Another first for a writer in Second Life: Her original play is being produced in Second Life and, at the same time, staged via streaming media into the real-world theatre she manages.

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.


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The Greek Theater where Oxymoronic Fusion will be performed in Second Life, April 3-11, 2010


“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.


Alas Zerbino and Lailu Loon

Talking to playwright/theater director Lailu Loon (at right) on the set of Oxymoronic Fusion


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!


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Ada Radium (over egg) and Lailu Loon (on banana) demonstrate some of the unique features of staging a play in Second Life


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!

How to Attend Oxymoronic Fusion in SL:

WHEN: 6 performances, about 2 hours long

  • Saturday, April 3, 3 p.m. SLT (Second Life Time, which is the same as Pacific time)
  • Monday, April 5, 7 p.m. SLT
  • Wednesday, April 7, 5 p.m. SLT
  • Thursday, April 8, 7 p.m. SLT
  • Friday, April 9, 7 p.m. SLT
  • Sunday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. SLT (also streaming at Open Circle Theater)

WHERE: The Greek Theater on Cookie sim in SL; SLURL for teleporting in-world: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Cookie/57/20/33
COST: It’s free (though donations are appreciated)


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There I stood at the ancient birthplace of my modern life’s passion.  The desert sun seared the air around me, but I shivered with the thrill of standing before the earliest writing known on earth:  massive walls covered with the hieroglyphic alphabet of Ancient Egypt.

I put my hand as close to the wall as I could without touching the carved and painted figures.  A fraction of an inch of space was all that separated me from the work of my colleagues of 5,000 (give or take a few hundred) years ago.  And even though I did not actually touch the letters carved into that stone (to avoid causing more unnecessary wear and tear), I felt a connection to those writers and artists of eons past whom we are only beginning to discover and understand.

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Then the questions began zooming through my mind:

  • Who were these people who invented the first known system of writing?
  • How did they come up with such a sophisticated system?
  • And why did it seem to just suddenly appear 5,000-6,000 years ago, practically fully developed?

This past December, I spent three weeks in Egypt, touring a host of ancient ruins, and got not a single inkling of an answer to any of my questions.

What I did acquire was a tremendous sense of awe for these beautiful stories, told in the mystical language of ancient Egypt and engraved on walls and monuments that would keep the words alive for thousands of years – so that I, a modern scribe and story-writer, could catch a glimpse of myself as a teensy link in the immensely long chain of writers through history.

“Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy.”  
~  Marcus Aurelius

A dear friend, novelist Mary Gardner, wrote those words of Aurelius on her holiday cards this year.  When, a few days after I returned from Egypt, I opened Mary’s card and read the quote, I re-experienced the thrilling shivers I felt when I stared at the writings of ancient Egypt.  I realized that the chain of writers in which, for a moment, I saw myself as a link, doesn’t just go back and forth in time, but spreads out in all directions and all dimensions. And it is “whole-y,” which is the original meaning of the world holy.

I began to ponder this interwoven web and the amazing synchronicities and blessings that it generates in just one area of my life – writing.  I thought of the writers and writing teachers I’ve gotten to know over the years, the editors who have helped me and published my work, the connections I’ve made at writing conferences and through my own work as an editor.

As numerous and wonderful as all those connections are, however, my web expanded by leaps and bounds only after I added a link to a different sort of web – the digital Web or cyberspace – and especially, in the past several years, into the amazing web of computer hardware and software that comprise Second Life.

In the few short years of the World Wide Web’s existence, I’ve linked into a vast writing and publishing community previously inaccessible to me.  That community grew even larger when I discovered its niche in Second Life. As a result of SL, I’ve met authors I’ve admired for years and ones whose writing is a newly discovered pleasure.  I’ve become friends with fellow writers from around the world, and in the virtual world, we’ve shared and learned a great deal from each other about our writing in the physical world.

The strands of my writing web have connected me with a host of wonderful people – readers of my blogs, contacts on Twitter and other social media sites, and especially the friends I’ve made in Second Life – friendships that extend beyond the virtual into our physical lives.

But my most amazing realization is that those strands are made of the same raw material that weaves us together with people who lived thousands of years ago:  the written word.

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Indeed, every thing and every life ever lived on this planet are interwoven in a vast, ancient, multi-dimensional web; one that exists because of some incredible life force we cannot see, but which is made known to us through the stories that writers have carved in stone, etched in clay, inked on parchment and papyrus and paper, and keyed into electromagnetic memory.

Today I give thanks for all the people I’ve met who’ve helped me become a better writer. But especially, I salute those ancient geniuses of Egypt whose invention of writing initiated the web of writers and words that give my life much of its purpose and joy. I think they would have enjoyed seeing how far their invention has traveled so far.

And I’m grateful for their work – despite the fact they still have given me not a whisper of an answer to any of my questions!

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