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The CCAM and The Yale Cabaret Explore New Forms of Stage-Storytelling

On Sunday, the Yale community members gathered to discuss emerging technologies that could be used in theaters during this pandemic which has limited close-contact performances. The Yale Cabaret and the Yale Center for Collaborative Arts and Media (CCAM) hosted this event which featured three speakers who shared their stage-storytelling visions in a virtual age. Also, they discussed proposals like at-home prop design and LED costumes with motion sensors.

Justin Berry, a professor at Yale School of Art, described how creators can utilize both augmented and virtual reality to develop interactive stories. These are two distinct forms of reality and they have their own purposes. He further talked about virtual reality and that it exists mainly for entertainment. But, augmented reality is not fully immersive, and digital aspects are ‘layered’ on top of a view of the real world.

Berry also said that apart from offering digital and socially distant options, augmented and virtual reality alters the social norms of human interaction. As per him, digital storytelling demands students and mentors to let go of storytelling conventions, and to rethink how narrative and time are related.

CCAM director Dana Karwas then introduced Toni Dove, a New-York based interactive artist, and termed him as “a pioneer”. He focuses on creating human-operated machines that convey stories and uses motion-sensing to develop interactive user experiences. Dove then spoke at the event and showed the attendees a few of her works which include the “Dress That Eats Souls”. This LED dress responds to users’ movements, collects their image, and showcases it. The dress also speaks to and instructs the user. The New York Times has described it as a towering robot of sorts.

Dove, however, does not enjoy the sense of isolation that is associated with the classic virtual reality headsets, and thus, she opts for huge screens that cover the floors, walls, and ceilings of a space. Berry and Dove showcased new-age technologies and software to the participants. Jennifer McClure was also present at that event. A lecturer at the School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre’s Properties Supervisor, she attended her presentation with a cardboard box, a few masking tape, and just some plants.

McClure spent a lot of time playing with her Zoom screen while trying to understand how to develop a computer screen-sized performance set. She kept her laptop in the box, taped up one of the flaps, and then fixed her greenery to the bottom edge of the box. She explained to the participants that fidgeting with Zoom backgrounds, print-out sets, and small cardboard props could let theatre groups perform from their bedrooms.

McClure then depicted it as her laundry bag. She further termed it her meshy gauze laundry bag and that if she uses it, it could appear like a curtain. McClure explained them as old basic tricks to frame one’s space and window. The CCAM’s programming will again happen on Thursday and continue with their Technology and Social Justice Series.

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