The Rutgers Camden Digital Studies Center
Facebook, November 16 - 21, 2016
Judith Adele (Ada Radius)
J udith Adele (Ada Radius in virtual worlds) and Iain McCracken (Sodovan Torok in Second Life ) co-founded Avatar Repertory Theater in 2008. Working in Second Life, Kitely, and the OpenSim virtual world grids, Avatar Repertory Theater creates immersive, virtual worlds, which connect actors, directors, designers, playwrights and producers from around the world in live performances. Recent productions include Robert Frost's North of Boston.
Avatar Repertory Theater is a project of New Media Arts Inc, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. ART has its own website as well: http://www.avatarrepertorytheater.org, linked to and from the parent website.
Image: MadameThespian Underhill in Second Life is sitting at her work table, manipulating her avatar and speaking her lines as Rosalinde/Ganymede in As You Like It -- in a live show A.R.T. performed in Second Life a few years ago as a part of Shakespeare at the Pavilion.
Avatar Repertory Theater
Some information about my work: My name is Ada Radius in virtual worlds, and I've been producing live virtual world theater since 2008 with a small, astonishingly talented troupe. Avatar Repertory Theater performs live, as avatars, and our audience is usually watching as avatars themselves, though occasionally watching a live stream or screen capture recording on YouTube or other video platform. You can see examples of some of our work at : http://www.avatarrepertorytheater.org, and posters on our Facebook page, but the best way to experience our work is to create a free account, choose an avatar, and enter the user-created virtual world where we're performing. You'll see us move our avatars live, while we say our lines, live. You'll be able to move your camera around in 3D virtual space to see the worlds we or other artists have created for us to perform in.
Our troupe consists of voice actors who have virtual world or gamer experience. Most of us also have skills in other areas that we need to do what we do. Script adaptations and directing that understands this medium, sound engineering, programming, 3D modeling, texturing and animating for sets and avatar design, a "house" manager who helps virtual world newbies with the rather steep learning curve, and all of the skills that any theater company needs, such as scheduling, publicity and fund raising.
Sound comes in via several channels; media streaming, that we may use for background SFX, but that has a long delay, inworld sound files, limited to 30-60 seconds each, and Vivox "Talk", with none to a few beats delay, but some limitations on how many people can be in the conversation. We say our lines via the Talk channel, compensating for the lag by speaking our lines earlier than a "real life" theater actor would, with the help of a director in a private text channel who lets us know who is hearing the Talk channel late, and by how much.
We most often perform on a virtual theater stage, and our preference, as we do a lot of Shakespeare, emulates a Renaissance theater. Not the Globe, something simpler that avatars can navigate more easily - a thrust stage with balcony in a 16th century courtyard is our most recent favorite.
Sometimes we've created entire immersive spaces and put the audience directly into the narrative. For example, in performances of Sophocles "Oedipus Rex" in 2010-2011, our set builder created the palace at the top of the Theban hillside, with paths (actor entrances) out in the direction of Corinth, Delphi and through the audience to the town of Thebes. Our audience avatars stood on virtual stones with animations so they danced, knelt, prayed and begged as the Chorus with the Chorus Leader. We gave them costumes if they wanted to blend in, and transformed the world around them from a depiction of modern-day Thebes as they arrived, back to 5th century BC as the play starts.
These immersive experiences take many months to produce, so we've done only a few, such as Shakespeare's "The Tempest", where we put the audience on floating crates and kegs in a steampunk shipwreck and where the boatswain transformed into a flying dragon to become Prospero. Several of our audience arrived as dragons for that one and watched from in the water near the ship. We also produced Howard Barker's "13 Objects" for the Barker 21for21 festival, in a grunge Slum City installation using the artwork of Arcadia Asylum, and adaptations of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass", where the audience found themselves falling down the rabbit hole, swimming in the sea of tears, on overstuffed sofas in a Victorian parlor overrun with tiny talking chess pieces, or sharing a moving train with talking insects and animals.
Our audience is highly intelligent, well educated in sciences, maths, engineering and Information Technologies, often with very little previous exposure to traditional theater arts. Although it doesn't do to underestimate them! I have, over the last five years or so, been working with Shakespeare folios and quartos to create the virtual world adaptations, rather than standard editions and I occasionally get a message in a text channel from an audience member who can hear the difference. That said, one of the most gratifying aspects of this kind of artwork is hearing from audience member who has never heard a Hamlet before, and who is moved and astonished by its narrative and outcome.
Avatar Repertory Theater started out performing in the virtual world Second Life, where we, for a few years, hosted weekly workshops and shows. In the last few years we have gradually moved to the open source virtual worlds -- a vast collection of user-created grids using open source simulator software, on a wide assortment of servers run by commercial enterprises, nonprofits, universities, government agencies, artists and hobbyists. Our audience comes from those worlds that are "hypergrid enabled" - whose simulators allow avatars to "teleport" between grids. Our current 'home' is on one of the inexpensive commercial grids, www.kitely.com, where we're using on-demand Amazon cloud servers, and our hosts deal with the unending technical issues so we don't have to. As much.
In 2010 we joined forces with www.antiquepatternlibrary.org, to form our 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization, New Media Arts Inc -- www.newmediaarts.org. Our objective and mission is to preserve our cultural heritages in new media platforms, and support, develop and preserve new media arts and artists. We've since added projects, such as our virtual world at https://www.kitely.com/virtual-world/NewMediaArts-CTO/Cookie-II , where we hold classes, events, exhibits, and performances.
We've more recently gotten interested in influencing the development of open sim software development itself, which is going through profound changes in technology and organization. Our aim and philosophy is to encourage the direction of virtual world development to benefit arts, education and creative collaboration.
Transcript of Judith Adele 's Avatar Repertory Theater conversation