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Hamlet on SL Production Blog » Blog Archive

POV of a Virtual Theatre Director by ina

Live theatre is — by nature — temporal. Although it’s guided by the playscript, as implemented in the director’s vision, what goes on during showtime is quite often spontaneous, and in some cases filled with so many surprises of serendipity or misfortune that nothing appears like anything the director had in mind. But, the magic of it all is that even if the theatre burns down or if a backdrop collapses on an actor’s back… everything always ends up “right”… from one POV at least!

Virtual theatre in a MMOG is all that — and more. You have the advantage of a potentially infinite and globally unrestricted theatre, but technical issues on serverside, clientside, and yourside make the combination something of a blender jumble.

In a virtual theatre set in a platform like Second Life — which, because of its general nature and free-range customization appeal, suffers from significant performance issues when more than two dozen avatars are in the same locality — issues such as sim crashes, viewer crashes, ruthing (when an avatar’s appearance reverts to the default avatar), attachments being misplaced, textures not loading, prims not loading, local lighting being too local, collisions going berserk, and lag… often occur!

Although my test system should be more than sufficient to view Second Life, the actors all appear horribly ruthed for every single performance (even the ones where we didn’t pack the house). I can only imagine that the audience might end up suffering a different or worse POV due to system differences — but, then again, our strategy thus far has been to keep publicity inworld… such that those who visit are well aware of the quirks of Second Life, and would understand that it’s the platform collapsing as we all attempt to gather there at one point.

In a Second Life theatre set in the intersection of four-sims (currently, that is the only way to hold a large event on one location, as each sim is limited to 100 avatars), there are also problems with simcrossings. For a round theatre like the Globe, audience members may get “eaten by prims” as they cross sim borders, due to physics oddity. This bug should really *not* be an issue, as a virtual world whose “safe lands” to walk on spans only 256×256m2 … is a small world indeed! (Please vote here.)

The SL Globe Theatre is set on the intersection of sLiterary, Primtings, Skin City, and Shakespeare, and is home to the SL Shakespeare Company. It has an entire sim dedicated to the stage (and VIP audience members), and thus has an audience capacity of up to 300, supporting up to 400 local avatars.

Now, when a sim crashes, it basically looks like 1/4 of the Globe is gone. And it’s not always obvious that that’s what happened. You’d think it’s because your viewer spontaneously derezzed the view further than a certain viewdistance, but when you see ocean instead of land — the vast emptiness of an area once teeming with green map dots on the minimap makes it evident that the region has crashed.

Time is an interesting complication to get straight and universal for a medium accessible to an international audience. Daylight Savings Time, especially, becomes confusing when different regions of the world observe it differently or not at all! We had scheduled 10 runs starting on “SLSC Thursday,” but skipped Wednesday (assuming it might be downtime Wednesday), but I’d forgotten that the 10th and closing show occurred on DST… until the day of the show.

Second Life Time is actually PST or PDT, when DST is observed. But, those across the pond apparently don’t observe DST until more than two weeks after California switches over. Interestingly, we had a crowd arrive at both the 3 PM PDT and the 3 PM PST. We thus ended up doing an “encore finale” at 4 PM PDT (the old 3 PM PST), where we had the voice director do a speaking cameo for Francisco, after spontaneously upgrading the old Francisco to Horatio (who could not make it to the 4 PM). We also had a missing Francisco for the 3 PM, and had the Ghost voice out the role of a visual truant Francisco.

Chaos? No, but there does exist method in the madness… The only sane way to accept it all is to keep an open mind — and to take it all… passively, as accepting of everything as you can.

And, of course, we didn’t get to sign a restrictive license from DPS where we aren’t allowed to deviate from script. The advantage of performing a play written by a guy who’s so set for posterity there are (literally!) busts of him ubiquitous… and especially when we’re not certain if the plays we have are accurate per se, and when we’re pretty sure his players improv’ed their way through… is that when all else fails… the play is free to become truly live… temporal and spontaneous as the spoken word.

In closing, I’d like to address the cynics who believe that this endeavor is in vain, both because of platform and nature of the medium. While I’m well aware that there are plenty of greenscreening technologies that interface, in real time, real actors with virtual sets, the beauty of having a theatre in a virtual world is that… the theatre is actually *in* a world. I think that distinguishes a play from something seen on a 2d screen — you can see it at various angles if you tilt your head a bit… or a much wider angle if you become restless and start pacing through the seats. And, when it’s over, you can continue to “live” in the virtual world knowing that you’ve just attended a major Shakespearean production… perhaps with your virtual family or with friends separated by great spans of space and time. Although you’d view it using a technological interface (and, perhaps, with your view limited by this interface), it’s immersive, and you’re a part of it.

(Cross posted at Ina Centaur Blog)

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