Thursday, October 2, 2014

Technological Terror

Contributed by Brian Petty

Technology is a readily present aspect of the theatrical industry today. From lighting and sound to projections and special effects, the theater has been all but consumed by the technological advancements of the present and future alike. But is this myriad of tech a help or a hindrance to the overall purpose of theater?

To even think about answering this question, we must first define what exactly the purpose of theater is. In the grand scheme of things, theater is an art form. While theater itself may be hard to define it would seem fitting to claim that the purpose of art overall is to “make us think, to make us react, to make us more than what we were before we read/saw/heard it.” Or, at least, this is the claim that the Shakespeare Ensemble makes in the newspaper at MIT.

So if we use this notion to define any piece of artistry, then we could make inferences to better define theater as an art form. Eliciting a visceral response or cathartic reaction from an audience member has become a socially accepted way to describe the experience theater is trying to achieve. These are the words that the theatrical community has acknowledged as ways to describe the purpose of theater.

So, now that we have a somewhat solidified definition, let’s refer back to this concept of technology and the analysis of its effect on this purpose we are trying to achieve. Currently, most would argue that technology greatly aids in the creation of catharsis by adding spectacle and realism in order to aid the actors. But at what point does this technological realism and spectacle stop aiding in the overall purpose and start hindering it?

One clear cut example is the new technology called Hologram Theater. Hologram Theater or Holographic Projections are starting to be experimented with in certain theatrical spaces. Studio 44 mounted a production in 2009 called St. Joe that utilized this concept of Holographic Projection in a very new and innovative way. Essentially, St. Joe can be described as a literal “show in a box” that only requires one crew member to set up and press play. While this would seem convenient to many, for the actors and artists within the industry, it likely comes across as threatening.

Similar to the struggle of factory workers during the industrial revolution, this new hologram theater is threatening to the jobs of the actors, designers, technicians and even managers in the theatrical world. “Live” performance is beginning to look less and less live each day and with the addition of your neighborhood friendly robot, people are starting to be replaced by machines. Our lighting spot ops have been replaced by computerized follow spots, our box office attendees have been replaced by automated ticketing programs and our designers and technicians have all but yielded their real duties to software and computer programs that do the work for them. With all of these positions falling by the wayside, it only seems like a matter of time before all shows turn into these ominous “shows in a box.” So, at this point, I know what you are probably thinking. Man can never be truly replaced by machine when it comes to actors. Acting requires a sense of human emotion and presence that a machine could never replicate, right?

Well, with the recent success of the Turing Test, I don’t know that we can be so sure.  Machine has officially fooled man. Robots have developed an interface that can replicate a human consciousness so closely that they appear human. With every passing day, the threat of technology creeps ever closer to the death of this industry. So, I ask you. Do we simply sit back and wait for human beings to be void of the theater scene because android model 9XZ762 was the best fit for the part? Or do we make a stance against the onslaught of this technological mayhem and take our raw natural art form back into what it was originally intended to be?


Brian Petty: 2014 Innovative Theater Awards Intern. Senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey with Double Major in Theater Design/Technology and Business Administration: Management.

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