Telepresence may be defined as “live video that allows for human-sized interactions, while offering clear sound and visual fidelity to individuals in remote rooms” (Miller et al. 2015) and this project explores its potential for teaching and learning in the field of performing arts. In particular, the project facilitates international virtual and blended mobility collaborations between theatre students at the Tampere University (Finland) and Coventry University (UK).
This project provides students with opportunities to engage in intercultural collaborations and to develop valuable global attributes, promoting a more environmentally sustainable model, diminishing the need to move large groups of student actors across the globe for rehearsals, workshops and even performances.
Initially taking the text of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as a basis for study, in 2015-16 students of the two universities worked on a small section of the script (3:3) in both Finnish and English. An ‘Immersive Rehearsal Space’ was created in both locations through the re-purposing of videoconferencing technology and the use of large rear projection screens, high speed internet connections and unidirectional, hypercardioid microphones. Moreover, a unified spatial design and a careful use of lighting gave the actors the illusion that they were occupying the same physical space.
A second iteration of the project took place in February 2017 and culminated in a field trip to Tampere where both groups performed together live in Telakka Theatre, demonstrating the use of the technology to an invited audience of theatre practitioners, students and technologists. The work continued to examine Shakespeare’s texts as the students already have some experience in dealing with Shakespearean language and the complexities of blank verse. The text chosen for this second stage was King Lear and we explored both large ‘public’ scenes as well as more intimate sections from the text in order to examine how this pedagogy enables rehearsal work in these differing circumstances.
The third iteration of the project was a collaboration between the team and the Theatre Academy at the University of the Arts, Helsinki and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. On this occasion, the text chosen was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which offered the students the opportunity to explore the comic side of Shakespeare’s work, using a combination of large, intricate scenes as well as smaller ‘one on one’ segments.
The project has also crafted a unique telepresence banquet and performance of selections of Lear Online to support Coventry’s bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2021. For this, two banqueting spaces were created in Coventry and Tampere and participants were able to dine, converse and watch a performance as well as gain some insights into the project and the technology used to enable this collaboration.
In March 2018, King Lear Online travelled to the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong to perform selections from the project and demonstrate the system live. Organised by the UK Department of Trade, this was an opportunity to share the work with fellow educators and artists from across the globe.
In April 2018 the team created a ground breaking performance to open the Network Performing Arts Production Workshop conference in the New World Symphony Centre, Miami. Using a motion captured actor and live musician in Tampere in conjunction with a live performer in Miami and the state of the art NIMBRA media server to connect the two spaces, the team performed a segment from Sam Shepard’s ‘Paris Texas’.
In March 2019, students from Coventry collaborated with Wydział Anglistyki UAM | AMU Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz Uniersity Poznan on an exploration of Shakespeare’s ‘ Julius Caesar’. After a week of online rehearsals and workshops, the Coventry students travelled to Poznan to take part in a week of live rehearsals and workshops with their Polish counterparts, culminating in a sharing of the work on Friday 22nd March 2019 in Sala Teatralna at Collegium Maius, Adam Mickiewicz University.
In May 2019, Coventry students collaborated with students and staff from Purdue University theatre department on a two week course exploring the text of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Life of Galileo’. Rehearsals occurred over two weeks in late May 2019 with two performances at the end of the process showing the work to invited audiences in both Purdue and Coventry. As is now traditional, several workshops were taken by guest practitioners including a clowning workshop with Connor Nolan from Noctium Theatre, Amy Lynn Budd from Purdue leading a class on Burlesque and Ann M Shanahan from Purdue who led a discussion on Brecht and his rehearsal techniques.
In March 2020, students from the acting course at Tampere University and the theatre course at Coventry University began a collaboration exploring selections from the text of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. The plan was, after the two weeks online work, that the participants would gather in Tampere to continue rehearsals and develop the piece for performance in 2021 as part of UK City of Culture which will be hosted that year by Coventry.
Both casts had never met in person – and still haven’t.
Of course, a global pandemic derailed those plans. Finland closed all schools and universities on 16th March and the UK followed suit on the 20th March. The trip did not occur.
In March 2022, Coventry University and Tampere University resumed their collaboration post Covid with two weeks of rehearsal exploring the text of Martin Crimp’s ‘Attempts on Her Life’.
The project continues to explore technical systems and configurations that are both affordable and user friendly so that a system for online rehearsing can be accessible to a wide variety of user groups. In order to explore alternative technologies and suitable pedagogical approaches, a workshop was hosted in December 2016 at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab of Coventry University with the aim of gathering academics and practitioners with experience in the use of telepresence in education or industry. The team are active members of Network Performing Arts Production Workshop and Remote North, organisations that explore and promote the use of advanced networks in education and performing arts.
- Jan-Feb 2016: Coriolanus Online interactions
- December 2016: Telepresence in the Arts Workshop
- February 2017: King Lear Online interactions
- October 2017: City of Culture 2021 Telepresence Banquet
- February 2018: University of Tampere Winter Gala
- February 2018: Twelfth Night Online Interactions
- March 2018: Interview with Tom Gorman at GREAT Festival of Innovation, Hong Kong
- March 2018: Performance and discussion of King Lear Online at GREAT Festival of Innovation, Hong Kong (1)
- March 2018: Performance and discussion of King Lear Online at GREAT Festival of Innovation, Hong Kong (2)
- April 2018: Performance of Paris Texas at New World Symphony, Miami with motion captured actor and live musician in Tampere, Live actor in Miami
- March 2019: Caesar Online Interactions
- May/June 2019: Galileo Online Interactions
- March 2020: Godot Online Interactions
- March 2022: Attempts on Her Life Online Interactions