The Screens

All the World's a Cyber Stage: The State of Online Theater

In addition to logging on for "The Future of the Present"— Franklin Furnace's lineup through June— there are several other opportunities to view live Net performance this season. The Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre, directed by Cheryl Faver and John Reaves, is holding a series of work-in-progress demos of the Ubu Project, a collaboration with Japanese and Russian artists scheduled to be fully produced in 2000. Ubu, with Alfred Jarry­inspired text by Reaves, is partly intended as an interpretation of Japanese Bunraku for new media. Whereas in Bunraku a number of guys carry and manipulate the limbs of one lifelike doll, here the Ubu animators will eventually manipulate the play's virtual characters from different consoles in different cities. At a recent "Ubu Wednesday" demo, the company exhibited a couple of lovely and grotesque figures from the show— one a headless female body in 18th-century dress. Two peacock feathers rise out of her neck, onto which the real eyes of one or even two Ubu performers will be projected. "What is it to have a person inside of another person?" wonders Faver, with regard to this surreal juxtaposition of live and animated bodies. "It cracks open metaphors for human experience."

On the performance rather than theater end, Fakeshop, a group of artists and activists in Williamsburg, is about to offer up a series of performative Internet broadcasts based on scenes from sci-fi films. These "experimental low-bandwidth broadcasting sessions" will begin this Saturday evening and be held again December 12 and 19. Fakeshop has also hosted an ongoing Saturday night Netcasting event with chat poetry, audio mix, images, and Cu-SeeMe. Their fabulously roomy warehouse on North 11th Street, outfitted with a nest of buzzing equipment, has been the site for several previous Net-performance events— including Multiple Dwelling, which involved at least 20 live actors in a "techno-poetic response" to a scene from the movie Coma. Whereas viewers logged on remotely were invited to participate using a VRML avatar creation program, on-site viewers witnessed a roomful of perverse science activity. In a performance video, the bodies of involuntary organ donors are seen suspended in the midst of white-coated clinicians, busy at the task of taking and transmitting bio-data. The coming series, "Artificial Constructions," promises equally mesmerizing "multimedia tableaux vivants."

Philip Galanter, associate director for arts technology at New York University, predicts that soon Netcasting won't seem any more out of the ordinary than television or home video. Things are "going to change very quickly," Galanter told a Netcasting audience during a recent Pseudo roundtable. The current obsession with the peculiarities of Internet technology, Galanter believes, will subside with the technology's eventual maturation. Nevertheless, transitional moments are also always moments of intensity, when new understanding is cast on the old. In this case, theater's merging with other media on-line seems at a crucial, if crude, stage in the evolution toward . . . the Holodeck?

The Ubu Project: Bunraku for new media
Hiroyuki Ito
The Ubu Project: Bunraku for new media

Franklin Furnace: "The Future of the Present"
Netcasts of temporal art every other Friday at 5 p.m., December 4 through June 18, 1999

Fakeshop: "Artificial Constructions"
90 North 11th Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
December 5, 12, and 19
9 p.m. to midnight

Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre:
"Ubu Wednesdays"
December 16
7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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