Expanded Theater: Applying advanced research to new performance contexts

Fall 2016 Syllabus for ART 60446/60746 DRA 54498/54798

T/Th 3:-4:20 + F 10:00-1:50, Hunt Library Media Lab

Expanded Theater: Applying advanced research to new performance contexts

Instructors

Class time

Location

Course description

Fall 2016 Course Topics

Momeni Research Projects

Shea Research Projects

Learning Objectives

Prerequisites and Essential Skills

Course Units and Hours

Grading Rubric

Assessment

Course Overview

Weekly Schedule

Instructors

Class time

Location

Course description

As the boundaries between theater, art, entertainment and everyday life continue to expand through engagement with new technologies, it is critical that emerging artists and technologists be provided with the tools, language, and vision to thrive in the new millennium.  As part of Carnegie Mellon’s Integrated Media Program based in Pittsburgh and New York City, Expanded Theater will reanimate classical modes of performance with media, networks, robotics, locative applications, and mobile systems.

Considering theater as an ancient technology of mass participation and social cohesion, this fusion studio explores how emerging technologies can expand upon the basic theatrical relationships in new and culturally relevant ways.  Collaboration and integration of design, media and storytelling is critical to this approach.  Experimentation with new forms can reanimate the basic values of theater; the essential nature of a live event, the possibility of visionary spectacle, and the creation of meaning in dialogue with an audience.

By providing a true laboratory environment with access to advanced computational, fabrication and production resources, Expanded Theater brings students, faculty and researchers from across diverse disciplines into collaborative research and production that explore how technology and narrative intersect in the cultural sphere.  Expanded Theater leverages a wide range of networks and venues in New York City to push projects from proof of concept into real-world applications that generate meaning and impact culture.

Expanded Theater is an opportunity to explore avenues outside of traditional theatrical production modes and beyond each student’s individual discipline.  The curriculum combines resources from Carnegie Mellon’s Schools of Art and Drama, Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology (IDeATe), the Emerging Media Masters (EM2), Computer Science, the Robotics Institute, and their collaborators across the university in a new configuration.  Expanded Theater will explore domains ranging from site specific and networked-based performance and interventionist practices, to pervasive social media technologies and their influence on interpersonal communication.  The goal is to investigate contemporary languages that allow authors, actors and technologists to collaborate in ways that push beyond our present understanding of theatrical production and reception.  

This course alternates between two modes: 1) research: a discursive seminar format where the class collectively researches , analyzes, presents and discusses relevant contemporary directions. 2) design: a series of short production experiments that culminate in a dual performance--the first in the black box theater at CMU’s NYC facilities, and the second (if appropriate) in a public setting within the city.

Expanded Theater investigates the following questions:

Expanded Theater’s theoretical approach:

Expanded Theater’s technologies:

Fall 2016 Course Topics

The specific subjects of research and creation in this course vary from year to year in accordance with the active research projects led by the Expanded Theater faculty.  Presently the broader areas of research for both faculty are the domains of storytelling and experience design with virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality media.  

Momeni Research Projects

  1. SocialVR: We have developed an easy-to-use browser-based tool for authoring complex branching Virtual Reality narratives. The system relies on 360 capture (with mobile phones or off the shelf cameras) and user-generated annotation (text, audio, video, virtual doorways, etc.)  Potential applications include experiential storytelling, immersive language acquisition; crowd-sourced locative experiences and VR for kids.  We are interested in new users with novel ideas for VR storytelling, as well as developers for extending this platform’s capabilities.  
  2. ArtBytes: Researchers in CMU’s Art Department and the School of Computer Science are developing a mobile app for augmented reality (AR) annotation of the real world.  This app allows for intuitive image capture (taking imagery from streets, shops,  museums and galleries),  composition (creating new imagery by remixing, cropping and compositing) and sharing (attaching personalized imagery to real-world objects or pictures in the real world like road signs, graffiti, store signs,  using Augmented Reality).  The inventors are interested in exploring commercializable applications of this mobile AR annotation system within the realms of advertising, journalism and storytelling.  
  3. Shared Feedback: We are developing custom hardware that allows multiple users within a VR experience to share haptic feedback using off-the-shelf TENS machines that produce electronic muscle stimulation.  
  4. Dranimate: We are developing an interactive animation system that allows users to rapidly and intuitively rig and control animations based on a still image or drawing, using hand gestures. Dranimate combines two complementary methods of shape manipulation: bone-joint-based physics simulation, and the as-rigid-as-possible deformation algorithm. Dranimate also introduces a number of designed interactions that focus the user’s attention on the animated content, as opposed to computer keyboard or mouse.  We have formed a startup company and have done several animation projects for art festivals and corporate presentations.  We are interested in exploring Dranimate within AR and VR contexts.

Shea Research Projects

  1. The Elements of Oz is a theatrical production by The Builders Association - a theater company that has been working with media based theater for over 20 years. For the premiere last October we developed an app for the audience to use during the show, allowing them to see animations, read text and hear sounds creating a playful layer on top of the stage action. The show is under further development at 3LD in downtown Manhattan this November. The Unity project that you will be using for course work is the backbone of the OZ app and you will see the different functionalities that we have added to make this useful for theatrical needs. Interested students can work in this Unity project to create their own theatrical AR app.

        

  1. Ghosts in the Machine is a project exploring how newly developed technologies such as mediated reality and location based interactivity can enhance and extend live performance through the incorporation and overlay of digital media and information. This summer we have researched local Pittsburgh history and are preparing several AR mediated experiences at different locations around town. We’ve developed a WIKI  (GIM Wiki) that contains research, database information and visual and auditory assets. Students are encouraged to use the wiki to find sites/stories that they are interested in creating an experience around.. You will conduct new research (adding the information to the wiki) and then begin designing an experience for a specific location. There will be back and forth iteration of the design until there is a solid idea and then students will work individually or in groups to create the content, shape the story and realize this experience. Students are encouraged to be experimental and interpretive with their projects, so less about providing specific information and more about your artistic interpretation/intervention to a site and the stories that flow through it. We hope to have a small demo of the project ready for the “Weird Reality” conference on October 6-9th. Students are encouraged to create an experience located around East Liberty (the Ace Hotel) to be incorporated into this demo. We will discuss this in class.

Learning Objectives

Prerequisites and Essential Skills

Course Units and Hours

Twelve (12) units split between two 80 min lectures and a 4 hour lab and the expectation of 5 hours of out of class work.


Grading Rubric

The course includes several graded components: analysis paper and presentation, exploratory sketches, final productions; these components are described below. Each student is evaluated on a scale of 0 to 3 (not yet competent, competent, sophisticated, masterful), separately for teamwork, research, .  This rubric allows 6 possible points for each assignment. The scores for each component are weighted accordingly to allow analysis, exploration and production to contribute 20%, 30% and 50% respectively to the final grade.

 

Not Yet Competent

Competent

Sophisticated

Masterful

Teamwork

Team has little cohesion, poor communication between members

Team has energy but roles and direction are unclear

Team is enthusiastic and each member is contributing fully

Team is vibrant and cohesive; work bears the mark of thoughtful collaboration and execution

Research

Research is weak, does not support the text, or is not properly analyzed

Uses good but unoriginal research, makes correct but basic conclusions

Well thought through selection of research, critical use of material, deep analysis

Uncovers something conceptually dynamic/ unknown/ unexpected within the material

Organization and use of ideas and research

Ideas and research poorly-constructed or difficult to follow

Logical flow of ideas and use of research clearly defined, makes basic use of material

 

Ideas and research organized conceptually with a clear connection between research and ideas appearing in the project

Ideas appear to flow from the research “naturally” or “organically”.

Original ideas generated from research and appearing in the project

Style and Vision

Communication problems, a lack of competency with the execution of the group project

Awkward ideas with sporadic points of interest, lack of grace or fluidity

Excellent communication of all ideas within the project. Combining research and ideas to form well executed piece of theater

Original and unique theater piece, particularly elegant or otherwise pleasing, with original ideas and an original point of view

 

Readings:

Understanding of text.

Does not understand the text

Demonstrates a reasonable understanding of the text

Demonstrates a critical understanding of the text

Adds something new and thoughtful to general understandings of the text

Readings: Discussion

Does not participate in the conversation

Participates but demonstrates a superficial understanding

Actively participates, demonstrates understanding and incorporation of ideas from the text

Actively participates and comprehends the text, listens and responds to others. Adds to a lively discussion.

Execution & Production

Inadequate

Sufficient

Good

Excellent

Presentation & Documentation

Inadequate

Sufficient

Good

Excellent

Assessment

  1. Project 1: Exploratory Sketches 1 (20%): Students will approach a singular research topic by conceiving and protoyping an immersive theater experience.
  2. Project 2: Analysis (20%): A mediaturgical analysis of a work for AR and VR that considers how the media technologies are conceived, employed, and expanded. This analysis will be presented as a 5-7 page paper due within the first quarter of the semester.
  3. Project 3: Exploratory Sketch 2 (20%): Students will approach a singular research topic by conceiving and protoyping an a VR or AR storytelling experience
  4. Final Production (40%): Students will collaboratively produce a work for a public performance that employs theories and techniques covered in the semester. Students are expected to work in diverse groups made up of artists, designers and engineers, in order to devise and create a production that makes significant contributions to expanded theater research.  These productions will be produced in one of three venues: the on-site black box theater, a gallery, or a public space/urban setting.

Course Overview

Expanded Theater is a year-long curriculum deployed in two parts.  The first part, delivered in the fall semester, focuses on development media hardware and software techniques and creating exploratory sketches that situated these technologies in new performance context.  The second part of the course, delivered in the spring semester, implements a rigorous production sequence that iteratively develops several productions and culminates in public performances.  

Weekly Schedule

Please see the course calendar for the weekly schedule.