‘Art is presented on the Internet as a specific kind of reality: as a working process, or even life process, taking place in the real, offline world’
(Groys 2018, p.174)
Live performance has migrated online since theatres closed in March 2020. Streaming shows from auditoriums has been part of theatre culture for some time now, but programs such as NT Live are distinct from those performances that are devised specifically for the medium of the internet. Covid-19 has opened up a new frontier for theatre-makers who wish to experiment with expanding the communication space of performance into cyberspace.
Shows such as Forced Entertainment’s End Meeting For All frame the grid of screens on Zoom as a collage of encounters between six connected yet distant bodies, each one inhabiting a reality that never fully converges into a communal experience, whilst Dead Centre’s To Be A Machine turns the audience into data subjects by having them present as recorded video footage and as viewers watching the performance as a live stream on Vimeo. Other examples to cite include Gob Squad’s Show Me A Good Time, New Diorama’s work_txt_home, Coney’s Telephone, and Dante Or Die’s USER NOT FOUND.
The diverse forms of these pieces accentuate the multimodality of the internet as a performance medium. Internet theatre is capable of being live, recorded, and a hybrid of both.
As a medium, it is experienced as a porous membrane that makes fluid the boundaries between realities, both real and fictional, by operating in multiple times and spaces simultaneously.
Moreover, the lack of institutional framing turns internet theatre into an event characterised by convergences between different media, which includes actors and spectators.
The live qualities of these pieces are marked less by their corporeal nature and more by their ability to attune us to ‘the transitory character of the present’ (Groys 2018, p.7), which in the context of a global pandemic feels particularly unstable. If we were to understand Covid-19 as a type of drama, expressed as a ‘processual linking of microscopic events into a sequence of meaningful and reality constituting elements…a form of narration’(Haas and Wicke 2020), then internet theatre can fulfil the epistemic function of documents by structuring new modes of communication through data and information instrumentalised into performance.
Online communication in the context of theatre structures temporary realities for audiences to converge with diverse information sources. When framed as documents, internet theatre prefigures anticipated futures of live performance by simulating the digital realities we experience everyday as data subjects in the infosphere.
Groys, B. (2018) In the Flow. London: Virago
Haas, M. and Wicke, J. (2020) Lockdown Theater (1). Theater in Quarantine. Schauspielhaus Journal. Available at: https://neu.schauspielhaus.ch/en/journal/18219/lockdown-theatre-1-theater-in-quarantne [accessed: 11 August 2020]