The Future of Theatre Creation?
SpiderWebShow Unveils CdnStudio
By Rachel Offer
Collaboration for theatre artists across borders may become a little easier thanks to an innovative new digital tool. Launched this week, CdnStudio is a web platform that uses basic green screen technology to overlay video feeds and make it appear as though artists in different studios are in the same room, enabling them to create and rehearse work from remote locations. Co-creator Sarah Stanley, co-founder and creative catalyst of SpiderWebShow, calls it “Skype on steroids.”
CdnStudio held its official launch on Monday afternoon at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, with theatre practitioners present to test it out in person and online across the country. Stanley and her co-creator Michael Wheeler, SpiderWebShow’s co-founder and artistic director, demonstrated the website with technical designer Joel Adria, who was present from Edmonton through the use of CdnStudio.
“For SpiderWebShow as a performance company, this is an amazing day, because it’s the day that we jump to being able to actually say that we create work in a shared digital space for a national community,” Wheeler said. “And that raises really crazy questions about theatre, because obviously one of the core definitions of theatre itself is that people come together into a place and then communally experience, in that physical space, a performance. Now with CdnStudio, the place where people come together is a digital, virtual one.”
Stanley says she was inspired by artists like Iqaluit-based Laakkuluk Williamson-Bathory, who in a session at the Banff Centre outlined the challenges of creating work in the North. “She said, ‘I’m in Iqaluit [and] I want to work with someone in Pine Inlet; it’ll cost $3,000 for me to get to Pine Inlet or for them to get to me.’” For artists in remote areas of Canada, costs associated with travelling to meet with collaborators or tour a production can be prohibitive and impede the development of new work. Stanley sees CdnStudio as a way to overcome these barriers.
Stanley continues, “I thought, well, what if we could somehow change time and space in terms of values? What if we were able to somehow bring different parts of the country together into a space so that people could develop work, could rehearse work, could create work over a period of time and then come together for a shorter time to present to an audience?” It was from this vision that CdnStudio was born.
The tool is the product of a partnership between SpiderWebShow and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Community Investment Program. Stanley and Wheeler first introduced the technology at the LMDA Conference at Portland State University in July 2016 on a closed network, and further developed it with students in the Stage and Film Department at Queen’s University in Kingston this past December.
SpiderWebShow is testing the full capacity of this iteration of CdnStudio by creating, rehearsing and performing a production in September called The Revolutions. The live show will be in Kingston with other performers participating remotely from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
While this technology is impressive, it has some limitations. Users will experience a slight time delay, and although a background created by a simple image gives participants the illusion they are in the same room, they cannot physically interact with their surroundings. Additionally, for a theatre artist, creating with someone who is not physically present in the space with you may feel a bit strange. But these limitations could also provide opportunity for further creativity, and I can testify, with only a couple of hours exposure to CdnStudio, that I am inspired to contact other theatre artists and see how it could work in my own creative practice.
Wheeler and the rest of SpiderWebShow stress that they want people to try out the software and give feedback so that they can make improvements. “We’re learning also as a company,” he said. As of right now, CdnStudio offers two options for use, both of them accessible to anyone with Internet: “basic’, which is totally free of charge, and ‘plus’ for $9.99/month, which provides more hours of use per month.
Rachel Offer is alt.theatre‘s new editorial assistant. Born and raised in a small town in Ontario, she is cultivating her passion for theatre by going into her third year of the BFA – Acting program at the University of Windsor.