Long Term Project Prospectus

Research Questions

Following the completion of the midrange project along this line of inquiry, my head swims with the possibilites that live and/or responsive performance in a virtual space might present. Some questions that I plan to explore through continued interactions of my mid-range project include:

  • Question 1: How might theatre-makers co-opt the virtual space of Zoom to create a synchronous immersive and participatory theatrical experience that allows the audience to remain at home?
  • Question 2: How can the private interaction spaces on Zoom (such as chat and breakout rooms) be utilized to subvert and augment the viewing experience of a theatrical Zoom performance?
  • Question 3: What possibilities for audience engagement or participation occur when participants (such as housemates or family) are able to share physical space while still engaging with the larger audience in virtual space?
  • Question 4: How might an encounter at the intersection of virtual and physical space create a perspective shift or disorientation for an audience participant?
  • Question 5: What possibilities for community building in an audience through a virtual immersive performance exist in a live, synchronous space (such as Zoom) versus an asynchronous form of performance (such as Marco Polo)?

Questions 1-5 build directly off of my initial performance as research explorations on virtual platforms, immersivity, and participatory performance. The next phase of this research will lead me into a long-range exploration that I will complete this summer (2020) through a series of play labs and performance prototype workshops. The final questions, below, follow the longer trajectory of my curiosity around possible implications for this form of performance in a theatre for social justice context.

  • Can immersively experiencing another person’s (avatar’s) perspective of their space impact an audience guide’s understanding of the avatar’s lived experience? Can it create empathy or compassion in the audience guide? If so, how can it impact the audience’s guide’s interactions with others and the world outside of the theatrical experience?
  • How might asynchronous virtual experience create continued engagement with a theatre for social justice event?

While this project prospectus does not seek to directly answer these questions, I hope that the further knowledge gained in answer to questions 1-5 might better inform how I might better refine this line of inquiry towards a potential applied project.

Research Design

As the semester ends and summer quickly approaches, I plan to continue along the same lines of my mid-range project to investigate these questions. I have planned an alternating weekly cycle of play lab development followed by play lab implementation. Each two-week cycle focuses on one area of inquiry generated by the A series of play labs completed during the midrange project.

Development

I have begun to cultivate a reading/viewing/experience list of sources related to this project. In the next week, I plan to build into my project timeline dedicated research periods during which I plan to dive into the sources based on their relationship to upcoming focuses. In particular, I’m eager to dive into Candle House Collective’s work and see how it aligns with my goals or could inform play lab activities.

In addition to building knowledge, Neal will continue on with this project as a contributor when he is able, but has agreed to meet with me weekly to experiment with creating activities and help plan the play labs. He will join any play labs as his schedule allows. His current focus is on building a new business focused on Zoom performances so luckily our focuses are still aligned. While we may not always walk together along the path during this research project, we will be traveling in the same metaphorical park.

The two-week development cycle

Figure 1. Time map of each two week cycle’s activities.

During the odd-numbered weeks of the cycle, my time will be spent researching sources from the reading/viewing/experience list and reflecting on them in my sketchbook. From that knowledge, I will work with Neal (as he is able) or other theatre practitioners (when Neal is not available) to explore some of the ideas mined from the research through virtual spaces. The goal is to distill these findings into clear activities for audience-participation on Zoom, however, I am open to exploring other platforms (such as Marco Polo) if better suited to the play lab’s activities and intentions. Once the activities have been defined, I will develop a script for that series’ of play labs.

The even-numbered weeks of the cycle focus on facilitating the play lab and then reflecting and analyzing the work. I have embedded 30 minutes of time following each play lab for me to take time and document my experience and immediate thoughts. This will then be referred to when analyzing participant feedback after the final play lab of each series. Once my analysis has been completed, I’ll share my findings with Neal and we will debrief on the week’s play labs. I’ll then collate all of this feedback and data into a written summary of findings for that play lab’s focus of exploration.

Figure 2. Feedback from play lab participants regarding best availability for future play labs.

For now, I plan to continue with three play labs per series. Based on the initial participants’ availability (see above), the plan is to conduct play labs on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Depending on my availability, I may explore targeting play labs to specific time zones if the B series workshop turnout leads me to believe this will be more convenient for a wider swath of participants.

Devising

Following the completion of the initial play lab series, the goal will be to sketch together another prototype performance (or a few prototypes for performance) that will then be workshopped in a variety of ways. During this phase, I plan to begin by meeting with Neal to discuss which strategies to explore and implement in performance, as well as determine which strategies for audience participation may prove more effective in different virtual formats.

Once a performance structure or form can be hypothesized, then I plan to carve out some time with performer friends to devise a narrative structure or script for the prototype performance.

Testing the prototype performance

At the moment, I’ve planned for a three week period in August 2020 to test out the first round of prototype performance/s. These performances would be given to a test audience who would provide feedback on the experience and narrative. This is an ambitious plan and it will be necessary to revisit the second half of this research prospectus after the completion of the play labs.

Methodology

This project utilizes the following performance as research methods:

  • experimental play with collaborators and alone
  • experimental play with audience-participants through play labs
  • a devising process to develop a porous and/or responsive narrative structure with opportunities for audience participation and influence
  • a performance or series of performances for a test audience

In addition to these methods of exploration and experimentation, feedback will be collected in a variety of forms:

  • verbal, discussion based feedback during the play labs
  • survey questions focused on audience-participant experience in the play labs
  • researcher reflections following the play lab
  • test-audience feedback on prototype performance/s via questionnaire

While the questionnaires will seek both qualitative and quantitative feedback, the emphasis will be on the quality of the experience. I plan to quantify participant responses over the course of the play labs to analyze engagement and efficacy of participatory theatre through virtual media.

Regarding documentation, this project will collect:

  • researcher script of the play labs
  • video recordings of play labs
  • audio transcripts of the play labs on Zoom
  • screenshots and other images taken during the play lab
  • researcher notes taken during the play lab
  • emails to participants before and after the play labs
  • advertisements or call for participants
  • experience surveys

At this time, I cannot state what sort of documentation would be generated for the prototype performance portion of the project, but I imagine it will include:

  • script or outline for performance
  • screenshots or images of the performance in the process
  • possibly some sort of recording (audio or video) of the performance
  • experience surveys
  • performance advertisement or call for test-audience

Assessment Plan

I have developed a spreadsheet to help keep track of my progress and findings along the 7 research questions articulated earlier. This will help to keep the questions at the forefront of my planning and research design, but also help me to track what work or activities fed directly into each line of inquiry.

My bi-weekly work cycle accounts for multiple points of assessment and reflection throughout the research process as a take time to assess my experience, participants’ experience, and any collaborating facilitator’s experience of the play labs. By ending each cycle by taking time to summarize my findings in a written document, I hope to track trends in my work from cycle to cycle.

Additionally, I hope to utilize the survey feedback as a responsive tool for planning future play labs and designing prototype performances. By focusing my line of questioning on participants’ emotional experiences during the play lab, I aim to build a better understanding of what activities trigger which emotions. Building off of the midrange project’s survey questions, I will reformat the survey to focus on each activity a little more specifically. A better understanding of the emotional experience of the participants at each stage of the play lab could help guide me into crafting a more engaging performance experience in the prototype performance phase.

Following the exploration and implementation of this round of play labs into a prototype performance, I intend to revisit research questions 6 and 7 with regard to a potential applied project focus. Hopefully, by the end of August 2020, I will have gained greater knowledge in devising, directing, and producing in-home immersive participatory theatre experiences through a virtual format to best understand the implications and opportunities a virtual form of performance might have on audience engagement and community or social change in the larger context of social change work.