What if…

Screen Watching

You may have spotted a brief rant by me on Twitter the other day (1, 2, 3) in response to this article on the effect of the internet and other digital technology on theatre audiences. The article itself is balanced, reasoned, and puts forward a point I very much agree with:

… ultimately, we should avoid looking at the net as either intrinsically good or bad. Rather, we should see it as a tool, and like all tools, it is only as good as the person or people using it. (source)

The piece was responding to criticism of how the “constant feedback demanded by interactive technology can, in effect, become like a “giant focus group” that challenges “the autonomy of the artist”.” (ibid) and that “these digital and virtual connections, [… are] not particularly human.” (ibid) by which the artist being quoted means not of interest or destructive to theatre/artists.

There is a misconception, I believe, that technology is driving us apart. In fact (and as I put more thoroughly in the paper I recently delivered at the recent TaPRA postgrad symposium) I believe we are living in an era that is coming to be defined by the removal of the interface. Of the removal of the sanctioning of knowledge and of the mediatisation of our relationship with the information and entertainment we consume.

Likewise with 100% of 6-10 year olds gaming (Source (PDF)), and as a nation our spending 30% more on video games than on the consumption of film, we are also now a generation of people becoming much more used to being closer more embedded in its stories. This is political as well as social, adverts and didactic politics are also able to embed themselves in the player or person at the centre of these stories, and less perceptively so, so we also need tools to allow us to interrogate that embeddedness. Theatre, is a powerfully political form, it embodies the question what if. The question that has been so evolutionarily important to us, and the question which is the basis of all politics. For theatre to preserve it’s political power/relevance (see The Player as Poltical for more) I believe it needs to be wading into Technoculture, examining how it is changing the way we live, and who we are.

After all, how is anyone who wishes to make theatre about people who live now able to do so without acknowledging that way that we are mediated and the ways that we communicate are integral to the way we live? If Michiko Kakutani is able to admit that his audiences have changed, perhaps he should consider who it is that we make our art for, about.

Acknowledging technology in your art doesn’t have to mean using it. It can, and powerfully so, but it can also be about understanding living in technoculture, about how you open up your processes, how you market your work, the processes by which you make it, and the way you approach the telling of it.

Let me introduce you to the future. We’ve always had it. It’s always been perceived to be degrading us somehow. By all means sign off on your own obsolescence, but know this: to investigate our digital technoculture is necessary. To discount its cultural relevance is at best ignorant, at worst, dangerous.

It’s time to stop having this conversation about if it’s right that theatre should embrace digital technology/technoculture, and instead start looking about how it’s being done. If you are scared of it, if you believe it is degrading how we live, that is exactly why you should be examining it.

Blog posts like this are just as guilty of continuing this conversation. So this will be the last I write on the matter for a while – of course it’s always necessary to reexamine your assumptions – but for the next few posts I do RE the arts, I’m going to stop talking about how and why the arts and tech should/can work together, and instead talk about the tools and ways they’re being used. If we should be looking at digital technology “as a tool, and like all tools, it is only as good as the person or people using it” (source) it’s time for me to stop blogging about why, and start looking at who and how.

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