      @ Stephen: Thanks for some good questions! They get me thinking…

      @Andrew: Thanks for the notice about Stephens reply.

      Stephens asked: “is this not a step back from what performance can be?”

      No, I don’t really see it that way. I would rather perceive this from the other ‘end’: It could be a step beyond the present limitations of platforms like cinema, television and the ‘interpassive’ web… So, coming from those media, it actually might be a step closer to what (live) performance could be!

      About your other questions: I have to think a bit more about those. How rethorical they really are and how to phrase answers in the best way with my somehow limited skill of the english language…

  6. Ze Moo

    2009-08-21T17:35:00+00:00

    UPDATE:
    The ElectroSmog Festival is postponed to spring 2011. More details will appear at http://www.ElectroSmogFestival.net and http://Meta.Live.Nu

    However, the latest news is there is possibly (depending on available budgets) gonna be another Live Machinima Theatre show at the IAFF ( International Amsterdam Film Festival) 8-11 october 2009

    Confirmation of this will appear at http://IAFF.nl and http://Meta.Live.Nu

    • ZeMoo

      2009-09-22T11:59:45+00:00

      Correction: The ElectroSmog Festival is going to be in spring 2010. (it was planned autumn 2009)

      And a Live Machinima Theatre show at the IAFF 2009 is not going to happen unfortunately, because of budget /space limitations.

  7. Nice Video Game Voice Clips photos | Funny Commercials

    2011-03-24T21:23:52+00:00

    […] metalive.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/goodbyedollar londontheatreblog.co.uk / Theater in Second Life Meta.Live.Nu Photo Viola van Alphen […]

  8. Club Goodbye Dollar IMG_1110 | StuffLive.net

    2011-03-26T07:27:26+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  9. Week 4 Elluminate Session | 23ThingsNT4me

    2011-03-27T22:24:11+00:00

    […] And the London Theatre..in Second Life…read on here…. […]

  10. Nice Video Game Voice Clips photos | Funny Pictures, Comics, and Cartoons

    2011-04-07T17:17:14+00:00

    […] metalive.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/goodbyedollar londontheatreblog.co.uk / Theater in Second Life Meta.Live.Nu Photo Viola van Alphen […]

  11. Nice Role Playing Sex Game photos | Role Playing

    2011-04-14T06:43:40+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  12. Cool Role Playing Games Sex images | Role Playing

    2011-05-04T16:19:09+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  13. New Media as Performance by Emily Ball Cicchini | HowlRound

    2012-01-18T20:11:11+00:00

    […] activity, even ongoing companies and acting classes, with avatars in the virtual worlds of Second Life. And like a fine art e-book, a top-rated iPad app of 2011 is a very imaginative hybrid […]

  14. Club Goodbye Dollar IMG_1110 | Streaming movies, sports, television

    2012-01-30T17:24:30+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  15. Nice Play Sims photos | SIMS Free Download

    2012-02-24T21:35:57+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  16. Club Goodbye Dollar IMG_1110 | FM Dallas

    2012-12-22T19:18:40+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  17. Doug

    2013-02-23T13:09:36+00:00

    I have had groups do some of my plays in Second Life and I helped but together a production. It was quite fun and we brought people together from a remote communities in Idaho, Washington and New Mexico.

  18. exteme.info » Club Goodbye Dollar IMG_1101

    2013-12-18T12:34:03+00:00

    […] londontheatreblog.co.uk/theatre-in-second-life […]

  19. prince of persia

    2014-05-11T21:51:42+00:00

    prince of persia…

    Theatre In Second Life | London Theatre Blog…

Comments are closed.