Livestreamed on this page on Thursday 28 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).
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Directors Lab West Connects: Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman (ASL-interpreted)
Reimagining Liveness and Connection for Virtual Space
Directors Lab West presented Directors Lab West Connects: Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Thursday 28 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).
Join us for a conversation with Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman, Programs & Projects Managers of CultureHub Los Angeles and New York. They will discuss “liveness” and “intimacy” in virtual engagements. Informed by CultureHub’s 10 years of exploring new media, they will share perspectives on how virtual environments can be a site of reimagining and rejuvenating connection and communication.
Douglas Clayton: Hello, good morning if you're on the West Coast. Good afternoon if you're in the middle of the country or on the East Coast. I'm Douglas Clayton. I'm a director, playwright and producer as well as a past artistic director and currently Senior Vice President of Arts Consulting Group. But most importantly, I'm an alum of Directors Lab West from the class of 2007 and a producer for this years series Directors Lab West Connects. I'd like to thank you all for joining us here today, very excited for this conversation. I'd also like to thank our ASL interpreter, Dany Casey, who you can see there on the screen with me. And know that this is being recorded and will be archived on DirectorsLabWest.com and on HowlRound T.V. with appended captioning as well for anyone who watches this after it's posted tomorrow. For our low sighted colleagues I am 40ish white male identifying individual with brown, a short brown beard, wearing rectangular glasses and an open collared blue shirt. I'm seated in my office presently with a comfortable couch behind me and two paintings over it by the Polish bi-sexual art deco painter, Tamara de Lempicka and our interpreter, Dany Casey, is a young light skinned woman with short tousled dark hair wearing a black shirt and in front of a blue curtain. So Directors Lab West for any of you who are not familiar is a 20 year old all volunteer run organization that every May provides and eight day intensive full of workshops, panels, master classes and more for emerging and mid-career theatre directors, choreographers, movement directors, intimacy directors have been crafted for and by theatre directors and choreographers, livestreamed by our partners at HowlRound to their website and to our Directors Lab West Facebook page.
[At this point, the video freezes for a few minutes, but the audio continues playing.]
Douglas: So if you're having any trouble seeing it on either platform try a global art and technology community. Hello, Scarlett.
Scarlett Kim: Hi. I am a youngish white woman with short brown hair and glasses that are brown and rose gold. I am sitting in my room in Brooklyn. A green plant on the other side, which I don't know the name of, and a poster that says block party 7:00 p.m.
Douglas: Excellent, excellent. So the three of us will be in conversation for the next 30 to 45 minutes discussing re-imagining liveness and connection for virtual space. As I said before, please feel free to submit questions in the chat and at the end we will try to bring those forward and fit them into the conversation. Scarlett, so let's get started. Mattie and Scarlett and I have had several conversations already and one of the things we wanted to start with was the fact that right now our entire community, particularly, what do we do right now and then what should we plan to be doing in the future? And for a lot of us, we've been trained and we become very confident and very comfortable in a certain way of creating our art and sharing that with people. But, we were thinking that perhaps a good way to get into the question of what's going to happen in the future is to start by looking at the history of change and innovation in the past for people who've been really invested in that and sort of bringing the past, present and future together that way. So, I'd love to start by just inviting you, Mattie and Scarlett, to talk about the broader trajectory of La MaMa and CultureHub from the past leading up to today and how that frames the way you're thinking about the future now.
Mattie Barber-Bockleman: So CultureHub is a global art and technology community that was found in 2009 by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City and the Seoul Institute of the Arts in Korea. These two institutions were founded around the same time in the early 1960's and perhaps late 1950's for Seoul Arts and they were both founded out of necessity. La MaMa was born out of a need. Ellen Stewart had some broken hearted friends, broken hearted playwrights, living on the Lower East Side who needed a place to do their work when Broadway just wasn't quite it. And so, she rented out a basement space on East 9th Street and she said, you guys do plays at night I'll turn it into a boutique during the day because she was a fashion designer. The boutique never quite happened. She was a very successful fashion designer on Saks Fifth Avenue, but she made a life supporting others and creating a vast space for people to experiment. Seoul Institute of the Arts was founded by Chi Jin Yoo because there was an emerging style of performance and he was a playwright and he wanted actors and performers who had a different sort of training who could offer his work more interdisciplinary approaches that could really meet the contemporary needs.
[The video resumes playing.]
Mattie: And Ellen Stewart and President Yoo were both, had a deep deep deep relationship. They brought shows to each other's countries. They had residencies. There was a rich history of cultural exchange and that was the same for them in many other institutions and relationships with artists and organizations around the globe. And in 2009 they got together and said, hey, what can we do with the internet with emerging technologies to deepen these collaborations, these cultural exchanges? And how can we do it with a healthy level of skepticism? Not to say that this can replace all of these plane rides that we have to take, but it can augment it. How can we open a window when I'm in a studio on Great Jones Street in New York and have that window go to Seoul, Korea? So that's what CultureHub was founded to do. It was to explore emerging technologies. Now we've grown into, we're not just focused on La MaMa and Seoul Arts. There are collaborations and partnerships around the globe and this is what we're exploring, international exchange and creativity. There are many other facets of what we do, but it's a little more relevant today asking the question, how do we work distributed?
Douglas: Right. So you got to sort of an important key for our whole conversation today, which is that this isn't a conversation about how we replace what we already know. This isn't a conversation about replacing the world that existed and it's certainly not a conversation about how do we replace the experience of live theatre that drew so many of us to this art form and have made us all committed to this either. And we wanna acknowledge, all three of us, wanna acknowledge that there's a lot of emotion going on in our community, in our international community right now. We've heard a lot of that over the last five days at the Lab. There are people who are really energized by the experimentation and the change that's going on, but there are also people who are frightened. And there's also a lot of us who are mourning right now and are really feeling that loss in a really impactful way. And for some of us we're in a place where we can take that forward right now into explorations of new ideas, but for other people they just need to process the mourning right now and that's okay and that's great and that's the nature of our humanity in our art. But that said, a lot of what Mattie and Scarlett have been doing is exploring what new things we can do that are additive and that are complimentary to the we're all together live experiences that we've been doing. And in a way that is explorative and looking to the future and that isn't just trying to solve our problem right now either, right? So I'd love for you both to talk about that relationship, the relationship between live connected in-person human, but then also what that means when we're talking about form or distance or the use of technology that facilitates that.
Scarlett: Yeah, like you said Doug, it's been really important for me to nurture an expansive framework as opposed to a reductive one. So thinking of virtual engagements, virtual art, remote connection, distributive engagements, all of these things not as an attempt to simulate or replace or replicate the physical real world, but as more of like an alternative strategy full of potential energy. So yeah, it's been a really interesting journey. Like Mattie mentioned, CultureHub has a history of engaging in collaborations and intercultural exchange through remote forms so now it's a moment for us to kind of respond and celebrate to unique parameters that virtual context is purposing and kind of letting that teach us how it opens up all these new ways of thinking about liveness and connection. And think that kind of, I don't know, the duality is important because one day I wonder if I'm fetishsizing OG liveness and I truly have so much faith in the committed presence and intimate exchange in shared physical experiences. And the next day I'm so enamored with all these mind-blowing ways and metaphors and all these different spaces that come up in rethinking liveness through technological means. So, for me, it's been important to chase curiosity and accept the contradiction. I would say I'm very much in mourning of the shared live experience and in tandem I appreciate the current moment that's allowing us to reflect on our ideas and biases about liveness and presence and everything else.
Mattie: Yeah, something that has been sort of grounding for me and for the people that I'm working with on a daily basis had La MaMa and at CultureHub is that this is our life. This is part of our lives now and I almost think it is a disservice to say, well, is this theatre? Because if this is our life and this is really part of our lives in a way that is, weddings are happening here, funerals are happening here. People are meeting their first grandchild here. That we can just remove that distance and say, okay, this is life, this is theatre if theatre is our lives. And I also, I feel like theatre is, essential theatre and art at large are essential to having a culture, as shared culture, and we're in this mindset of being on a linear journey towards re-opening and towards finally, after many steps, getting to a place where we can have education and we can have art making again. And I think that we need to take every step, of course, towards public safety and health and that is the most important thing, but that the reason that we work so hard to have public health and safety is so that we can participate in a shared culture. That this work that we do together is the reason that we have cities, it's the reason that we have roads. And yeah, that it doesn't really get to just be pushed off to the side and said hold on to. As an artist you can have that relationship to your own practice, but as a culture we're all here, this is our life, this is happening.
Scarlett: Yeah, it's so funny because when I first moved to this country one of the best advices that someone gave me was don't wait for a thing to happen. Don't wait for someone to give you the opportunity to do the thing because you're already doing it. Focus on the awareness of the fact you're already doing it and that's the story. And then one of the first things I learned about was, in high school being an artist, was fluxes and I was so mind-blown that life and art can have such an intimate and interchangeable and fluid relationship. So I've been thinking about that time a lot and how that really informed how I positioned my art making in relation to my life living practice. And right now it feels like there's more of a sense that theatre is something can be embedded or embed-able rather than theatre being outside of life that you opt of out life to opt into. So that's been, I don't know, that's been kind of a part of my optimistic perspective of, oh, you can actually engage in your own terms or you can author the terms of your engagement in a way and it's not something that, going to to theatre, even as a theatre person, can be a daunting experience because of the formality and all these other things associated with it, so it's been interesting, yeah, like re-authoring my relationship to life and theatre and life and art and how that can kind of coexist in tandem in a much more fluid and embedded relationship.
Mattie: Yeah, and it also speaks to accessibility. Through the programming that we're doing at La MaMa and at CultureHub we've had viewers in the majority of U.S. states. Which at any given shows I think we would have some non-local to New York City folks in the audience, but not at the same scale. And a lot of that is actually thanks to HowlRound and it's saying we're in this together. Something that I've been thinking is that we're in this sort of collective hack-a-thon moment where all of a sudden we all have the same variables and the same problems to solve. And if you wanna be a part of it, yeah, go for it. Your exact way that you're gonna approach this problem is different than everybody else. And so, we have this collective visioning going on of so many people just putting something up on the board and saying, ha-ha, I got that, what about you? And people are going in so many different directions, which we weren't having before this moment. It was much more niche if you were working in this sort of blended zone of live web and live performance even though it is such integral part of our lives through phones and talking to family members and friends who don't live near us, yeah.
Douglas: The whole thing of one of arguably the most famous theatre quote ever about theatre holding the mirror up to nature from Hamlet, we forget sometimes that we're suppose to be engaging people about their lives and that that's what this is. And we can get so into our own box that we're in and now, as you say, it's broken open in different ways and we need to be responding to the way people are living their lives, which is such a great point there. Can you talk a little bit more about the access thing is really interesting both in terms of what this kind of experimentation of progress or exploration means to who we can connect to, but also to, we've had a lot of conversation the last few days about that our industry has been controlled by gatekeepers and sort of who controls the buildings controls the arts and that that's changing maybe. So, love to hear more about that.
Scarlett: Yeah, the collective hack-a-thon, Mattie spoke this phrase last week and we're like that's perfect because as part of RE-FEST, our annual festival bringing together artists, technologists and activists we're hosting a hack-a-thon this Saturday. So you guys can actually be a part of an actual hack-a-thon experience. But yeah, that really resonated with us because a way of thinking about our current moment is a time where you can become your own sorcerer to your own theatre magic, magic of theatre. And I, like the product driven production model can feel fatiguing and also just like a regurgitation of tried and true methods and other ways of working can feel untenable due to very real issues like what Doug mentioned about being vetted. Like who gets to go into certain spaces and all of these very real issues. So yeah, during this time it feels like the definition of art, like where the work is located, has expanded from the endgame to encompass the whole process of figuring out together. So the medium feels like the message more in like an acute way to me. And the act of working together to configure our orientation to the virtual interaction is the work, like is the story. And I find this empowering because I have so much faith in this decentralized democratized grassroots way of working together. I really believe that it can yield new strategies and short-circuiting biases and hegemonic structures. So much of like the conventional spectator-ship model prioritizes kind of one directional transmission of message and also all of these things about formality and class. And yeah, and I also think another keyword for today is intimacy and for me intimacy comes from this process oriented approach as well rather than intimacy as a content. Intimacy in the act of working together so much more depends on the personhood in a way and the presence. And I like that because we're all kind of babies learning together that our perspectives, in a way, can't be like so polished or sophisticated so we're just kind of trying to communicate what we see, which I often think is one of the most important things and there's no bullshit to fall back on in a way.
Mattie: Yeah, yeah, that's one of the reasons that I've enjoyed working in this zone of like art and technology, is because I don't come from a tech background and I don't have this, I don't know, I feel like you have to be into tech in order to engage with tech or you have to be a techie or something. Which also theatre has some of those same, well, are you a theatre kid or a theatre person? Like there are these barriers and boundaries, but I feel like working in these sorts of ways before COVID it really required me to connect to, like Scarlett said, my curiosity. And I just had to ask questions and I had to just meet things where I was and where it was and from that distance, whatever it was, what can I see? And what do I understand about it? Because if I can barely see a thing, okay, what is that outline? Or if I can hear, you know, there's a different way of engaging with something if you're not trying to do the same thing that you've done before, which is also an experimental approach to working. And we all have to be a little bit more experimental, which is really exciting 'cause a lot of people think that that's the work of the fringes, is to be on the experimental pulse. But to me, experimentation is really just about a process, a procedure, a set of variables, some of which are controlled and some of which are uncontrolled and what happens when we go through this process and invite an audience in. So yeah, it's connected me a lot closer to my curiosities and to the gut and to just say, okay, what do I want right now? I want a joyful experience, I want laughter. I wanna work with people who I love. Or that composite is really interesting to me. I wanna go in that direction and I want more people to be able to have license to just go towards their curiosities and we can't be so worried about selling tickets or making sure that you get the right listing in the right magazine to get the right people in the seats. We have to restructure our relationship to all of those things.
Douglas: Yeah, one of the things, of course for the Lab, that we were very clear on is that lots of people out there in the world talking about how institutions can survive. And what's really interesting to us in this context is how we do the work. What is it we're doing? And we could do a whole five day collective discussion about what theatre is, which we don't need to try to define today. But, getting away from that and saying, what are we in it for? What are the deep components that are underneath? It's not just the molecules, it's the atoms. It's not just that atoms, it that quarks or whatever. And you brought up intimacy before, certainly the title of this session is about liveness too, so I'd love for you to, we say live theatre all the time and there's a whole set of assumptions built into that word live, so I'd love to know how you two are thinking about what liveness means and can mean and not just in that one paradigm of the for seen in theatre or whatever, but in how it relates to the artist experience and the audience experience and the collective connection. So, how do you define live or intimate right now?
Mattie: [overlapping] Scarlett was saying—
Scarlett: [overlapping] Yeah, I mean. [Pause.] Go ahead.
Mattie: Scarlett was saying a lot about the process is the real intimate thing that's happening here, which I really appreciate. And I just did a project last night with a few good friends in Texas at the VORTEX Theatre, obviously it was done on the internet. But I was talking to some folks afterwards and one of my friends who played a character in the playlet, as we called it, because it was not quite a play, but not quite an episode either, was that, you know, she was. First of all, it was emotional because we care about each other and we cared about working together and, god, it kind of felt so good and rich and also bad, but really full to work together and to care about something, which is something. And then she was just talking about that she was committing, her work of this process was committing to how to speak to another person during this time, that was her actor's work. And learning to really believe it and learning to really believe how to connect with a person digitally and then reflecting on how much or how little, how able she was to say yes to that. And that she realized that she was clinging to the idea of someone physically being with you in order to really feel them. Which I think is so interesting because, especially in Ann Bogart talking about theatre as a space to eulogize the dead. And yeah, that this space has to bring up things that don't exist and people that are not with us. And is that an act of liveness, to conjure, not necessarily in some mystical way, or maybe, but maybe just with imagination, maybe that's liveness. Maybe it's not necessarily the spit that you get from the actor 'cause you're in the same room, but that it is a different act of imagination.
Scarlett: Yeah, and I think also, I was just reading about liveness and it's like, oh, the definition of liveness really changed a lot throughout history. Like when T.V.s came into suburban homes, that totally changed what liveness is and our relationship to media and what we think of as live. I think it's also important to remember that, I noticed this in myself, that I start of it as an immutable concept, but it's actually historically always been in flux. And also, live, when Doug first posed that question I was like, okay, live so the opposite is dead or what is it in relation to? And also another very controversial word is real. Real versus virtual, meaning virtual is fake? In Mattie's beautiful anecdote it's all real because we're having real experiences in virtual and real and live and dead context. So, I guess for me, again, going back to an expansive framework it's been generative to think about everything as real and kind of tease things out that way. But, one of the kind of threads of the questions that we were getting previously, one area of questions was what about the audience's experience of presence and their own experience of presence and their experience of being together? How does that work? So I think there's something there in how we can think about liveness. In our RE-FEST gallery, so our annual festival bringing together artists, technologists and activists, it's virtual this year and it's online and you can visit it at our Culture Hub website. And there's a lot of really interesting examples of this kind of participatory strategies or ways in which folks can contribute their presence in actions and gestures in way that has impact. So, that's been an interesting way for me to think about liveness, an audience member enacting a gesture that ends up being the thing. Not being inconsequential, but actually affecting the thing and changing the thing and becoming the essence of the thing. So the story, first and foremost, becomes the actual call and response in the exchange. Some of the artists are working with games and the idea of play and in that case the entire narrative is dependent on the person's subjectivity and them showing up and the artist showing up and participating and collaborating together. So, yeah, I think something about co-authorship, multidirectional exchanges where your action matters to each other, I think that, to me, is a key way into liveness. And another one is thinking about liveness in terms of the unknown and the slippage and the errors and technical difficulties and glitch and latency. I find those all really generative sites for thinking about our relationship to life, art and life. And, Doug, you mentioned that when you ask people what their most memorable moment in the theatre about half the people say that it was a moment where something got messed up. And I find it liberating to interface with technology almost as like a mythical creature, like a mystery, like weather, that I'm collaborating with as opposed to trying to understand and analyze. Because a lot of the times I'm most interested in intentional misuse of technology or adaptive use of technology that strays away from its intended use, which is also bound with all of these hegemonic ideas of best practice. So it creates this unnerving space, which maybe I can call liveness, where we can examine what we assume to be true.
Mattie: Yeah, and I think, we all especially in this Zoom call, we have that little heat of the moment before we go live and there are all these little, you know, the HowlRound producer and the other Lab producer and the people doing all the little orchestrations that are gonna make this come through at exactly two o'clock or 11 o'clock and that's a heated thing and it's something I'm also experiencing on Downtown Variety. There's the liveness of the collaboration of the artist and the technologist or the technologist as the artist or the artist as the technologist because we're all blurring that away. And then there's that heat of the moment of the audience of am I in the right place? Am I seeing the right thing? Okay, what exactly is this thing that I'm hearing or what? And yeah, yeah.
Douglas: If anyone missed, so apparently our feed cut out for a minute while Scarlett was talking. So if anyone missed what she was saying she was saying that sometimes the glitches and when things go wrong actually are a great thing to explore and a really exciting part of the experience. So, she was literally speaking to reality as it happens, so there ya go. I'm really really interested as we talk about the liveness of the audience and the artists and all the different pieces that interactivity part that you were starting to talk about there, both of you. I think it's something that we're all experiencing because step one of us all learning how to do Zoom theatre or any other kind of theatre online basically was, well, you have to put a big wall up against the audience. And we've seen so many things where the artist may be collaborating live and the audience is in a chat box, like we have now, or in some other way are experiencing something live and able to interact together. But, what we have in a live theatre experience where the moment where the actor changes their performance because they can feel the energy from the audience is something that I think a lot of us are missing right now. So, can you talk a little bit more about that and where you're seeing people experimenting with that and what that adds or is lost on that front?
Mattie: We’re working with some artists, particularly in Noon Collective, who will be on Downtown Variety on June 5th, is they're working with different sorts of data streams that can flow between computers like a microphone or a video feed that can, not pick up like, okay, here I see 30 different people's faces or I hear 30 different people's voices, but there's a different level of data or meta data that can get transmitted between to have a live interaction. So that if I make a sound as an audience like, oh , that could get routed to the performer and will affect the performer. I can't speak on it so so elegantly because we don't know exactly what they're gonna do yet. So there's that level. There's this, the same way that you can put a heart on a Facebook data driven. One way that I've been exploring is just through imagination is putting one person in the audience when I'm sitting on my bed and imaging how they would react and it's almost a little bit more of an acting exercise than to hear the person laugh and they say, okay, that landed, which is kind of wacky and doesn't make a lot of sense, but I think it speaks to, okay, how do we talk to people now, how do we feel people now? And I think you do just have to be a little more open to what that means. And you have to go beyond this idea that it's people in a room together. Okay, so what if it's not? What if it's plural, what if it's people in rooms together? Then what do we open with that?
Douglas: [overlapping] You were saying some thing to us—
Scarlett: [overlapping]Yeah, I mentioned, oh, go ahead. [Pause.] I was talking a little bit about games and play and that as a really generative framework to think about interactivity because that story is dependent on the action of the participant and the game starts to serve as a site where, site of encounter and all of the myriad directions of potential energy being determined into, like executing in time, in realtime based on the input of the artist and the participants. So that's been a really interesting way to think about interactivity. And yeah, this year's RE-FEST was curated with two kind of core curatorial missions. And one was participatory strategies and one was intergenerational collaboration. So both were very high risk activities and it was kind of an interesting very specific inquiry that we had of like, okay, clearly we're going to have to reimagine this festival in a virtual space, but how do we take those whether it's sensory experiences and something that has to do with touch or smell or holding each other, things like this and also intergenerational community conversations and how do we translate those things online? And I found that I've been having a range of experiences as a curator and as a director whether it's going from working with someone who doesn't own a computer even or doesn't engage with a computer at all in their practice and doing a very technical how-to to going into let's improvise and jam out in a 3-D virtual avatar form and do all of these things. So, all of that feels like the same labor and the same thing in a way. And there's no tech part and the theory part and that feels like, I don't know, and that also relates back to the intimacy question for me and the access. But yeah, it's an interesting question of interactivity because there's also so much content in the world right now and it's at the tip of our fingertips to go and summon a media content to come into your living room. So what does it mean to sculpt experiences that are calling for a more proactive engagement on the audience's part? And is that something, are you trying to guess what people will do? And these are some of the same questions I ask in immersive theatre when I make participatory environments. It's the exact same questions actually and it's like are we trying to guess what people are gonna do or create a fertile and rich enough environment that it can take an infinite amount of impulses? So yeah, I have found that instead of trying to translate what worked in a physical space try to not know and try to respond to the parameters of the virtual world has been helpful. Because I also work as a translator between Korean and English I've been thinking about that metaphor a lot of what does it mean to translate because it's never a purely technical job. It's technical and it's also poetic and it's also artistic and personal and all of these things. So yeah, using that as a metaphor of like you can't fully in a sanitary institutionalized way take thing A that worked or was a certain DNA in real life and then translate it into a virtual space and for it to be a literal carbon copy of it. It's always gonna be a different thing, a different creature with its own DNA, so how do we actually embrace that? And yeah, I feel like I strayed away from your question about interactivity.
Douglas: No, this is great. And I really love the resonance there that you just highlighted there about the fact that some of the things we're pursuing and questions we're asking in a quote unquote high tech more environment are the same that that a lot of us have been exploring in the even more low tech than a traditional theatre environment, in an immersive theatre environment or as site specific environment where it's trying to be more interactive, more live, than the experience is sitting in a 500 seat theatre watching people behind a fourth wall. So a lot of these questions are still the same questions, not new questions really. It's applied in a different context that's really, it's really interesting. And also, interested back to the additive point that we made before and going back to access, which you were just talking about that there's a certain kinds of access to our physical spaces that we have, obviously technology is allowing access to different kinds of audiences in different places and in different manners that can work better for others, but technology doesn't work for everyone either. To your point, some people have access to virtual reality ocular sets and can have a whole experience that way and other people have phones or computers and other people don't have any of that. And so, this is all different ways to explore the core things that we're after. I would like to, as our time already is flying past, speaking to stage directors, or actually just say directors maybe not stage directors, directors, choreographers specifically, there is a physical element to what a lot of our experience is. Obviously for choreographers in particular, movement directors, so what's your experience or what are your thoughts about people engaging physically with work that has a lot of technology or virtual elements to it? And we were talking that other day that Zoom theatre where we're all sitting in a chair with our head in a box is different. And even how seeing somebody in Downtown Variety last week who just moved back and were in a Zoom shot, but they were from here and standing up was almost thrilling because there was suddenly a physical component that we're losing. So, we'd love to get your thoughts on just the visceral physicality and how that can live in these kinds of things.
Mattie: I mean, I think there's a set of expectations that come with working in Zoom or in a platform that was built for corporate meetings. And there are all sorts of different things that are just gonna come up like, and this isn't necessarily the physical, but say Scarlett is doing movement and we want that full screen. And I am speaking a poem or a monologue in that moment, but we don't want it to switch to my feed. Or I'm playing flute and we want that to underscore what Scarlett's doing. There are so many ways that we can't do that in the Zoom sort of setting. And it's because these things weren't built for performance. So I do wanna just also say that something that CultureHub has been building for about five years now is Live Lab, which is an opensource experimental interface for web based collaboration and it's a very flexible tool. We're releasing it beta to the public on June 5th. Beta meaning we're close, we're not all the way there, but we need you to experiment and come work with us to get us there.
Scarlett: Hack-a-thon, collective hack-a-thon.
Mattie: Yeah, yeah. And the idea is is that we want pure media feeds of cameras and of audio that can hold many many many different ways forward for artists so that we're not confined to a flattened plane of 2-D boxes and that it's interoperable with other softwares that allow for more potentials. So even just being in that mindset of not trying to figure out how to get around a Zoom or a video conferencing technology, but to say, look, this was needed beforehand because some people can't cross borders, some people can't leave their homes, some people can't travel freely, so we've needed these tools and we will continue to need these tools for art making purposes. And the simplest thing is creating your own frame around the box and playing with that. Or yeah, like you said, I keep on wanting to put the computer in the microwave or something. Just doing things that are unexpected and that are curious to you. Or having the shot start like that and then coming up or anything really. There's so many different ways to subvert what we expect. Like that was probably really unexpected, you didn't expect to see my legs and we're like, ah, we saw the legs. That's not right, we're only suppose to see from here up.
Scarlett: Yeah, I mean, everything is physical. I mean, that's like kind of like everything is real. Everything is physical, even as we appear to be these talking heads. I'm rehearsing this play with Padua Playwrights written by Guy Zimmerman. The playwright said something to me that blew my mind of like, why are we so tired all the time when we're doing Zoom rehearsals? And it's like, oh, maybe because our brain is having to furnish the rest of the perceptive reality. This is like a frame of a camera, it's like a viewfinder, that we have a one to one relationship to and because we're having to do imaginative labor to actually populate the rest of this reality, maybe that's why we feel fatigue. So it's a physical experience. I also feel like, I don't know, I always feel like my life is, I tend to gravitate towards creating collages and nonlinear narratives because that feels like that reflects my life experiences more truthfully as an immigrant woman of color. My story doesn't, I was Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire in high school when I realized this of like, oh, this is a really interesting story, but how can I also craft stories that feel like a more direct reflection of my entropic life where things don't make sense and things don't add up to a cohesive summary. So I feel like working with technology, not knowing, messing up, glitching out, all of these things are, in a way, more sincere. So it doesn't feel reductive in that sense. It feels like more naturalistic almost, whatever that means, like more of a sincere reflection of my contradictory existence and my un-cohesive self. And I always say, for me theatre is really an act of rehearsing life. Even the act of managing feeds, in that play I just mentioned we're doing a lot of stuff where we have three cameras on an actor so that we see the actor from three different angles and the actor might be seemingly doing on thing to one camera, but to another camera he might be texting under the table or something nefarious might be going on that you can't see on one feed. So all of the contradictions, all of the possibilities of multiplicity of self, of contradictions, collage narratives, this feels very actually much more naturalistic to my life and to my relationship to life. So yeah, that's my response to the physicality thing. Like it's all physical, so how can we embrace that and think about the rectangle Zoom feed more critically.
Douglas: Yeah, yeah, that's great. And thank you so much for the Live Lab beta that's going up in a couple weeks. I know there's definitely people who've been really assertive on the exploration of using the tools that are out there and having tools that are more conceived with connection to performance or to flexibility or to the creativity of.
Mattie: Yeah, created by artists for artists. And it's not gonna be a magic solve fix everything, but it's a different path forward. Which is exciting to have some choices because a lot of things have been limiting choices.
Douglas: Right, right. So just kicking over to some of the questions that have been coming in. There's a lot of questions, I wanna say, that are sort of technical. There's some how-to questions. There's the how do I get involved with CultureHub questions. There's questions about what tools are out there that they should be looking at. What really innovative things are happening they should see. So we talked a little bit about that we might pull together some curated links or something and share afterwards if you two are up for that?
Scarlett: Yeah, that's be great.
Mattie: Yeah and we'll probably pull on our folks at CultureHub who wear different hats than us 'cause it's not one person or one genius over here. We have this 'cause we work together.
Douglas: Great, excellent. So let me, I've got two questions just to toss out here as we're coming to the end of our time, from the chat. One is just, as you are working with technologists and artists together in the RE-FEST, but in a lot of the work, where does the impulse come from first? 'Cause there's some folks who have expressed some concern about saying, I have this technology now I need to find a reason to use it. As opposed to I have this artistic impulse how do I best facilitate that? Or I have a human impulse, what's the best way through? And since you've got people who come from different angles what's your sense of what's the cart, what's the horse, what's the chicken, what's the egg? If that makes any sense.
Scarlett: That’s a really interesting question and something that we intentionally engage those questions when we select or resident artist. And we're currently in the process of selecting our next generation. And yeah, that's very much a question. Are we looking at an artist coming from, maybe they're a playwright coming in to experiment with VR and what that is. Maybe someone's a UIUX designer looking to come in to work with a playwright. So it's kind of like we very much want to nurture the diversity of where people come from and how they want to engage other realms. Whether it's something very defined like I want to work with VR and use that to stage my play or whether it's something more open. And also a part of what we do is play matchmaker and kind of facilitate those relationships so that folks who might have not shared space before because of all these isolated disciplines and spaces. We see CultureHub as a site where people can come together and kind of not know together.
Mattie: So the tagline for RE-FEST that we used is, "Bringing artists, activists and technologists together "to explore our role in reshaping the future." And yeah, I think it's a collaborative act. Theatre making is a collaborative act. Also with our experiments in digital story telling program we highly believe that the influence is a dynamic state, it's a back and a forth. And if there is this technology when a writer gets wind of it and starts to write for that technology it's gonna pull the technology in a different direction and vice versa, when a writer has an idea the technologist will say, well, what if you can actually shut off the light in that room? What if that happens? And so, we just need to have more sites of intersection and collaboration so that A, you don't feel like you have to be everything in order to work in this space and to have a voice in this space and to play. But yeah, to know that we need to come at it together and it's not a commercial for like, tech industry, come support our work. It's a, look, artists are really good at imagining things. Activists are really good at imagining a world in which emancipation for all exists. Okay, how do we get there?" And technologists are really good at saying, okay, here's one way, okay, that's gonna steer us a little this way and then the imagination says, no, we need this. So yeah, it's a.
Scarlett: Yeah and for me specifically as a director I think the Director's Practice is a really amazing resource and there's a lot of potential energy right now. Like I said, I find myself playing chameleon a lot and a metaphor that I've been about a lot is slime mold. Because slime mold is like this organic material that, it's like internet for trees. They kind of communicate with each other by being infinitely adaptable and infinitely non-self in a way, but in doing so it's able to transmit information and bridge collaborations in a way that's so amacratic and so collective intelligence. So I feel like, yeah, I've been thinking so much about how I appreciate my background and training as a director because I'm able to kind of plug myself into different places where's there's riffs or spaces or glitches, slippage, so that I can play chameleon and be the slime mold. And look at the kind of dramaturgy from a very kind of multifaceted angle.
Douglas: That’s great. We always try to capture key tidbits and takeaways from each of these sessions and I wanna be the slime mold is definitely one of those. Theatre as the slime mold of society. We are almost to the end and there are certainly other questions that people submitted, which like I said, we'll provide to you afterwards so we can share back your thoughts on them. But there is a question that we ask to all of our guests here during Directors Lab West Connects, so I'd like to ask each of you and this is the question. And whichever one of you can go first as you prefer, but please briefly, just in a few sentences, share something you have learned or discovered or started thinking about during this quarantine period, since COVID kicked in in March, that you plan to incorporate into your practice as an artist going forward?
Scarlett: Do you wanna go first?
Mattie: You go.
Scarlett: I can go first. I think for me building an intentional relationship to technology driven by awareness and curiosity has actually allowed me to build intentional relationships with everything else. So, I've been obsessed with propagating plants. As you can see behind me is my little jungle that I've created in my house. But yeah, it really heightened my attention towards completely non-technological systems like nature and plants. And also a big part of my practice is very much based on the act of making with my hands, so I've been actually able to connect with that part of my practice more and I think there's such a pressure, in a way, to like, oh, we have to become all very text savvy and really do something with technology because this is our time, but in a strange way I'm trying to have the discipline to be generous with myself so that it's not the only thing. Definitely the very intense heightened relationship to technology is there, but how can we let that also bring our attention to what is not that.
Mattie: Okay, I have two, but I promise it won't be crazy. But one is a more sustainable relationship to living and working and potential dismantling of the 40 hour work week, requiring 40 hours in a physical space if that's part of your life or the sort of like hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle. But a different relationship with the sort of propagation of online spirituality and learning and art making, a different relationship to being there excites me. So that you can be somewhere else and have that not disrupt and dismantle your career. Which artists have been doing for a long time now saying I live in the mountains and then I also live in the city, but I think people deserve that of all stripes. And I like being in a space where there are no greats who have come before me and there are no rules that have yet been set. I feel free here and yeah, much more playful then I have been even in unconventional theatre performance contexts. And I feel a little bit more drawn to what do I love, what makes me laugh, what makes my heart beat.
Douglas: Thank you, thank you, that's great. Thanks so much to both of you, to Mattie and to Scarlett and thank you to our fabulous ASL interpreter, Dany Casey, thank you. As we come to the end here we'd like to also acknowledge our longstanding partners for Directors Lab, the Stage Director and Choreographer Society, Pasadena Playhouse and Boston Court Pasadena We're excited to be back physically in those spaces next year, but certainly hope to engage with all of our alums and our new community in a different way in the future as well. So again, all those questions you submitted have been captured and will be shared and this recording will be archived and available on DirectorsLabWest.com and HowlRound.tv very soon with closed captioning. We hope that you will all tune in again tomorrow at 11 o'clock Pacific for a conversation between Luis Alfaro and Lori Woolery who will be sharing reflections on remote teaching and community engagement in this time. Which is yet another angle into this world that we're exploring together. Thank you all so much for being with us today. We hope this conversation sparks more. Feel free to continue a conversation on the Directors Lab West Facebook page. And otherwise, we hope to see you all tomorrow Thanks very much.
Scarlett: Thank you. Bye!
This conversation is presented as part of Directors Lab West Connects, an 8-day series of livestreamed conversations and Q&As crafted for and by theater directors and choreographers that will reflect upon, explore, and inspire paths forward in the transformed and transforming nature of live theater. Curated to reflect a wide range of topics, each session will feature speakers sharing their unique perspectives for 30 minutes, followed by a live moderated 15-minute Q&A.
RSVP for this conversation, read speaker bios, and submit questions ahead of time at directorslabwest.com.
Directors Lab West Connects will be livestreaming on howlround.tv and on the Directors Lab West Facebook page, where viewers can engage with peers and ask additional questions in the chat. Each session will be archived on both HowlRound and Directors Lab West’s website.
The full Directors Lab West Connects schedule of conversations is:
Saturday 23 May 2020
Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps: A Discussion of Institutional Perspectives, Connections, and Support
Sunday 24 May 2020
Anne Bogart and Jessica Hanna: A Conversation about Creative Practice and the Shifting Landscape
Monday 25 May 2020
Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein: Using Intimacy Direction to Create a Culture of Consent Post-COVID
Tuesday 26 May 2020
Laurel Lawson and Diana Wyenn: Disability and Equity as Creative Forces
Wednesday 27 May 2020
Daniela Atiencia, Gianna Formicone, and Makiko Shibuya: Global Perspectives from DLW’s International Alumni
Thursday 28 May 2020
Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman: Reimagining Liveness and Connection for Virtual Space
Friday 20 May 2020
Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery: Reflections on “Remote” Teaching and Community Engagement
Saturday 30 May 2020
Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin: The Power of the Arts — Theater and Dance in Systems-Impacted Communities
- ASL Interpretation will be available on both the HowlRound and Directors Lab West Facebook livestreams.
- Closed captioning and ASL Interpretation will be provided on the archived video on both the Directors Lab West and HowlRound websites.
See the other archived videos that belong to the Directors Lab West Connects livestream series.
ABOUT DIRECTORS LAB WEST
Founded in 2000, Directors Lab West brings together dedicated emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers together with master artists for an eight-day long intensive filled with workshops, conversations, panels, and symposia enabling them to inspire each other to dream and create the future of American Theatre. Now entering its third decade, the Lab's alumni network is comprised of over 600 theater artists from all over the world. Directors Lab West is presented with artistic partners in Pasadena and Los Angeles and is supported by the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. www.directorslabwest.com
Directors Lab West Connects is produced by Che’Rae Adams, Douglas Clayton, Ernest Figueroa, Martin Jago, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Randee Trabitz, and Diana Wyenn, with additional support from Emily Claeys and Reena Dutt.
About HowlRound TV
HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email [email protected], or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.
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