In the projection/new-media design world in the performing arts, the word “interactive” is one of the most overvalued and fetishized terms in circulation (I always think of grocery store doors that open when you approach them, the paper towel dispensers in public restrooms that you wave your hand at to be given a towel, or the infrared remote control that allows you to surf a program menu from across the room). As we hear from all sides, “the future” of performing arts, visual arts, political action and home shopping is interactivity. For the performing arts, it is not only the future, but the present and past as well.
Interactivity already pervades new-media projection design, from the performer “interacting” with projections, to the writer/composer/director/designer(s)/stage manager/operator/actor-singer-dancer-musician constellation of collaboration when any cue (or succession of them) happens—as if by magic; as difficult as it can be to pull off, and as much precision and focus as it demands, it’s just part of the process of our art, and has been for 30 years or more (depending on how you look at it, and when you date it from). With any of the new tools of new media—lasers and moving projectors, media servers and motion capture, wireless microphones and joysticks—new possibilities for dramatic composition and production emerge. They arrive, they surprise us, we learn them, we assimilate them, and we move on. Artists (and technology vendors) grow enamored of this buzzword “interactive” (and the machines that make varieties of it possible), but I’m not sure audiences could care less.
The theatregoers aren’t there to watch us play with our toys. They come to the theatre with the hope that they might be transformed through allowing stories, ideas and other narrative threads, beauty, terror and social inquiry, to gyrate in consciousness and aesthetic pleasure centers. What I think we makers of theatre want is for our audiences’ minds, sensibilities, imaginations and (if you will) hearts to interact with our art, an experience whose promise and possibility have always been there (in world theatre, across time and space), and that operates in danger of being undervalued or undermined the more we fetishize the (so-called) “interactive.”
This note is written, in part, as a response to “The Future? Who Needs It?” by projection designer (and Arizona State professor) Jake Pinholster, in Live Design magazine’s online forum, Sept. 3, 2008.
Writer/director/projection designer Kirby Malone is an artistic director of Cyburbia Productions. He teaches at George Mason University and is an editor of “Live Movies: A Field Guide to New Media for the Performing Arts.”