TREE TALK (Immersive Live Media Performance)

“There are three zones” I tell Kate Janus (our volunteer videographer) as I pass her my pocket camcorder, “feel free to cover them as you want, switch between them as your attention goes from one thing to the other, just try to get a good amount of coverage for each.” She stands at the ready in the middle of the studio, camera in hand. Pointing first to the two parallel doors with Ruth, Tessa and myself about the engage the live performance; then over to our audience sitting in the centre of the room on a grid of stools; and finally at the projection screen displaying a web browser with the live-feed video of the two parallel doors and us in waiting for the digital lag to catch up with reality so we can begin.

The above experience I have described is a collaborative eco art performance I created with my colleagues: Ruth Chee and Tessa Shannon. The performance was, to no one’s surprise, very different from what we had originally planned. This was a result of unforeseen limitations forcing our creativity to emerge. Our original conception of this piece stated that our performance was to be performed using hidden performers performing a set physical score based on embodying a natural environment on the human and more-than-human plane along with monologue performance to present a hidden, ‘passing/covering’ entity online only through Twitter updates, ’Tweets’, shown on a projector as the only evidence of the actual performance. 

Our goal was to engage four areas of interest to us as a group. There we’re: 1) the performance of the online avatar, 2) the definition of performance, 3) the presence and performance of invisible persons, and 4) Erving Goffmann’s concepts of covering and passing for the purpose of This performance focuses on the current and very present disconnect from our natural, human and more-than-human world via this generation’s lack of embodied engagement with our natural world.h In the developing of this collaborative performance piece, we maintained a focus and creative engagement/presentation of each of these areas but the way in which we did so changed drastically.

When working with Ruth and Tessa, hither of whom have ever performed something like this before, we we’re hit with an unexpected surprise. First, I had attempted to organize a pre-rehearsal to ease our way into the creation process. This did not happen. My emails and text messages went unanswered for a week. But instead of making a big deal of it, I reminded myself that this kind of work is new to both of my collaborators and that the most important thing really is to just keep moving and creating, not complaining about who did or didn’t do what. When we finally did meet up however, the creative juices began flowing instantly. Luckily Ruth had brought some prepared written material to go along with the prepared physical material I had brought, Tessa however was not heard from until half way through the rehearsal after several unanswered phone calls. As it turned out, she had recently had a family emergency and we understood completely so we continued without her.

Although annoying at first, Tessa’s unexpected non-contribution (which was of course completely out of her control and I embarrassed with my impatience in that case) was actually a huge creative generator for Ruth and myself. Because we no longer had three performers/collaborators to develop this piece with, we were forced by our limitations to create something new and different on the spot relying on each other’s abilities and willingness to create alone. What we generated ended up being — in my opinion — a far superior product (and process) to what was originally intended. Just having live performance present and making the option available to our audience to chose between the virtual world and the embodied one really drove in our point of becoming aware of the world we are so disconnected from which is all around us. With the use of my physical score based on embodying trees and Ruth’s stream-of-conciseness monologue written half in front of a computer, half in front of trees; we we’re able to clearly engage with each of our theories and bring appropriate questions to our audience as they watched (this we discovered in our debrief with them immediately following our performance).

After all that, I was very happy with the resulting performance and with the product which got us there. Though it had its hiccups, it was worth it to get the performance out of a “fresh” experience, things like Ruth reading off of a screen instead of memorizing her text actually lent a very visually explicit element of contrast between the embodied and disconnected worlds we live in; that was something we would have not given second thought to otherwise, if it was a professional her place the expectation would be that it be memorized and such a beautiful image would never have been discovered. The process we underwent to create this piece was magnificent in its fantastic limitations it provided us with, without those limits, we would never have had an excuse to be creative and honestly, without that the piece would have been doomed to monotony.

Created and performed by

Shimshon Obadia

Text by

Ruth Chee

‘Shadow’ performer

Tessa Shannon