Status Quo - The Oudeis News

The Ars Electronica Special Edition

First Stop On The Journey GeorgL Stars in Oudeis Blackout
It was another day at the AEC Festival ´97. My schedule was a simple one -- another workshop, "Oudeis -- a world wide odyssey," in the afternoon; and a film, "Spawn," as a closing event in the evening / by Leonid Filatov
A "workshop" normally is a form for acquiring some skills, a situation where someone teaches something. Although this form was totally inappropriate in this case, I found myself learning a lot by the end of the day. (I will talk about this a little later.)
Before going to the "workshop," as a preparation for it I made room in my head by putting together all the thoughts I had accumulated during the Festival. I had seen mostly everything, but surely not all the web projects. Web projects cannot be as valuable when seeing them on AEC´s computer monitors thousands of miles away from your home. In any case, it would take more than one week to look through them all thoroughly. Being an artist in residence at AEC, I knew what many projects had to go through in order to be presented at the Festival. Budgeting, support, space limitations and administrative problems were far from the excitement of the Festival. Nevertheless, my expectations were still for high quality, innovative approaches, radical thinking and challenging realizations of the projects presented at AEC Festival ´97. (Let's not forget that we are talking AEC in its second year, with 18 years in Festival experience.)
Yes, there were many projects, but in reality there was not much to see, if something can be seen in many other places. Few of the experimental projects were more than "works in progress." But, for today anyway, I was ready for a challenging combination of theatre, multimedia and networking. From the announcement in the Festival's program it looked like the "Oudeis" group was taking this challenge seriously. The "Oudeis" project beckoned to me because of my long-standing (unsatisfied) interest in theatre and technology. To be more specific, I wondered what has theatrical performance to do with computer and network technology; or better, what has technology to do with theatre?
Instead of repeating the project´s statement here, though clear enough as far as it goes, I would rather focus on what I experienced that day. The presentation part was straight- forward and self-explanatory: how we started, what it´s all about, who is who, and of course, how to get on- line with us. Just one small disagreement -- why this way? "Do we have to buy something?" This is a question that arises in a situation like that. For me this format created some difficulty in trying to get through to a much deeper level than the one that was (well-) presented in the Festival's publications. At this level I had an understanding of a concept -- multiple staging, time zones, virtual actors, etc. (this is why I got interested in the project in the first place.) Many things were addressed in detail; some were left out. Are these issues conceptual or purely technical? The discussion that evolved during the presentation gave answers to only some of my questions.
The most difficult part was to comprehend the group´s vision for the merger of a long theatre tradition and an evolving Internet experience. The structure of the play was well suited to the project and was adapted on very elaborate level. Odysseus´ travels from island to island justify the "multiple stages" approach in the project. Each stage is not only located in different parts of the world, but also in different time zones. Time difference and live performance together added a new aspect of time travel, as well as the light cone used on one location as a representation for the actor located at another. Using the sensor and Internet technology to power up the virtual actor the "Oudeis" group offered an innovative solution to complete the travel aspects. The Internet also provides voices for the chorus, which here will be formed by the worldwide audience in front of their computers. Each spectator on-line will be able to trigger some of the preset chorus voices. This very promising marriage of theatre and technology does not, however, help me to paint the picture of the whole project. The timing and dynamic of the performance appeared to me to be the crucial moments in the live play. Spectators not present at the locations are passively engaged during performance and, hopefully, may vote on their computers as the chorus in the breaks between episodes. The actors on stage and everyone else are left only to guess on the collaborative effort of the world audience not present locally. The "virtual" actor will have to deal with a "latency effect" that cannot be avoided. The screen design for the on-line audience is still an open question. All these aspects will dramatically affect the development and design of "Oudeis," as well as any other interactive tele- system. The prototype performance had planned to address those aspects. However, due to unexpected technical limitations at the AEC location, the performance presentation was not be able to include the "virtual" actors and to demonstrate the group´s approach in those conceptual and technical issues of the project. At the same time, the prototype revealed many things needing to be addressed.
Multimedia are very difficult to deal with, in the first place. Each content element has to work as a piece in a mosaic. It is not enough for an element to work well on its own; all elements have to work together supporting the dynamic of the whole piece. Just putting monitors in a play without meaningful visual content and placement will create unwanted effect on the spectators. These conceptual issues have to be analyzed for each particular situation, based on experimentation and technical expertise. Each element establishes a relationship with the other, and with the audience, all becoming the part of "theatre." Two actors are on stage: actor One is real and actor Two is "virtual." One is human, another is the cone of light. They interact in almost "real" time. What will be the indication of it from actor Two? Actor One cuts the head of actor Two and 5 minutes later the body of actor Two falls on the stage. None of the present systems has a latency period of 5 minutes, though computers are getting much faster every day, but even 30 seconds has to be staged carefully and, hey, accidents are happen: crashes, delays, bottlenecks, etc.. Light is usually associated with many different qualities: energy, moods, emotions, feelings. It is one of the essential elements in an artist´s arsenal. The light cone is the best metaphor for the "virtual" actor on the real stage, and it requires very gentle and precise handling. In many cases, technology dictates the form, and finding the right technical solution will help the "Oudeis" group to breathe life into the "virtual" actors. This is beyond question to me. Although telepresence technology is nothing new, an actor´s "virtual" presence adds new dimensions to "Oudeis." The Question is about the "virtual" audience.
Implying another metaphor in performance, the "Oudis" group includes the audience in their collective collaboration effort of creating the play. The chorus represents the people, in this case the on-line audience. It is a very powerful application for a collective on-line work in live performance. In many cases, for instance "Brain Opera," on-line participation did not have any significance for performance and required some advance explanation. The chorus covers one of the functions offered to the audience. Another is to post the comments that will display on screens. At first, this may appear to be even a more powerful audience presence in a play than the choros. Yes, it will be more powerful if the text organically interweaves with the visual elements to support the art direction of the play. Several monitors were displaying text hardly comprehensible because of its breaking nature -- read the text or enjoy the acting? Commentary lines cannot override the play, turning it into a chatroom. This element showed its insignificance during the AEC performance. If the "virtual" actor is a more technical issue, the audience presence in the play, aside from the chorus, is a totally conceptual one. Any theatre needs an audience, "feedback" and response, and an actor´s interaction with it. Telepresence is much more than television with a voter´s push button and commentary lines on the button of the screen. The "virtual" audience has to have its own metaphor, character and part in the story of the Odyssey. What will be the relation? It is up to the director and the rest of the group, and I am sure the story will provide rich materials for a solution.
Listening to a presentation and having a discussion, seeing the work in progress and meeting the team, turned out to be my most interesting experience in whole AEC Festival ´97. Exploration of the world on a long journey could not be a better metaphor for the meaning of the Web. The choice of the "Odyssey" for the merger of theatre and Web was excellent. "Instead of traveling along the sea-routes, Odysseus will journey along the lines of the Internet." This can become a reality depending on the next steps that the "Oudeis" group will take in building their "ship." Just as in the "Odyssey," they will continue to face the challenge of a journey.

Rainer Fügenstein is "somewhat off"

Due to some changes in his life, long time oudeis tech master Rainer Fügenstein is going into "stand by" mode. He does not officially leave the project, but will not keep track of the ongoing discussions nor actively take part in them. Yet, he stays related to oudeis. We would like to thank him for his participation and valuable input.

My Mission

I joined the team because the concept was more creative and more aware of the nature of the internet than what I had seen so far in other projects. I had the feeling that there are people involved who really know what they are talking about: experience in theater and experience in the net combined / by Monika Wunderer

Also the idea of bringing REAL stage and VIRTUAL stage efficiently together seemed reasonable. When I found out about oudeis, I thought that only MOO theater can call itself "theater" - nothing much has changed in my opinion since then!
That could be the groundbreaking nature of oudeis.
That also caused my frustration when thinking of MMK and Ars Electronica. Especially after MMK, but also after Among Immortals 2.0 it occurred to me that what we had been doing was not so different from all those projects that I had never taken for full:
We basically had a RL event - with "some" input from the net.
We did also not fully succeed in "sending out" the RL performance to the net (as far as I know - but I have never participated on the "other" side of the line).
Another drawback: people who originated parts of the idea have left the team - have others consciously taken their positions or are we still thinking of "the" omnipotent, all knowing creator?
Oudeis intends to bring the real stage and the virtual stage together. Thus it has to explore not only the nature of the real stage when combined with the virtual world, but also explore or create the virtual stage. In order to fulfill this purpose, the idea of creating virtual actors through lightcones on real stages was born.
The initial idea of a worldwide cooperation of several stages lead to an intensive, collective work between individuals, rather than having 5 or 7 organizations with seperated budgets and resources. As if leading to the final goal, we started creating our own virtual environment, our working place and relationships (Here ATHEMOO as well as IGW comes in - as they provided us with the "reality" that the virtual wolrd needs: disk space, program, (human) resources).
Oudeis did not start with a playscript. It still has to define and create such a script. However, the ever - present Homer and the emotions we can share with Odysseus have always been with our work.
In order to continue the journey on the route oudeis has taken it needs to:
  • Redefine its initial idea
  • Reformulate the organizational needs (kispro needs support and can not be named as the only organisational backbone)
  • Name the active participants (who are the people working online, how do the people who not participate in our online conference come in ?)
  • And name their functions
  • Split the work
  • Do a test
  • Don´t talk about ideas - talk about facts
I want to stay with oudeis until I have seen a successful combination of "real stage" and "virtual stage", of real and virtual audience. I want to participate in a creation of a theatrical piece that uses space that is not "stopped by the boundaries of four walls." (L.H. Grant) - and I will leave the team not before I have found out whether this is possible or not.

Status Quo
The oudeis News

A monthly Internet publication providing background information, news and links concerning the progress of oudeis - a world wide odyssey and developments and projects in the world of Internet theatre and culture.

Responsible for the contents: Monika Wunderer and Georg Leyrer
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"Anybody can say they are thinking ´globally,´ but very few can actually take a worldcentric perspective. To actually live from a worldcentric or universal perspective requires five or six major interior stages of transformation and transcendence." (Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything) / by Jim Terral
When I first heard about the Oudeis project, nearly a year and a half ago, I was immediately interested in the Odyssey theme. But the concept of doing five (now seven) simultaneous performances seemed to be a delusion conceived by someone who had no idea at all how much work it takes to put on just one performance.

A. Achievements
  1. Given this extravagant aspiration, I think Oudeis has accomplished even more than Lee and Monika have already described from Austria. From here, one can see how difficult it is even to exist online. It doesn´t matter if you are in one of the planet´s cultural capitols. Mistake a semi-colon for a colon and "Poof", you are gone.
  2. The relationship of Athemoo and the budding Canadian team with Vienna improved (you didn´t even know there was a Canadian team, did you? See what I mean.) We did have several rehearsals before the show this time; that was a plus. The script is clearly changing, and that, too, is a good thing. It means we have the capability to bring the the whole concept into line with what can be done. The team in Austria also indicated a willingness to support an evening performance in Nelson (early a.m. for them). That was very important in Nelson even though that part of the performance aborted. It gave us an opportunity to explore the local performance option in some detail.
  3. Locally, we were able to develop working relationships with the owners and staff at the Station Manor. Pueblo is now installed on their computers; Stormcrow, their main computer support person, is now a programmer on Athemoo; and Andrea is looking forward to trying again. On the creative side, I think it is fair to say that Greg and I explored contexts in which Oudeis on Athemoo and Web might be presented. We considered a full in-sync performance of the show and decided against it because of the time zone factor. That enabled us to avoid what would have been a catastrophe at the Station Manor and to plan in terms of something more like a salon with many artists presenting, some online, some not. As a result, we are still growing, and the Oudeis project still has credibility here. Several other projects were begun to help provide context for an Oudeis presence, and the synergy from that is ongoing.
  4. On the MOO, we have a functioning team: Juli in Hawaii, Twyla and Kristian in Kalifornia, Jim in Kanada, BorisK in Germany, GeorgL in Austria, and MonikaW who goes back and forth. Juli got the PR out ahead of the performance and then got it out again when it turned out there was a mistake in the time. So we got double coverage. Very good recovery. Monika brought people to keyboards in Linz, for our workshop discussion and later in the Sky Cafe. Twyla continues to be simply amazing at her ability to do too many things at once--manage the control room, translate. Kristian, who was onhand to give programming help, recorded the performance and one of the rehearsals even though he had to port systems from other MOOs to do it. Twyla and BorisK translated. GeorgL, as MOOMC, was the linchpin of the whole performance.
  5. It seems to me that the problem with sets is moving toward resolution. We slowed down the active setting and used a revised Ogygia in preference to the Hall of Zeus. Sets did not change with the scenes because the scenes themselves are still so short and the first one, much longer.
  6. MOOCroo had costumes that were at least nominally appropriate for their parts. Since the players were gods and goddesses, the audience was in fact "among immortals." We had a narrator separate from the MOOMC and I think that is an important step in the right direction. More about that on the ideas list.
  7. GeorgL, of course, was the only ´character´ from Linz who really existed for anyone in MOO space (or Internet outside of Vienna and Linz). Monika was very busy getting on the MOO as a Guest character and helping to bring audience members to keyboards so they could chat with someone "international." The number of people we talked to in this mode definitely improved over MMK, thanks to these efforts. In addition to GeorgL and MonikaW, we had a very taciturn guest appearance from Gernot. Lee popped in for a few minutes. I don´t think either of them stayed long enough to link with anyone in our audience, so maybe there is a misunderstanding of some kind about that. I know they were busy.
  8. I had several additional mailing lists that I did not give to Karin or Juli and spent my time looking for guests who said they might show up--that is what I was doing, that and standing by the sets to change them or shut them down if the "live" show happened to get to that point.
  9. I had contacted B.C. Tel about sponsorship but did not pursue it. Even if we had had T1 lines between Nelson and Linz, no one I know goes to the theater at 9:30 in the morning--or to workshops at 6 a.m. I have other projects I want to talk to them about, and I don´t want to squander my credibility.
  10. One last, important accomplishment. Less and less do I hear people talking about how many years they have been with this project as if that earned them some special authority. Even now, we are seeing the end of "work-in-progress" as an excuse for failure. ("Experimental" can also be used this way. A famous Viennese once said "All neurosis results from the avoidance of legitimte suffering.") Maybe the next step will be the end of "Well, it was never intended to be a script," as some kind of answer to criticism of the words that scroll by for the MOO audience. Calling it a storyboard doesn´t make it theater. The point? If you can´t listen to criticism with your mouth shut, you can´t do creative work in public. I am glad to say the Oudeis team seems to be learning this difficult lesson. We are on the threshold of promising times.
B. Disappointments

So was it Better than MMK? Some things improved, some got worse.
  1. There was, for instance, no ´backstage´ afterwards; that the highlight of MMK. As Howard Rheingold points out, the internet is a many-to-many medium.
    Without Oudeis, "Among Immortals" is a non-event. As a poet, I have often presented work-in-progress and have been on programs with others who have done it too. The essential dynamic is that you have to give something else too, something that is polished. Otherwise, work-in-progress sounds like you think you have a blanket excuse for sloppy work. Even very well-known writers cannot get away with a show that consists solely of unfinished work. There are workshops for that kind of thing. And then rehearsals. Do your homework.
  2. The biggest disappointment from Nelson was that we were not able to put on either a live version of Oudeis--or even a live performance of which Oudeis could be a part. PDT, time zone of the Wild West from Inuvik to the northern Baja (including Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles,and San Diego--just in case you are not interested in Nelson), is 9 hours from Central Europe. Gernot did his shamanistic best by closing out the sun, but he could not shut down Time. So we were lucky just to have Twyla, Kristian, and Juli (3 hours farther west)--never mind an audience. Getting an audience at that time of day seemed impossible to me then. In retrospect, I think we might seriously try to attract people who are on the street at that time of day (the homeless, enterprising panhandlers, truck and cab drivers, pastry chefs). The main attraction would, of course, be to converse with someone "from away" as they say in Newfoundland. A well-planned backstage party is be a must. Timing in this sense was only slightly better for MMK. So the Ars represented a small deterioration on that score.
  3. After the Rushes
    We had MOO cameras up and running for the Thursday night rehearsal and for the performance. I have yet to convince anyone that there is any value in trying to get people together to view them. Everything must be discussed. That is one reason this project is going to take so long. The tapes are available and anyone who wants to take the time to learn how to operate the projector can get an idea what the Ars Electronica Festival was like for those who were not in Austria. It was mainly the script (alas!).
  4. We were given misinformation about what was working and what was not. No web, no sound, no visuals. It´s there and it´s good. And it´s not getting out because people are trying to do too many things.
  5. The multi-lingual aspect of the performance deserves comment. I would say that at MMK, the MOO participants did not really appreciate this aspect of the concept. But MMK revealed the simultaneous translations to be an engaging aspect of the show. The responsibilities were redistributed and the AE performance retained a multi-lingual flavor. I have only been able to view the tapes from the rehearsal so far and at that point we had English on twice--an advantage that Anglophones certainly do not need. My recollection is that the same was true on Friday, but I may be wrong. So it seems to me that this important aspect of the online performance is still shaky.
  6. One serious problem with "Among Immortals" has been with our PR (I include that which I wrote myself). We create a grandiose expectation and then what the team delivers is disappointing because it is measured against a long-term fantasy which bears little relation to what actually happens. This is bad for the reputation of the project. We need a clear, reliable picture of what we are presenting to the audience so that we are judged in accordance with what we are trying to do. So getting the title ("Among Immortals") in line with what the audience experiences (characters named as gods) felt like an accomplishment.
  7. A lot of work needs to be done with character descriptions and in getting the character names to be appropriate to the lines they speak.
C. Summary
  1. Thinking now about Oudeis, I see a large ungainly insect dragging behind itself long, inscrutable threads, but flying anyway. A puff of wind could blow it out of the sky, but for now, it is a successful mutant.
  2. Our main strength is the team. For us online and outside of Austria, that is a different group of people than it is in Vienna. I can see that. But it is talented, and it persists.
  3. Our main weakness is that we need stronger organization. I do not mean that someone should step in and boss people around like a drill sergeant, but we do need better coordination. Someone has to say, Station Manor is looking like it won´t happen (or RealAudio or whatever), can you work on translations instead. To much "positive blab" is preventing people from focusing their energies on what is really working.
  4. After MMK, I doubted whether or not the project organizers seriously wanted an audience outside the Central European Time zone. Now I see that they do. Now the question is whether or not we can draw in enough participants to solve the problem of time zones.
  5. What does it all add up to? From here, it looked like another rehearsal, not a show. Much has to change. The sets, the costumes, the script, the concept. We could far more easily do the entire Odyssey than seven simultaneous stages. Even so we would need more art, more music--god help us please, more than one actor--and simpler technology, technology that is at least under control.
  6. The real thing may reasonably be planned as a year 2000 event. If we can get a decent preview together by the end of 1998 we will be doing well.
  7. So we in the Kootenays will carry on doing smaller, more focussed probes of cyberspace, but always ready to jump in for an Oudeis gig. I´m speaking for myself there. I think next time out Athemoo will be even more capable than it was this time. But certainly Athemoo This Time is the big news as far as I am concerned.