How can theatre stay important in the digital age?
For the first time, the internationally renowned Ars Electronica Festival in collaboration with the ETC this year hosted a special program on the intersection of digital media and theater. Theater and Digital Media: A Platform Event examined various reciprocal influences that come along with the digital revolution. The latest hype of virtual and augmented reality has caught the attention of people from the theater, and new artistic forms are being developed focusing on the narrative and performative potential. This interest is shared on both sides, because the technical-design challenges that come with the increasing social dimension of new technologies could also benefit a great deal from the expertise of theatre. Since thousands of years this art form has been attributed a most relevant social, political and carthatic function. Theatre reflects the conditions of the present often very critically. Its immediacy reconnects us with the here and now – a really valuable effect in our virtually interfused daily lives. The technical possibilities often do not improve art or our ways of living together, but rather increase alienation and uncritical thinking. As we do not want algorithms to take over control, the question what technology can learn from theatre becomes crucial.
And vice versa, of course. There a lots of dicussions about new forms and aethetics in theatre are going on around the question: How can this art form stay important? Apparently, theatre audiences and their habits have changed a lot, as everybody is being used to digital communication, interactive games and all sorts of new technological means. How can we engage with this audience – artistically and in communication? Which technologies do we need? How do we find and finance them? How could we re-organise the production schedules and departments to make place for new ways of production? And where are the experts that help us with all that?
The platform event in Linz covered some of these questions. Presentations by Kay Voges (Dortmund), Uwe Rieger and Carol Brown (Auckland), Thomas Jelinek (Vienna) and Kunito Komori (Tokyo) were followed by inspiring table talks amongst the participants and the audience. Have a look at the full agenda here. Not surprisingly, it turned out that the biggest challenges for traditional theatre institutions to make the digital shift are inancial issues, the lack of media competence and fixed traditional hierarchies. It needs a lot of learning, openness and flexibility in the theatres and the media artists – and the political will to support these changes with reasonable funding and education. Knowing from his experience as one of the most innovative digital theatre directors in Europe, Kay Voges, artistic director at Schauspiel Dortmund, is about to found an academy for digitality and theatre. There is a urgent need to train theatre people in all departments – including lightning, video, mask, costumes, set design and direction – to make mixed reality happen in theatres in the future.