Staging Second Life in Real and Virtual Spaces

Staging Second Life in Real and Virtual Spaces

Russell Fewster (University of South Australia, Australia), Denise Wood (University of South Australia, Australia), and Joff Chafer (Coventry University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-822-3.ch013
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Over a four-week period students enrolled in a second-year visual theatre course at the University of South Australia attempted to stage the online virtual world Second Life in a conventional proscenium arch theatre. The Staging Second Life project played upon the liminal space between ‘real’ and digital, and gave the students the opportunity to transpose a virtual world into a theatrical setting. The students actively played between these two media in turn becoming intermedialists. Within the hypermedium of the theatre they were able to remediate the conventions of Second Life via their bodies and manipulation of objects. The project reflects a growing trend in performance pedagogy where technology and new ways of thinking about its applications are increasingly integrated into the curriculum. This chapter describes the practical aspects of the course as well as the emergent theory of intermediality underpinning the Staging Second Life project.
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Virtual reality, according to Giannachi (2004), is in a paradoxical relationship with the real since it is both part of the real and separate from it. A viewer is therefore at the one time immersed within the virtual as well as interacting with it. It is through this juxtaposition of the real and the virtual that the viewer is exposed to the paradoxes evident in our everyday life experiences. For this reason Giannachi (2004) asserts that the virtual is both a space for aesthetic and technological innovation as well as the site of politics and ethics.

Traditional conceptualisations of space and place are challenged by the virtual. As Wyeld, Prasolova-Førland and Viller (2007) suggest, cyberspace—the term coined by Gibson (1984) in his sci-fi novel Neuromancer, has no volume yet provides a sense of presence for individuals in the virtual places within which they meet and interact. They suggest further that presence, the feeling that we are really ‘there’, and immersion, the feeling that transports us to another place, are preconditions of place in 3D virtual environments. Virtual theatre parallels traditional theatre in that it provides a place for the staging of performances by actors in the presence of audience. However, as Wyeld, Prasolova-Førland and Viller (2007) assert, while theatre in a 3D virtual environment can be experienced as a passive representation of a particular conception of space, it also allows participants to enter a space beyond representation and immersion. Actors and audience are both ‘present’ in the embodiment of their avatar in the virtual environment as well as located in a ‘real’ space in which they subjectively view their avatar projected on the screen. In this sense, virtual theatre can be described as ‘liminal’ (from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold), a term Victor Turner adapted from the work of Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep to explain the ‘in-between state of mind, in between fact and fiction…and in between statuses’ (Bigger, 2009). Once of Turner’s great legacies was his recognition of the potential for liminoid performance to be transformative. Virtual theatre, as the space for aesthetic and technological innovation and a site of politics and ethics (Giannachi, 2004), can exploit this potential in contesting the hyperreality of mediatised culture (Auslander, 1999).

Thus far we have focused our attention on performance within a 3D virtual environment, whereby actors and audience represented by their avatars controlled via a computer perform in real-time within a shared place in a 3D virtual world such as Second Life. Examples of virtual theatre in Second Life include performances that are played out in recreations of physical theatre spaces constructed in Second Life1 and more contemporary performances such as the choreographed aerial acrobatics and dance performed by the ZeroG SkyDancers2, which aim to break with conventions in exploring the native potential of the virtual

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