– by Marie le Sourd
After the euphoria of getting a project funded by the European Commission, it does not take long for reality to set in and for all partners to be reminded of the objectives and timing of a project’s phases. That said, two years was considered a very short period of time to accomplish the many activities and objectives stated by the European Theatre Lab.
For most of the theatre partners, the first ETL meeting in October 2016 in Sarajevo was characterised by a mix of excitement about touching on the issue of new technologies in their theatres and the fear of the unknown. The tension was particularly felt through the exchange with the advisory board members who put an emphasis on “not reinventing the wheel” and the need to “consider what theatre can bring to new technologies and not the other way around”.
Twenty months later in Oslo, prior to the ETC International Theatre Conference in June 2018, there was an overall appraisal of the ETL project. The general feeling then was more a combination of a sense of accomplishment (all in all the project produced seven OpenLabs, three theatre projects, two conferences in less than one year, and a dozen and a half hangout meetings) and a willingness to continue as though the ETL project were only starting then, when partners had finally got to know each other better and were more aware of the pitfalls of such experimentation formats.
Here we highlight key lessons based on eighteen months of active observation, the introduction of experts to the ETL project1 and the feedback from the different partners, experts and professionals related to the ETL project:
- The process: Mistakes are part of the learning process. In that sense, the OpenLabs were interesting exercises for going outside of the theatres, meeting new media artists, engineers and developers, and experimenting with mixed media. The basic idea was to get out of one’s comfort zone, while keeping in mind the idea of what theatre can bring to the world of new technologies in terms of narratives, inspiration, relation to the audience, etc. If the format of the OpenLabs was flexible, there was increasingly a willingness to articulate them around some key features: to brainstorm, to experiment and to connect.
- The earlier inclusion of artists, technicians, developers, etc. in the process: All ETL partners in Oslo agreed on the same point. Namely, the need to include at an earlier stage the stakeholders of the different projects – the artists, technicians, developers, sound engineers, game designers, etc. – to make the work process go more smoothly. Such project planning helps avoid last-minute surprises on what is possible or not possible, e.g. , technically and/or financially.
- The team’s involvement: Here again, most partners in Oslo agreed on the necessity of involving their team members in the project development: the artistic direction, the finance manager, the producer, the communication manager, the technicians, the sound engineers, etc. The different ETL meetings – including the OpenLabs – saw the participation of more teams’ members than is usually the case in European cooperation projects when one or two persons can be assigned to represent each partner.
- The need to create new job positions: A few advisers of the ETL project saw the need for an intermediary position at theatres, for example, a digital dramaturge or digital producer. This person could encourage contacts, exchange and coworking sessions from the start of the project and more generally to make digital embedded in the theatre organisations, both as a process and as a creative format.
- The technology cost: This fact was highlighted at the Sarajevo kick-off meeting. Costs are too often under-estimated for such projects and technical support is not well-defined enough. As previously mentioned, one of the ways to tackle this challenge is to plan the process as much as possible in advance, to include all interested parties at an early stage and, of course, to more systematically involve technical team members (both from the theatres and outsourced).
- The experience for the audience: Echoing the importance of the added value of theatre practices to the world of new technologies, the audience’s experience shall remain theatre based. As stated by Joris Weijdom: “Audiences should leave talking about the story, not the technology employed in telling it. Make the story interesting enough that they are still thinking about it a week later”2.
- The holistic approach: If the approach of the European Theatre Lab – which is centred on a) the incorporation of new technologies in artistic creation onstage, b) new forms of relationships/communication with the audience and c) testing new technological devices on stage – looks very ambitious at first glance, it turned out to be a relevant methodological basis for the theatres throughout the ETL project. They were able to explore through their projects one or more of these aspects while relating it/them to the key success factors of such new media-based projects (process focus and planning, team involvement, financial targeted investment, etc.)
- The long-term engagement: The final ETL meeting in Oslo clearly showed a willingness to engage more on the issue of new technologies in the long-term perspective, both at theatre and network level. For the ETC network, the idea is, in particular, to include sessions on new technologies (be it at a technical, artistic and/ or communication level) at future conferences and to eventually diffuse such thoughts and discussions in other activities (ETC Artist Residency Programme, Professional Training Programme, ).
- The need for advocacy: Linked to the question of long-term engagement, the desire for better and targeted support for theatres in the area of new technologies has been strongly felt. Hence the idea from the ETC network, the coordinator of this project, to work on policy recommendations involving not only funders and policymakers, but also theatres and the sector at large3.
As mentioned by Clarisse Bardiot at the ETC conference in Karlsruhe in April 2017, which focused on new technologies, the innovation of the ETL project lies less in the topic that these theatres are taking up but more in the fact that these theatres are embracing the issue as national institutions/ repertoire theatres. The innovation can therefore be less in the exploration of new forms of technologies but the adapted use of existing technologies.
At the last ETL partners’ meeting in Oslo, there was a general feeling among participants that ‘our work has only just begun’. Well, this could be the case, since dates have already been set for the next ETC conferences as well as the IMPACT Festival4, hosted by Théâtre de Liège in November 2018.
2 Mixed reality and the theatre of the future, Arts and New Technologies (p. 60), a publication by IETM, written by Joris Weijdom, who was also present at the Oslo Conference in June 2018.
3 See recommendations white book: Drama goes digital vs Theatre invades digital.
Marie le Sourd – Secretary General of On the Move, Brussels, Belgium
On the Move provides information about cul- tural mobility opportunities and funding for mobile artists and cultural professionals. It also co-publishes reports, online toolkits, evaluations as well as facilitates training and information-session on cultural mobility issues. Prior to her work experience with On the Move, Marie Le Sourd oversaw the cultural programmes of the Asia-Europe Foundation (1999-2006) and then, for five years, directed the French Cultural Centre in Yogyakarta-Indonesia.
This article has been published in Digital Theatre. A Casebook.