we were nowhere, then somewhere, then there we were!
"we r now[here]", my performance with NTU students in singapore, was presented at the opening of the Art of the Networked Practice symposium on 31 march - and went extremely well, despite a bumpy start. unbeknownst to me, the entire university network went down moments before we were due to start. i was blissfully unaware of this because at the same time the adobe connect platform crashed on me not once but twice, so instead of calmly preparing the last details i was frantically restarting adobe connect. while randall frantically sought network help, he instructed the students to use their data plans on their mobiles and begin anyway, since our online audience were not affected by the university's network problems. the show must go on!
when i managed to get back into adobe connect the performance was under way, with the students beginning their journeys from different parts of the building and interacting with the audience in the chat. scrolling back in the chat, i saw that the audience had wondered whether they could control which video stream was larger; ruth and marc, who were logged in as presenters, were able to do so and in fact were doing pretty much what i would have been doing at that point if i hadn't had to restart - they were "assisting" just as a good cyberformance audience does :)
so i caught my breath and started the soundscape - a prerecorded collage of footsteps, party crowd sounds and an ominous ticking clock. the students were also sending audio streams from their phones, but our earlier experiments had shown that live audio was unreliable, so the soundscape was intended to complement any live sound and support the structure of the piece. there were three distinct parts: first the students moved alone from a chosen starting point to the building's foyer, exploring the space with their camera along the way; they then converged in the foyer, revealing remnants of the function that had just taken place, and walked the same way that the proximal audience had recently walked from the foyer to the theatre space. for the third part, the students entered the theatre, bringing the online and physical spaces together; they explored the theatre audience with their cameras, the audience seeing a mulit-directional collage of themselves on the big screen. finally, the students turned their cameras onto their own faces for a parade of selfies and i played an upbeat 80s disco number that inspired some wild moves on the online dancefloor.
i had instructed the students not to show themselves until that final moment, to take their time and look for interesting things to focus on. due to the small screens of their phones they could not see the entire adobe connect interface, only their own camera, so they didn't know what the others were filming nor could they read the audience chat. having no on-screen distractions probably helped them to focus on their camera task, which they did exceptionally well. it was fascinating to see how often there appeared to be a dialogue between the images we were seeing, despite the fact that they were essentially working in isolation. they all kept the time very well, arriving at the foyer within a short space of time and coming to the theatre as a group.
the performance felt hypnotic and intriguing; the audience was placed in the position of the camera, an observer, seeing as if with the eyes of the camera operator and yet never seeing the person whose perspective they were experiencing - until the very end. this created a sense of mystery and curiousity - who were these people, where were they, and what would they show us next? the audience in singapore must have recognised the space as the students approached the theatre, if not before, and could perhaps anticipate that they would enter the theatre - whereas for the online audience it was quite a surprise to suddenly see another audience on the screen. there were comments in the chat about levels of meta performance and a request for the theatre audience to perform for the online audience.
"we r now[here]" forms part of the students' assessment, and as their critiques show it was a rich and enjoyable learning experience for them. for me, it was fun to work with randall and the students, and an interesting challenge to create something in adobe connect - a platform i hadn't previously used creatively. now - the symposium may be over but randall's work in the "third space" continues as he is editing recordings of all of the sessions, including our performance; here is a 13:33m edit of "we r now[here]".