Abbie Victoria Trott – What are the Ties That Hold us Together? The Smartphone Network in As If No One is Watching and Body of Knowledge


Abbie Victoria Trott

University of Melbourne

What are the Ties That Hold us Together? The Smartphone Network in As If No One is Watching and Body of Knowledge

In this time of ubiquitous digitality, the smartphone has become a central interface of connection. It gathers us together, tying us to people that we know – and people that we don’t – as we participate in what Shuhei Hosokawa described in 1984 as acts of ‘secret theatre.’ Considering two networked performances – Vulcana Women’s Circus and WaW Dance’s As If No-One is Watching (2018, 2019), and Body of Knowledge (2019) by Samara Hersch – I use network theory to examine the ties that assembled the audience members together. Watching a physical abstraction of the private, while listening to personal stories in public, the audience – through their smartphone – interfaced with the performance of As If No One is Watching, enabling them to engage with acts of theatre in secret. In contrast – working together to establish a ‘body’ of ‘knowledge’ – the audience of Body of Knowledge used smartphones to interface with each other and the performers. Situated firmly in the ‘physical,’ as opposed to the ‘virtual,’ these immersive performances were reliant on smartphone facilitated postdigital networks. In this paper I explore how the smartphone in performance gathers audience members together over a network.

Abbie Victoria Trott is a Theatre Studies PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she is undertaking research into young audiences and postdigital theatre as part of the ARC Linkage project “Creative Convergence: Enhancing Impact in Regional Theatre for Young People.” Abbie is an experienced stage and production manager across community theatre, circus, and multimedia performance. In 2016 she competed her Masters, “‘Being With:’ Establishing Co-presence Between Multimedia Images and Performers in Multimedia Performance” at the University of Queensland.

Dennis Del Favero, Susanne Thurow, Lawrence Wallen – Digitally Transforming Theatrical Design Practice


Dennis Del Favero, Susanne Thurow, Lawrence Wallen


Digitally Transforming Theatrical Design Practice 

Social practices underpin all creative processes in the performing arts. 

In the production of stage performance, from ideation and rehearsal to delivery, creative processes converge collaboratively, generating a shared framework for a play’s expression, atmosphere and intent. At present, many of these processes are organised through sequestered pipelines, with the creative team independently working on individual components, discussed at intervals, supported by a range of tools such as drawings, software and physical scale models. This approach constrains collective decision making as it relies on multiple communication modes for integrating and manifesting all design streams on stage. The reliance on physical co-presence and isolated desktop interaction produces barriers to unlocking creative and economic efficiencies – especially in times such as Covid19 where gathering in physical space is not possible. 

The paper thinks through ways of transforming approaches in the performance design field, focusing on how new digital technologies can enable collective work in virtual space while at the same time supporting and documenting creative processes. It presents outcomes of the iDesign ARC-Linkage Project that addresses the identified shortcomings of established pipelines by developing a networked 3D cross-platform visualisation system for experimental application at NIDA and Sydney Theatre Company. This system allows comprehensive immersive set design and performance in virtual space, situating creative and technical teams in an infinitely malleable 1:1 scale 3D datascape. It enables real-time creation, development and robust testing of set designs on a digitally twinned stage, supported by an AI system. The latter acts as a virtual dramaturg – recording, monitoring and advising on design activity, based on an industry-attuned accumulative database that features customisable props, set-pieces, lighting settings and OHS protocols. 

iDesign hence charts avenues for reshaping the way design conversations, rehearsal and performance may be staged in the future, projecting new encounters and practices while creating a living archive of design practice – enabling users to virtually learn about the hidden and ephemeral facets of theatrical practice. 

Dennis Del Favero is a world-renowned research artist with a background as set designer for the music and theatre industries. Over the past 20 years, he has directed numerous large-scale interdisciplinary art projects that have explored the relationship between human and non-human systems through experimental reformulation of immersive aesthetics using digital media. His collaborative research has been recognised with eight premier prizes, presented at 121 international first-tier venues, resulting in frontier advances in intelligent visualisation systems. His academic appointments include Chair Professor of Digital Innovation at UNSW and Visiting Professorial Fellow at ZKM (Germany). 

Susanne Thurow is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at UNSW’s iCinema Centre, where her research investigates the capabilities of immersive digital aesthetics for supporting creative processes in the performing arts. Since 2014, she has been co-developing interdisciplinary projects with iCinema’s key collaboration partners, such as Sydney Theatre Company, MAAS and Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (Austria). Her latest book is Performing Indigenous Identities on the Contemporary Australian Stage (NY: Routledge, 2020). Her professional background has been consolidated by work for companies such as Thalia Theater (Germany), Big hART, the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, Goethe Institut, as well as Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Germany). 

Lawrence Wallen is currently Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Technology Sydney. From 2009 to 2018, he was Head of School (Design) at UTS and from 2002 to 2012, Professor of Scenography at the Zurich University of the Arts (Switzerland). Lawrence’s most recent monograph entitled The Model as Performance: Staging Space in Theatre and Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), co-authored with long-term collaborator Thea Brejzek, investigates the history and development of the scale model from the Renaissance to the present. In parallel to his academic writing and art practice, Lawrence has realised stage designs for Opera, Theatre and Dance across Europe and Asia. 

Russell Fewster, Bree Hadley, Sean Pickersgill – Bringing Blind and Low Vision Performers Into The Practice: The Potential Of Haptic-Adapted AR/MR/VR Technologies


Russell Fewster (University of South Australia), Bree Hadley (Queensland University of Technology) &  Sean Pickersgill (University of South Australia)

Bringing Blind and Low Vision Performers Into The Practice: The Potential Of Haptic-Adapted AR/MR/VR Technologies

In this paper, we consider the part adaptive and augmented reality technologies can play in allowing blind and low vision to come into the centre of the theatre rehearsal, production, and performance practice, as gatherings from which they have long been excluded. For blind artists, the barriers to participation in theatre making processes are multiple: storylines that position them as symbols of pity, inspiration, or special insight, techniques that privilege occularcentric aesthetics, actions, and interactions above haptic ones, and standard industry practices that fail to deploy even basic braille, text-to-speech software, and touch tour accommodations. In this paper, we report on a project that is challenging the third set of barriers – barriers to getting into the rehearsal space – as a critical precursor to addressing the first two sets of barriers. The project, in collaboration with Tutti Arts, and key Tutti Arts performer Anika Hopper, plans to  explore the way haptic-adapted VR and AR technologies can support the practice of blind performers on stage, in stage ensembles, and in relation with spectators. Current VR and AR technology is directed almost exclusively at sighted people, seeking to provide simulations of increasingly realistic and responsive interfaces between data-rich simulated and real environments. An impediment to engagement with this resource for the vision impaired is the ocular-centric aspects of research and development in this field to date. Our research focuses on integration of haptic interfaces into VR and AR technology mapping spaces – both industry and domestic – to support blind people in safely, effectively, and creatively navigating these spaces. It does this by designing haptic technology to merge with VR. The provision of this haptic interface in an environment such as a mapped renditions of theatre is showing great potential to support blind performers to navigate theatrical space, during training, rehearsal and performance, to experience greater agency in the execution of their stagecraft. 

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Associate Professor Bree Hadley is Study Area Coordinator for Acting and Drama at Queensland University of Technology. Hadley is editor of The Routledge Handbook of Disability Arts Culture and Media (2018, with Dr Donna McDonald), author of Theatre, Social Media and Meaning Making (Palgrave 2017) and Disability, Public Space Performance & Spectatorship: Unconscious Performers (Palgrave 2014), and has published extensively in journals such as Disability & Society, CSPA (Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts) QuarterlyPerformance Research, Australasian Drama Studies, Brolga: An Australian Journal About Dance, and other journals. 

Dr Russell Fewster has directed and taught theatre for over 30 years. He has a strong interest in the community/ensemble aspects of theatre workshops and productions. In 2018 he wrote and directed Earshot an opera that dramatises the healing nature of battlefield pilgrimage. The production partnered with Tutti Arts, with funding from Veterans SA. In June 2019 he delivered an arts workshop program for the Soldier Recovery Centre which attracted the attention of Channel 7’s News. He lectures in Performing Arts at the University of South Australia.

Dr Sean Pickersgill is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Spouth Australia. Currently I am exploring the use and implications of game engines in the ontology of digital architecture. This has emerged from a Teaching and Learning Grant for 2004, and a Divisional Research Performance Grant in 2005 that has enabled us to create a mod of a commercial game, and to design and run an elective in Game Design. I completed a PhD in artefact and thesis at RMIT. This focusses on the interrelationship between aspects of German critical theory and the idea of renovation/redemption in architecture.