Networked_Performance

Live Stage: Wayfarer [au Sydney]

wayfarer.jpgWayfarer :: September 5-8 at Sydney’s Performance Space: Wayfarer by Kate Richards and Martyn Coutts is a live game space, where teams of audience direct their player through a mysterious, hidden territory. The performer’s body-mounted computers send streamed video, audio and locative data to the Wayfarer software, which is projected back to the audience. Part exploration, part competition, part surreal thriller, Wayfarer is a truly hybrid event, where live and mediated performance, urban choreography, ubiquitous computing, gameplay and site specificity come together in a volatile mix.

From the Simplest of Interfaces: Complexity / Keith Gallasch talks with media artist Kate Richards: Wayfarer has been three years in development and has physical theatre performers at its centre. Richards has always been attracted to engaging with performers, working with them on film and for voiceovers: “and I’m a bit of a frustrated performer myself even though it terrifies me.”

The work was initially conceived in 2004 at Time_Place_Space [the laboratory which brought together media artists and performers over five years]: “I teamed up with Martyn Coutts and we got on like a house on fire. He’s a physical performer from Tasmania interested in technology, he’s done a few technological projects and has strong theatre production management skills. We put together a concept in about an hour from a provocation from the workshop convenors, but it’s been through various changes since.”

Richards describes Wayfarer as combining “the exploration of a strange space, live performance and interesting technologies. It’s effectively a live game. The audience groups each have a player whom they drive using voice. The conceit is that the audience is outside and the performer inside a building they don’t know. It’s timely to premiere it at CarriageWorks because a lot people don’t know the back of the building yet.”

The performers move through the building wearing small chest-mounted computers “which send streamed video to our software and audio through VOIP to the audience who communicate via microphone. The performers also have RFID readers that can read tags (which trigger films about the site), like bar codes, in the building, and also so the site knows where they are. There are key game elements—time limits, issues of agency, how much for the performers, how much for the audience. There’s a series of tasks and goals you have to achieve to finish the game and beat the clock.”

The teams will operate near each other in the massive CarriageWorks foyer, working to a large screen with their voices: “Voice is the most flexible interface you can have. Anything you say is a potential action.” As for performer interplay, “If and when the performers intersect, the software splits the screen, so that the audience see up to four points of view.”

Richards says she has been particularly influenced by the UK’s Blast Theory (see p6): “When you participate in one of their works, it alters your consciousness because they’ve got a stong social enquiry imperative, the works are well designed and not always dependent on hardware—it might be about team mentality, for example, having to ‘buddy up’ with someone for a long period. We’d like our audience to be confronted by their own behaviour, their improvising, their relationship with a performer. We want the stakes to be high, an ethical spectacle. We like spectacle, we like games but we want something gritty, to be challenged. We want moral dilemmas.”

As with Bystander, Richards says that the hardware and software can be adapted for various users, for example text-driven theatre or community projects. As for the design, she admits, “I understand it in principle but it’s hard until it’s functional.” It’s a long way away from the mechanics of Super 8, but clearly for Richards a road well worth taking.

Above all, Kate Richards is emphatic that “immersive” doesn’t mean having to push buttons, learn rules, make mechanical decisions or rely just on the intellect. “It’s in the way you move. It’s in your voice and what you say.” The game is on. Enter the ethical spectacle. Complexity.


Aug 16, 16:11
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