Artists of all stripes—including writers—are constantly expanding the envelope of what’s possible with their innovations in Second Life. Now SL resident Lailu Loon, who is Z. Sharon Glantz in “real life,” a Seattle, WA-based playwright and managing director of Seattle’s Open Circle Theater, will use her upcoming production of Oxymoronic Fusion opening April 3 (check out the play’s trailer) to bridge the virtual and real-world stages.
Stage productions have become a staple in Second Life, and the number of original plays premiering in this virtual world is growing. But as far as I know, this is the first original play to premiere in both worlds at the same time.
“We’re on the ground floor of a new art form that’s still evolving, which will involve both live theater and virtual worlds,” says Lailu Loon, both author and director of Oxymoronic Fusion. “Eventually it will be mixed, so it’ll be in both worlds.”
Lailu/Sharon has produced previous plays in Second Life, including one that was also performed at the physical world Second Life Community Convention and streamed into SL. This is her first to go the other way.
Lailu/Sharon didn’t write this play for Second Life. In fact, she wrote it years ago—before the virtual world was born. I suspect the play was waiting for the right time and venue, because even though it is about the physical world, not SL, “it’s focus is on … how belief systems shape reality,” Lailu said—something SL’ers understand quite well! Even the title is prophetic: “an oxymoronic fusion” is a great description of what virtual world residents do every day!
Lailu calls Oxymoronic Fusion a metaphysical farce, and from what I’ve seen of the script and scene, it’ll be full of good laughs.
It’ll also be full of great examples of how playwrights, as well as cast and crew, do some things quite different in the virtual, versus the physical, world.
For example, the set is much more complex and “magical” than it could be on an “earth stage.” It’s a cinch to have a crystal ball manifest all kinds of things and images in SL that just couldn’t happen on the physical stage. And pets that shape-shift? Simple as pie!
But other things that are no-brainers on the physical stage require some high-level technical skills for a virtual one. Consider the simple act of sitting on, say, a couch on the set. In a physical theater, the actor would give barely a thought to that stage direction. In the virtual theater, this involves writing or finding just the right animation script and having the actor initiating his/her avatar’s sitting animation at just the right time and place. Using facial expressions on the virtual stage is still near-impossible, but on the other hand, real-world actors can’t instantly pop on and off a physical stage like they can a virtual one!
SL resident Ada Radius, the primary set designer and cast member, says producing a Second Life play is much more of a team effort for the entire cast and crew. (Ada has been involved with theater in Second Life for several years. To read more about her and other members of the case, see the Oxymoronic Fusion blog.)
Working with both the limitations and the opportunities of the virtual stage has been exciting, Lailu says. She points to a redwood door on one of the sets and says, “We couldn’t possibly afford to buy redwood doors” for a physical stage set.
Another huge benefit is the ability to recruit a cast and crew of professionals and experienced amateurs from around the world. And for actors with disabilities, a virtual world production is a great outlet.
Playwriting in the Brave New Virtual World
What really intrigues me, though, is how virtual theater affects the entire playwriting process—and will cause major shifts in that process if Lailu’s predictions about the future of virtual theater are correct (and I believe they are).
Lailu tells of how she had to a lot of “on my feet” rewriting to adapt the play to the challenges and opportunities of a virtual stage. Like delete the scenes involving eating (avatars just can’t eat), pull the focus away from facial expressions and subtle body language, and add cool special effects.
“For writers, even those writing for a different form, the collaborative process that Second Life demands will really help them look at a different way of writing, an interactive way,” she says. “It forces people to let go of their own preconceived notions … push their limits … find a different way of showing and telling.”
On top of that, for Oxymoronic Fusion, she has to accommodate the needs of both the virtual and physical stages so the play will be meaningful to audiences.
Still, all that is nothing compared to what Lailu sees is the new theatrical art form evolving as a result of virtual worlds.
First: mixed reality plays presented on both the physical and virtual stages at the same time, involving actors in both worlds. Her next Second Life production will be exactly that, she says.
Further down the line: interactive theater productions (think dinner theater mysteries combined with virtual games), an art form she believes will attract not just playwrights, but game designers.
The technology for interactive theater isn’t quite there yet, she notes, but it’s evolving. “It’s not playwriting, not screenwriting, not game development, but it involves all of that.”
That should be particularly interesting for playwrights who love to both write and explore/build/create in Second Life. And even for us non-playwright-writers who might have to give this new art form a whirl!
I’d be very interested to hear what you think—does interactive theater spark any ideas? Are you already doing it? Please let us know in the comments!