Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Rebecca’s Woyzeck final project proposal

Hey Guys!
Here is my final project proposal. I’d love any ideas or feedback!
Best,
Rebecca

Woyzeck Demo Map

For the Future Cinemas final project I would like to create an interactive demo of my thesis project, an original English-language musical adaptation of Georg Buechner’s Woyzeck to be performed with augmented reality (AR) technologies. The demo will include a to-scale model of the future cinema AR lab space where Woyzeck will be mounted. Opportunities for further research include creating a site-specific version of Woyzeck for Toronto’s historic Fort York.

The Woyzeck demo will be an interactive to-scale model of the project created using html code. The main page will be a representation of the lab space as it will appear during the Woyzeck installation. When clicked with the mouse, elements of the installation will be activated. Sound samples, concept art, and dialog will appear to give the user a feeling of what it would be like to experience that area of the installation as an audience member. This demo will be an experiment in interactive storytelling in and of itself, and will be an invaluable tool for testing elements of Woyzeck. My plan is that the demo will be interesting as its own project but also make a vital contribution to the development of the larger Woyzeck project. This demo will allow me to conduct very informal usability testing before beginning construction on the larger project and will help me to revise and refine the project as I continue to develop it.
Woyzeck, a haunting and timely story of a poor soldier driven to insanity and violence by the military, is a fascinating and painful look at a character whose every possession and faculty is taken from him by a societal structure designed to keep him, and those like him, in a state of constant deprivation. The story has an unflinchingly surreal quality, as if told through the eyes of someone delirious with several days’ hunger. Woyzeck is uniquely suited to an AR performance in both structure and content. The play is structured as a collection of episodic scenes, which may potentially be placed in any order. Buechner died before he could complete a final version of the script with a static order for the scenes. As Robert Wilson noted in an interview about his 2002 production of Woyzeck, the structure of the play is way ahead of its time. Wilson commented:
To me one of the attractions of this play is that it’s not dated. I mean who would ever think that this was a play from the 19th Century? These big sort of blocks of architecture, construction. All of the contemporary playwrights I can think of are nowhere near as modern as this – it’s classical but it’s very modern. […]500 years from now this’ll still be interesting because there’s no shit, there’s no garbage. There is like this brick is here, this brick is here, this brick is there and that brick is there. […]you don’t get involved with unnecessary things […] it’s very direct. (Wilson)

In Woyzeck I want to explore storytelling possibilities not available on a conventional stage. By conventional stage, I mean not only proscenium arch raked audience seating style productions but also more physically interactive forms of theatre, such as environmental theatre. I have experience inviting audiences in and compelling them to move through theatre spaces in my productions of both Maria Irene Fornes’ Fefu and Her Friends and my own The Magellan Project. In both cases, audience members were delighted with an experience that allowed them to inhabit the story space and, in the case of The Magellan Project, contribute to the action of the piece. Audiences enjoy being given a space in which they can play creatively within a compelling story structure. Theme park designers have a long history of creating such spaces for audiences. Karal Ann Marling writes in her book, Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance, of the experience of visiting Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A:
It will be fun, you won’t get lost, and there are plenty of benches in case your feet get tired. But they won’t. Indecision and anxiety make for tiredness […] Look at anything. Wander anywhere. It’s better than any real street in any turn-of-the-century town ever had been, a vast stage, a film set with the tourist as the actor. (83)

I see AR as a potential tool to further enhance and complicate this sort of immersive story experience for audiences. AR technology can create more interesting or complex spaces for the audience in the story. For example, in one scene in Woyzeck audience members will be able to handle objects representing Woyzeck’s past during a scene in which Woyzeck prepares for his suicide and gives these items away to a friend. Another example will involve a hands-on interaction for the audience that allows them to force Woyzeck to perform several of the humiliating tasks that make up his daily routine; such as taking his wages to his girlfriend, shaving the Captain, and giving the Doctor a urine sample.
In an AR installation, audience members will be free to move about the story space and encounter scenes located spatially. In this way, the audience can choose which order to see the scenes or repeat them and thus construct unique experiences. This brings up questions that Michel Chaouli and Lev Manovich wrestle with in their pieces How Interactive Can Fiction Be?, and Database as a Symbolic Form. Manovich points out that “As a cultural form, database represents the world as a list of items and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events)” (5). In Woyzeck, the audience is presented with a series or database of episodes that are not ordered. It is for the audience to perform the task of ordering. The act of creating order out of events is an essentially human one, an act of sense-making that we do every day. Making narrative from events is a way of life. Chaouli brings up a very important cautionary point that the blanket use of this sort interactivity may nevertheless result in meaningless experiences. Chaouli notes “I have thus far failed to find a coherent account of interactivity […] What is instead communicated in nearly every instance is what a good thing interactivity is. It is a moral category packaged as a technical feature, applicable to an improbably large number of actions” (604). Chaouli is right to note that interactivity can’t possibly always be a good idea. Surely we wouldn’t want every experience in life to be interactive. Nor would audience members enjoy an experience in which every element is completely undecided. What I take from Chaouli is that meaningful experiences can be created with the thoughtful inclusion of interactive elements within supporting structures.
Jacquelyn F. Morie discusses these supporting structures in her paper Coercive Narratives, Motivation and Role Playing in Virtual Worlds. Moire writes:
All VEs [virtual environments] are environments of experience, they give you real control and choices. Coercive elements can help direct these choices to provide the best possible, and most predictable to the author, experience for the user. All coercive elements should flow effortlessly in the story, the experience or the world view. What we want to do is constrain in context the user’s action through the environment. (4)

The development of coercive elements can be traced to long before the creation of digital worlds to the amusement or theme park. Marling’ explains Walt Disney’s understanding of coercive elements as follows:
Walt wanted strong vertical elements to articulate each section of the park. He used the term ‘wienie,’ borrowed from the silent-era comedy, to describe tall visual markers that promised to reward the visitor who walked toward them. Wienies were tasty visual treats for pedestrians […] Walt’s theory was that if the promised goody were good enough, if what was going to be there was clear enough from the environmental cues embedded in the design, then Disneyland’s guests would go anywhere and relish the trip. (66)

The creation of this demo version of Woyzeck will allow me through informal usability testing to understand what coercive elements or “wienies” work in the project under its current conception, and what elements don’t work or are lacking in development.
Woyzeck will represent an AR work developed primarily by a playwright-director in collaboration with technologists and others. Currently the bulk of AR and VR creative projects are developed from the technologist’s point of view, meaning the display of the technology’s capabilities are primary and the story or artistic expression are secondary. The Woyzeck project reverses those priorities and seeks to explore how AR technologies can serve to tell a story and create a performance experience. A major objective is to maintain the integrity of the story in the face of high technology. As in traditional theatre, I don’t want ‘the costume to wear the actor.’ In other words, I don’t want the technology to overwhelm the expression of the piece, but serve it as transparently as possible. Bran Ferren addresses this need for balance between technology and content in his paper The Medium is Only Half the Message. Ferren writes:
“Engineers describe the performance of new media […] in terms of technical resolution. […] But if you’re a writer or film director, you need another axis–’emotional resolution’–to describe how well you are using the technology to convey a message to your audience. […] Most of us don’t watch test patterns for fun, and moviegoers shouldn’t be thinking about the theatre’s projection or sound systems. The engineer should design these systems so well that they are transparent to the viewer. And paradoxically, increasing the technical resolution of an imaging system can sometimes diminish the quality of the viewer’s experience” (5).

Ferren’s points are well made that every element of an experience should contribute to telling the story to the audience, and sometimes, the best tool for telling a particular story may not be the most technically advanced. In Woyzeck, the main character struggles with insanity and hallucinations, which can be particularly well evoked through AR at this stage in the technology’s development. At this point in time, AR often appears ghostly or hallucinatory; for example, a building may appear to float a few feet off the ground, or the edges of a person may appear to shift and blur. Current kinks in the technology are, in this case, not a hindrance to the project, but will instead assist in the telling of the story and creating Woyzeck’s mental state as an inhabitable space for the audience.
It is also important to note that in the field of augmented and virtual reality a large portion of projects are funded by the Department of Defense for training or recruitment applications. Woyzeck marks a significant departure. The sobering portrayal of the military in Woyzeck could make it the anti- “America’s Army.” A critical commentary on military culture is relevant today, considering the story of Woyzeck is tragically played out again and again in reality at U.S. military bases. As the New York Times reported in the summer of 2002, ” Three veterans of the war in Afghanistan and a fourth soldier have killed their wives in the Fort Bragg area in the last six weeks. Two Fort Bragg soldiers killed their wives in murder-suicides, and two others have been charged with murdering their wives” (”Rash”). It is painfully clear that Woyzeck is still with us today. Buechner himself based the original play on a contemporary newspaper story covering the account of a poor soldier executed for stabbing his wife to death.
This Woyzeck will also contribute to the theatre field as it seeks to develop a new form of expression in performance utilizing new technologies often unavailable to traditional theatre makers. Also, this contributes to the performance history of a classic work of German theatre, Buechner’s Woyzeck, which has certainly never seen a production quite like this before. Woyzeck fits in well with the Future Cinemas course, as augmented reality can be seen as a future screen and the experience of encountering scenes located spatially can be seen as an embodied form of interactive or hyperlinked fiction. Moire notes:
There is of course no reason a VE [virtual environment] can’t simply tell a story. […] Most importantly, it is impossible to say that all concepts of virtual worlds have been explored already. The majority of VEs currently in existence concentrate on training, virtual tourism, or healing. (2)

Woyzeck is an experiment and an adventure sure to contribute uniquely to the emerging field of augmented and virtual reality.

Bibliography

Chaouli, Michel. “How Interactive Can Fiction Be?” Critical Inquiry 31 (2005): 599-617.
Ferren, Bran. “The Medium is Only Half the Message.” MIT’s Technology Review 100.3 (1997): 5
Manovich, Lev. Database as a Symbolic Form. 1 March 1, 2007 .
Marling, Karal Ann, ed. Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance. Montreal: Flammarion, 1997.
Morie, Jacquelyn F. “Coercive Narratives, Motivation and Role Playing in Virtual Worlds.” USC Institute for Creative Technologies Publications.

“Rash of Wife Killings at Ft. Bragg Leaves the Base Wondering Why.” New York Times 27 July, 2002.
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Wilson, Robert. Interview with Peter Laugesen.

Fri, March 2 2007 » Future Cinema, assignments, proposals

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