BarCamp: All Life is a Performance

BarCamp: Changing context of performance arts online

On August 17, 2010, the facilitators at the Digital Natives Talking Back workshop took all participants hostage with a BarCamp session, dividing all of us into four groups. Each of us had to discuss, debate, engage, challenge, and basically rip apart the foundation of the idea we were to discuss. Nilofar was the IdeaLead for her BarCamp group comprising Cole, Zona, Aditya, and facilitated by Josine and Namita.

To give you a bit of context to understand this discussion, let me put across a set of definitions and the mechanics of how I locate myself within such a dialogue. Rituals are considered a set of repetitive actions performed consistently over a period of time.

In August 2008, I was part of a larger Folkloristic Workshop on documentation and setting up a digital community archive for the Tulu community that resides in the southern Indian town of Udupi. The villagers wanted to preserve their myth of Koti Chennaya, their ancestral heroes, which involved documenting their ritualistic Spirit Dance (Bhutaradhane) that is performed once every year.

That got me thinking then about the changing contexts of performance within the geography of real space. When you bring a rural or village dance or ritual to the city, its spatial representation changes. You have dancers performing on stage without any context – it’s not a tradition, there’s no festival, there are no Gods showering their benevolence on them for a good crop year or healthy babies – it’s just performance, plain and simple, for spectators who will clap, laugh, enjoy and ask for an encore perhaps.

Obviously, spirit dancers or yakshagana performers don’t expect to have an audience who are observing them solely from an entertainment point of view. Rather, they are used to enacting ‘rituals’ where you have the villagers engaging with them at multiple levels - spiritual, physical, emotional, economic, social and cultural.

If the mechanics of spectatorship and performance mutates from the rural to the urban, how would the dynamics have evolved with performances now being streamed online via videos or live events from a space that is non-locational in terms of it’s performance context?

Below is a free-flowing transcript of the thoughts that were spoken out and ideas that we converged on, in a particular sequence / chain, but without the names of the speakers breaking the idea links.

“...It’s the platform that changed the context – it was the village square for the rituals, the stage for the performance and the online space for performance videos. So, in a sense all of them are performing, but it means different things to different audiences. I don’t think that the sprit dancers want the villagers to clap for them or observe them as the Other. But the moment we started videographing, they became the Other, and we in turn, became the spectators.

{That reminds me of performance theorist Richard Schechner. Read this link below to understand what is performance theory and how humans are all actors on the stage of life }

Everything online is a performance – by its very nature, when you decide to upload anything online, it becomes a performance.

So, how would a live performance online be different from a performance on stage? Seeing and viewing in science fiction is different– what’s the difference between watching someone on a video, watching them perform live, or watching them live online?  

Group Dynamics also comes into play: Watching alone in your room, watching with a group in your room, watching alone in a theatre hall and watching with a group in a concert – our responses are different each time.

You could also be “watching” different things – performance means different things for different people. When a live performance is ongoing on stage, there’s a sense of embodiment. But not able to internalize it when performances are online – there’s a screen as barrier – and there are options of pause, play, stop – disturbances which disrupt the attention span, the context, the mood, the essence...

Compare this to when you watch sports live in a stadium and on TV.

Information loss is inevitable in every medium – through radio, web, television, etc – attention spans are decreasing, the pressure on choosing convenient options to view something is increasing – the connection to what you are watching is not strengthened – loss of essence and presence while engaging with a ritual or performance online or via TV.

Also, watching something online also promotes the freedom to watch it when you want to. However, with online watching, you are not willing to engage or participate or be an observer? But in a big theatre, you are already isolated from the performance. The performers are not really performing for you, but rather for the “stage”. The performances streamed live on the net also echoes this ethics.

E.g.  Video installations on stage are now common backdrops at dance shows, where dancers are also performing – are you able to relate to the dance, the video, both or neither simultaneously or separately?

Also, the method of uploading it, the equipment you use to document or film the performance also make a difference to viewing. When you view something through the lens, does it already distance us from the performance?

Performance art in real life has limitations of budget, theatre, audience number – but how does the online world give more opportunities?

A lot of people in Taipei write about their personal lives online – on Twitter – and it becomes a performance – politics of performance online – soap opera – but how does the audience cycle work?

When Real life becomes a performance – replicate real life drama online – you engage better with these emotions online of people who perform – their daily lives put up online – they change the context of their performance to attract their audience, followers.

The performer expects live feedback from his audience – MORE MORE – the singer/dancer continues – in real performance, immediate feedback is needed, but in online, the lifecycle is longer, mutated – But the format of feedback is different – compare this

Live TV and performance videos online – reactions to it are different – at a concert, you don’t really connect with the audience – but at an online event or video viewing, you share, collaborate, connect, tweet, Facebook etc etc

How do you define performance, performance art and what is life – art imitates life, life imitates art – artist consciously performs the art – he is conscious of it – he knows what he is doing – it’s got to do with your motivation – the intentions of artists is to intervene and engage with audience? Whereas the common man knows that he is engaging in a performance, but not really for an audience – daily life routines can or cannot be counted as performance?

YouTube – Life in a Day campaign – How millions of users around the world posted a 24-hour video of their life.

Idols and popstars –do I as an individual have the right to perform online – engage with the audience – legitimacy of my performance at an individual level – credibility doesn’t have to come from an institutionalized background, it could just be you communicating with an audience

That’s why Internet brings freedom perhaps? You don’t have to be an authority to do stuff or have acknowledgement – you just go and do

How do you reach out to people in a real performance – ticket selling, ads – in online – there is ads as well – logic is the same – outreach is more and free.

Real time plastic surgery broadcast online – communicating with her audience online – it’s her show

Also talk about levels of control – in performance arts live, there are a lot of regulations and budget and control and politics, but may be with online performance, there is a level of freedom that comes with escape from governmental rules perhaps?

But it’s also about the way the space is perceived – when an artist drinks tea in an art gallery, you consider that an art but when you see it on reality TV, it becomes a performance. You are coming there to see art, you are pressured to view it as art – Episode of Sex and the City -  Carrie Bradshaw observing a women in a museum.

Does the Internet democratize performance art? Is the technology making it easy for performance arts to find a space and engage with audience? YES.

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