Check out the main topics to be discussed at the 2014 Envision Symposium. Read about the speakers, and register today while early bird rates last through July 27!

Why Theatre Matters, And Why It Doesn't - What's New? What Can We Do Now That We Couldn't Do Ten Years Ago, And Who Cares?

Theatre has been with us, in one form or another, since the dawn of recorded history. You could argue that it's in our genes. Or is it?  Perhaps it’s just storytelling that matters, and much less so the medium used to convey it. Theatre’s great strengths are also its weaknesses. It’s expensive - partaking in it requires the commitment of a pilgrimage; it’s ephemeral, existing for the moment, and then lives on only in our memory — quite unlike electronic media that is always available, can be stopped, rewound, shared, re-experienced, re-mixed, and re-sampled.

However, as the rate at which affordable new storytelling and entertainment technologies successfully compete for people’s attention, live theatre is becoming a less relevant part of the majority of people's lives (assuming you assess relevance as how often what percentage of society experiences each).

Does this mean that theatre someday becomes a curiosity, the live performance version of Latin or Esperanto, or will it always be a critical part of what it means to be self-aware and culturally literate, and persist as an essential component of the human experience? 

Is its eventual demise simply an inevitable byproduct of progress in other forms such as movies, TV, Internet streaming, and Transmedia—or are we just seeing the swing of a pendulum, and the value of live theatre will eventually become even more appreciated and precocious than ever?

Bottom line: Is there something fundamentally important about experiencing a performance live?  Or is it like the debate of “is it photography” if it's digital rather than photochemical?

And the real question is, as professional live storytellers, why should we care— and what are we going to do about it?

The New Frontier Of Real-Time Media

Occulus Rift. Sony’s Morpheus Project.The canvas of VR and where it fits in.  Does the community producing live entertainment have the better grip on this than cinema?  Than game developers?  3D movies, audio, games, sets, worlds— will we ever really care?  Yes, we will. What is entertainment storytelling becoming?  Will our grandchildren regard watching movies on a rectangle as quaint as we regard “gathering around the radio” on Sundays?

What will be the impact of these technologies and techniques on our future daily lives and will it be more about assisting us in way finding, information retrieval, and transactions— or will it evolve to be the great new immersive storytelling frontier? Will it become as compelling and stimulating as more mature technologies, such as books and theatre? 

For those in live production, is it our future, or a just shiny object distracting our focus?

More broadly, are these the first steps towards something so compelling, that it might evolve into what might, say in 250 years, even replace reading and writing?

Bring on the Implants!

Code Meets Codex
How is the current culture of “makers” and “coders” contributing to the storytelling landscape?  What tools are coming from this direction, and how does code help the story be real-time, and really present?

In the motion picture business, modeling and simulation is being used to create new worlds and characters, not possible only a few short years ago. It has effectively transformed how one thinks about film and television production, and has vastly extended the creative landscape. Most of today’s highest grossing global blockbusters would be impossible without it.

In live performance, computer technology has long been of great value in automating lighting, sound, effects, and rigging, and large-scale imaging has made enormous progress over the last decade.  However, the effect to date has been less creatively transformational, except arguably in the live music business.

So, when do we think that the power of computing and visualization will empower a new age in live performance, and how?

Transmedia

Telling the story across multiple channels. What is the narrative of brand?  How do we weave the audience’s perspective and story into the larger narrative?  Stories are manifesting not only on page, but also on stage, in bits and bytes, on billboards, and on large screen and small. How is the ‘industry’ moving to a model of opportunity in story, as well as commoditizing all the ‘channels’ to vault multimedia into mega-media.

Transmedia is about combining live, big screen, small screens, and emerging platforms to create novel experiences. What might these be, and will they be even more compelling than the parts they are comprised of?  If not, will Transmedia be simply a fad, or will some new form emerge that is truly compelling?  Will its most important role be to complement and enhance a traditional experience, be integral to it, or in-fact drive it?

When Audience Is Narrative
How will spaces and converses be created that put the focus on each participant’s narrative?  As we have seen in the unbelievable production values of EDM and festival settings, some of the best, and most profitable live entertainment experiences are pointing the lights back at the people, and giving them a palette of options and experiences to weave their own tales.  Audience interactivity: When does it transition from silly, to cute, to important?  What are the technologies, and the methodologies?

For thirty years, people have been discussing how the “new" technologies associated with what we call The Computer Revolution will revolutionize storytelling and create endless new creative opportunities in live interactive storytelling.  Well, here we are, 15 years into the new millennium, and people are saying exactly the same thing.

In a world where the majority of people going to theater and concerts are carrying with them high performance multimedia computers connected to the Internet (and therefore - connected to everything and everyone), are we ready to use it to change our view of what’s not just possible—but desirable? (Or are we instead going to arrest people for bringing these devices into these venues in fear that they are there to steal our content?)

     

The Creative Urge - New Methods Of Expression
When the interface is the mind, when we’ve moved past the mouse into biometrics, haptics, gaze tracking, out and out neural control… What is the future of our own input into the stories we tell and experience?

What do we think the new creative art forms of storytelling be, and when will they transition from novelty to essential?

Could we, for example, create an experience as compelling and memorable as a day at a theme park—entirely in virtual space?

What is the tension between simplicity and complexity in production?  We have all experienced that one spotlight on a single performer on a bare stage has the power to change our lives. Yet clearly the spectacles we are witnessing in theatre, concerts, and festivals are drawing more and more people into these worlds. 

Where will the next generation of talent come from, and where will they be trained? Is it more hands on, or academic, and how do we reconcile the huge disparities between the skills, say to design a set or theatrical lighting, with say creating a top video game? 

When does the technology become transparent enough to be used effectively by non-technical creative people —or does it?

How does the ability to photo-realistically pre-visualize a live performance, characters and all empower us — or does this power ultimately replace traditional live performance with something different?

How does this all sort out, or does it? Why can’t we all just get along?

Simply stated: What’s Next?