The Performance Space (Performance)

Of all the different ways of interpreting this concept, perhaps the most immediately practical application of digital tools is the widespread use of CAD (computer aided design) packages to assist designers with visualizing performance spaces prior to the costly task of purchasing materials and paying for construction costs. Borrowed originally from the engineering and architectural sectors, commercial packages such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks and Vectorworks are all sophisticated fully featured 2D and 3D spatial and object design systems. QCAD (Community Edition) from Ribbonsoft offers an open source software alternative for 2D design whilst Google Sketchup is a user-friendly freeware option for producing quick and easy 3D representations with zoom, orbit and pan functions. The Google Sketchup Pro version provides export options that interface with other commercial CAD packages but this package incurs a purchase cost. Fig.2 represents an illustrative example of the type of scale model that could (after a short process of familiarisation with the online tutorials) be put together in a matter of minutes using the basic Google Sketchup toolset.

Fig. 2 Illustrative basic spatial design, taken from a Google Sketchup tutorial pageFig. 2 Illustrative basic spatial design, taken from a Google Sketchup tutorial page

The principle of designing highly plausible three-dimensional spaces informs the research of groups who are interested in recreating historical performance venues. One of the principle centres of this kind of activity is the King’s Visualization Lab who have worked on a number of theatre-related projects, notably the ‘Pompey Project’ and more recently, a series of computer modelled 3D visualizations of the architectural interior of the Hellerau Festspeilhaus featuring the modular scenic designs of Adolphe Appia (1862–1928). These reconstructions refer to data gleaned from historical documentation and the photographic record that still exists of performances dating from 1912. The 3D models are an attempt to represent and demonstrate the innovative use of 'rhythmic spaces', a concept pioneered by Appia to explore the relationship between music, time, space and movement.

Other initiatives in this area include the ‘Virtual Vaudeville Project’ developed by David S. Saltz at the University of Georgia and the collaborative EU funded ‘THEATRON’ project. The type of tools used in the production of these computer models include commercial offerings such as 3ds Max from Autodesk, which currently retails at £2,695, for a single commercial use licence (source: Escape Studios ). Other high-end 3D software packages include Softimage XSI and Cinema 4D. An open source software alternative is Blender, which also features a powerful range of tools for a wide variety of 3D modelling processes. A comprehensive comparison chart for 3D tools is currently available at:

Staying with the theme of historical representations of theatre, ‘The Chamber of Demonstrations’ is a multi-viewpoint representation of a Jacobean theatrical production involving the use of actors and a professional film crew. The performance was captured using high definition digital cameras and is available as an interactive high definition DVD, featuring realistic candle-lit levels of illumination, a choice of position within the theatre to view the performance, and supporting material including still images, text and a computer-generated VR model of the theatre.

On a slightly different track but complementing the notion of virtual performance spaces, the KeyWorx platform is an ‘extensible application framework’ that allows a wide range of synchronous and asynchronous interactions within defined virtual ‘spaces’, allowing an assortment of digital objects, including streamed multimedia, to be viewed and modified by multiple users. ‘Channels’ are made available through which client applications can interact with a Keyworx server

[quote]A KeyWorx web application may start with a user session through a web browser (HTTP channel). By clicking a link in a page, a Flash application may be started that connects to another channel (TCP/IP connection) that attaches to the same user session. Other examples are the use of channels like email and mobile technologies like SMS.

This software was originally called KeyStroke and was initially developed primarily for use by the performing arts community.

Allowing the concept of ‘performance’ to extend to an assortment of collaborative real-time interactions over TCP-IP connections, it is clear that a flexible virtual space of this type might accommodate interesting collaborative work. In a similar vein, Ruth Catlow from Furtherfield recently participated in a Methods Network seminar (The Potential of High-Speed Networks as a New Space for Cultural Research, Innovation and Production) and demonstrated Visitors Studio, a networked performance and play tool which can accommodate ‘real-time, multi-user mixing, collaborative creation [and] many-to-many dialogue’. Like Keyworx, this usefully focuses attention away from the concept of ‘performance’ as only being able to take place in a physically constructible Euclidean space. The type of impossible floating object that one can construct in a virtual world such as Second Life might easily become a venue for performance as might a distributed highly interactive Access Grid session. This latter technology allows multiple sites and individuals (with the appropriate software and hardware) to all connect via video and audio links to a virtual venue where interaction can take place in real time and a record made of the collective contributions of all parties. With the widespread use of webcams and the ubiquitous use of CCTV cameras - and even the video recording function on mobile phones - it becomes apparent that the nebulous concept of a ‘performance space’ (and when and how it is represented) can encompass a multitude of tools - too numerous to cover adequately in this paper.

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