Terms of Reference

This report is about the collaborative performance project as part of the MA Digital Theatre and MA Theatre Design courses at Wimbledon College, University of Arts London.

Summary (Abstract)

The students worked together collaboratively to create a performance promenade event based on the themes of the title, Dot Line. We developed our ideas and practical outcomes working as a group collectively, in a smaller sub-group and independently as individuals. The event was held in the Wimbledon College theatre on the 22nd January 2015.

Introduction

The total group of students in MA Digital Theatre and MA Theatre Design split into sub-groups of around 5 people. Each sub-group formed their own idea for contributing towards the overall project. In addition to the sub-groups, a production and publicity team was created to ensure strong communication between the sub-groups and to promote the event internally and externally.

My independent roles were:

  • Member of Cosmos Group within Dot Line.
  • Website Manager – Dot Line Publicity Team.

These are explained in detail below.

Planning

The project started with two group meetings between the two courses, the aim of which was to begin forming an idea for our project.

There were 24 of us in total and being told we were going to work together on a project posed the problem of how to manage such a large group. As the project was entirely up to us, we made the decision to form smaller independent sub-groups working on different aspects of the project.

The project tutor gave us a building exercise in order to improve our collaborative skills. He gave us four themes and invited each one of us, individually, to choose the one we preferred. I chose Identity however I didn’t want to ignore Technology. This idea caused an imbalance of numbers among the groups and some people, including me, felt restricted by having to choose only one idea. We all agreed that the meeting in the next week would revisit this and approach it in a different way. We suggested bringing an item or idea to discuss and share with the group.

In the next meeting, we agreed to form smaller groups of 4, 5 or 6 people, which began the discussion about finding a general word, or phrase that reflected our whole theme for the project. This theme would form the basis of the whole project and could be broken down into different representations, which would identify each group.

The Dot Line concept emerged from our discussion as a group. We each talked to the whole group about our practice and the themes and concepts we were interested in as part of our studio work and which we wanted to explore further. From this we were able to place people in groups of general categories and compile a list of different ideas and themes based on what we shared individually. In our discussions it became clear that the people who created lists and organised the groups were the natural leaders.

Dot Line was broken down into 5 different representations, Journey, Identity, Memory, Cosmos and Nature. We made the decision to make our project a performance promenade within the theatre space, instead of a performance piece, as everyone agreed that it would be the most practical solution to having a large group.

I chose to join the group representing Cosmos, as I felt drawn to the idea of the universe, space and to a further extent, the idea of fate, time and our place within the universe. To start off, I built a Facebook group page for the Cosmos group in order to share ideas, communicate with each other and arrange future meetings. We began with assigned individual tasks to help everyone understand each other and share whatever ideas we had for the project. The first was to find 3 images that represented our idea of cosmos.

I chose one of my favourite constellations, the big dipper, a graph showing the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang to today and an image of the Eagle Nebula Pillars of Creation. I felt that constellations tied in with the theme of Dot Line in a literal sense, joining up stars with dots and lines. The graph of the big bang was my interpretation of taking something hugely complex and reducing it to a simple image made of dots and lines. Finally, the pillars were an image that I felt showed the beauty of our universe.

Our group all shared an interest in the idea of taking huge concepts of space and time and reducing them to graphs plotted by dots and lines. This was identified as the theme to build on for our project.

Building

The next meeting focused on what we would be creating in the theatre space. We decided on constructing a tunnel in which the audience could enter and plot their own graph linking in with the conceptual idea of reducing space into graphs. The end of the tunnel would contain a projection screen connected to a video camera that pointed towards the screen to produce a live feed illusion of an infinite image. See sketchup model below:

Collaborative Project Sketchup Model

The original intention was to construct the tunnel with chicken wire, using a metallic frame to hold up the wire. The holes would provide areas that could be used to tie string onto. We chose chicken wire as a member of our group said they had access to some free rolls of chicken wire.

After a few adjustments to the shape of the tunnel we began experimenting with materials in the theatre space to test how the construction would come together and how effective the projection image would be. The AV Store in college would be providing us with technical equipment so this was also an opportunity to create a list of what we would need. In order to connect the camera to the projector we would need an HDMI cable with an HD projector. The AV store had a 20metre HDMI cable that was suitable for the length of the tunnel, which was measured up from the guidelines from the VectorWorks model of the tunnel that I created.

After discussion as a group we realised that our original ideas for the construction of the tunnel were too ambitious and we would need to rethink how to build the structure. The estimated costs calculated from the metalwork shop on campus were over budget and would have been time- consuming to build. After a brainstorming session together, I suggested that we should buy affordable garden arches and modify them to match our original dimensions. Another member of the group went to the woodwork shop in college to discuss ideas and found out that we could use string instead of chicken wire and hire some wooden planks to use as sleepers to hold the arches upright. While these ideas didn’t match our original intention they were suitable alternatives and within our tight budget.

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(Updated version of VectorWorks rendering – modified to fit website page)

We were unable to build in the theatre space the week before the event so we had to use our studio to build half of the structure due its size then transport on the Monday of the week of the event.

Exhibiting

On the week of the event, the AV store didn’t supply us with the correct technical equipment, even though it had already been reserved. We were missing a HD projector and the 20metre HDMI cable. We were told that we would have the HD projector on Thursday morning, the day of the event and the HDMI cable went missing. This made it very hard to test our piece before the show and set back our build schedule. A 20m HDMI cable was sourced from the Chelsea College and kindly lent to us.

Our first priority was to complete building the tunnel sculpture, which had been disassembled so that it could be transported from the studio to the theatre. It was also the first time we put the fabric on the tunnel to fill the top and sides so there was still an element of risk as it had been untested.

The day of the show started with solving our major issue, finding a projector. We were told by the AV store that they would have a HD projector in the morning however by 11am it was still not available. Fortunately, they had a different HD projector from the one with which we had tested our project so we decided to take that projector. However, it meant having to adjust the measurements of distance from screen to projector as it had different focal length. This issue meant that we finished only half an hour before the show was due to start and therefore had virtually no time to test everything. We just had to hope that it would work.

There were also a number of last minute additions such as designing and adding a sign for the side of the sculpture to help guide the audience.

Self Reflection

Had the complete structure been built prior to the week of the event, the fabric could have been tested and it would have been possible to see how to improve the aesthetic design from the exterior. This would also have meant that the last minute additions would have been completed earlier.

I have learnt that it is useful to prepare for any situation and have an alternative in hand and to create a project plan including a timeline of tasks as to avoid any last minute changes.

The publicity team worked well together and we met our proposed time frames. The tumblr site was built without any issues and worked well as a teaser to the event with useful information.

An attempt was made to reach out to other colleges through SUARTS by sharing our promotional material. It was a hurdle for us as Wimbledon is “outside” London and it would be hard to attract outside students. Ultimately we were let down by SUARTS for an arranged interview on the day of the event. This was the promotional team’s attempt to increase the recognition of the Wimbledon name across UAL. The team is still currently in talks with SUARTS to include a post-event promotion pack to be distributed across SUARTS social media channels.

Discussion

The briefing session was held the day after the show to discuss all of the projects and the show in general. It was declared to be a successful show and brought people in, sometimes more than once to explore and look around the space to view our projects. The general feeling was that space was an issue and it felt that our tunnel took up a lot of space from the other sub-groups projects. Whether this was an issue or not was not discussed but it was mentioned that with more time in the theatre space in the run up to show we would have been able to make adjustments and fit everything in more evenly.

The feedback on our project was more positive towards the structural design and how we overcame our challenges. As it was a durational interactive piece there was the risk of having a different message from what was initially intended. It was enjoyed more as a playful piece as opposed to being a thoughtful piece, however the idea that it was forced playfulness was brought up.

It was noted that the imagery with the projection was more powerful at the start where you could see yourself clearly repeated in an illusion, as the wool started filling up the space the images got lost. This was also another unforeseen issue where the wool made the tunnel structure sag and block off half of the camera image.

Out of all the groups involved there, ours was identified as having the least obvious message and connection to the event, Dot Line. This was perhaps reflective of the mixed messages within the group, issues with time and space and external issues beyond our control such as missing equipment.

In addition to critical feedback, we received proposed ideas from the group in how we could add to our idea. One suggested having objects within the tunnel to help convey the message more clearly, another suggested the idea of using interactive sound to complement the visual image and creating an online website to stream the projected image, which additionally would help with promoting the event.

Conclusion

The Cosmos group faced many challenges both conceptually and production-wise. It was a test for all of us. There were a number of problems internally and externally beyond our control.

We had a late addition to our group, which became challenging, as it was difficult in helping them bring their own ideas to the project after we had already developed an idea for a number of weeks. We explained the concept to the individual to update them with our progress. However, it encouraged them to impose their own idea of the concept and there was no joint ownership. This then meant that further issues arose throughout the development of the project.

At times it felt that the Cosmos group was divided, half emerging as leaders in charge of planning and solving problems and the other half taking a passive role. We aimed to solve this by detailing plans for subsequent group sessions on our Facebook group page and encourage everyone to contribute to the project equally.

The conceptual idea behind our project got lost in the audience. In future it will be useful to keep reverting back to our idea and reflecting in order to make sure there is enough direction and narrative.

The event itself ran smoothly without any technical issues and had a good reception. We were ambitious in creating our sculpture and design. A lot of time was dedicated to this and less on other important matters such as detailing a plan for the day of the show and having time to reflect back on our concepts and ideas.

Additional Media:

Gallery of pictures taken at the event

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