The A-Z is an experimental approach to the investigation of Physical Actor Training, developing a foundational online resource to be published on Drama Online.
If we approach this type of foundational artistic pedagogy with a ‘digital’ outlook we will broaden the scope for epistemological reflexivity in new students. By producing a framework that supports practice-as-research and interdisciplinary investigation we hope to create a platform (The Digital Performer) and digital resource (Physical Actor Training: an online A-Z that can continue evolving in tandem with advancing technologies.
What is digital learning?
Digital Learning is learning facilitated by technology that gives users control over time, place, and pace of learning
Learning and the internet
According to arts curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery, London said in an article titled ‘What is the Future of Art?’ published February 1st 2016 by artsy.net,
‘The Internet is changing the structure of our brains and the structure of our planet in extraordinary ways, so quickly that we haven’t yet developed a proper vocabulary for it. Technological progress has accelerated to the point that the future is happening to us far faster than we could ever have anticipated. This new world is what we call “extreme present,” a time in which it feels impossible to maintain pace with the present, never mind to chart the future.’
Now although this is a massive statement, this is why our particular study is important now. The foundational students who we might use this resource are ‘digital natives’ and are living in the ‘extreme’ present. They are using internet search engines to access information quickly and efficiently and studies have shown that most mobile-users are abandoning pages with a loading time of more than 4 seconds!
A new generation
My niece at the age of 3 was sat with me as I read her The Gruffalo. I went to turn the page but she nudged my hand out of the way and proceeded to try and ‘swipe’ the information away, attempting to scroll the page. I was shocked and of course studies are still in their early stages as to what is the recommended age that children should be introduced to these new technologies.
PBS.org reports that Smartphones and tablets provide students with multiple opportunities to access content and engage with curriculum and the world beyond the four walls of their brick and mortar buildings and give them access to real world experts solving real world problems in real time. Technology makes their learning relevant.
In the A-Z project we aim to use the responsive website format and a flexible platform that allows the students, practitioners and researchers using the resource to make the information relevant to their auto-didacticism, pace of learning and interests.
According to business and financial magazine Forbes, the average Internet user spends 88% more time on a website that has video than without. We do not aim to offer a ‘fast-track’ approach or quick fix answer to Physical Actor Training and we are not criticising written documentation that already exists, however what we are highlighting is the need for a digital, flexible resource for students, teachers and practitioners that will cross some aesthetic and cultural boundaries. By using film and image to digitally animate the body (and/or) movements we will be providing a external perspective of the A-Z techniques which will show relatively new students engaging with Physical Actor Training methods. By recording the initial stages, and the progression of the students in the early stages of their learning we hope to give a realistic insight and offer a practical resource that doesn’t only show highly refined virtuosic bodies at work.
We aim to use spoken commentaries recorded throughout the A-Z from the perspective of student and facilitator to layer with the film footage in order to expose and investigate perceptual/sensory awareness within the training. For example you may see a student performing ‘B’ – which might be breath, so the film clip will show the student drawing breath in through the nose, cut to the chest expanding, cut to the shoulder blades lengthening down the back:
Allow the breath to wash over your internal surfaces, opening the skin on your back, allowing your centre to be fluid and releasing any tension in your shoulders….
The aim of this audio/visual synchronisation is not to try and reproduce an experience of the facilitator, as every physical experience represented will be very different to another person. What we do want show is a certain technique using a particular pedagogy and principle. During the filming and throughout use of the A-Z resource the students will be encouraged to work assiduously so that they can embody the experience and practice in their own way, to feel how breath (or balance or concentration or discipline) circulates in their own body.
Mixed modality learning and accessibility
Studies have shown that in general most students benefit from mixed modality resources, i.e. kinaesthetic/audio/visual learning combinations but we want to investigate other stand alone framework of the A-Z which could potentially open up the accessibility of the research to audible learners or visually impaired students.
This is going to form the 2nd phase of our investigation but will act as a strong thread throughout our research as these are the areas of technological advancements which and constantly in a state of flux and we are not 100% sure of the parameters which may arise with the website platform we will be creating.
- Pausing, replaying, slow-motion (the user manipulating the films)
- Creating an online Scrapbook (which exists in the Digital Dance Archives) where by the user can select sections of the A-Z to build their own film- timeline / structure.
- Interactive motion capture (Isadora)
Physical Actor Training | The App
We will also be looking into possibilities of developing a Physical Actor Training app – this may provide an even more personalised experience for the user to interact with the material presented. The British Sign Language app for example is a very simple resource and reference, working with the actions that show the letters of the alphabet. This simple, but fluid illustration of gestures is a portable resource that shows movement and action in its simplest form.
There are also applications such as Hudl Technique, Formerly Ubersense: Slow Motion Video Analysis that has been created to help improve sporting ability. For example, mastering a golf swing or a tennis serve through the use of slow motion video and a split screen upload option which allows you upload videos and view them alongside the ‘pro.’ The slow motion setting allows you to spot at which point your alignment, posture and direction at a different point in time to that of the demonstrator. This app also allows you to create video voice-overs, comparison videos and it also allows you to add drawings on top of the videos. You can also connect to Airplay or HDMI/VGA connectors to mirror to visuals on a big-screen for group sharing.
Recent studies have also shown the possibly for app’s that can monitor daily, our movement’s, voice patterns and general-well being in order to detect disease such as early onset Parkinson’s. These are rather advanced technological frameworks of observing human behaviour however the model lends itself directly to the awareness and mechanics of the human body. This type of technology and critical analysis will be revolutionary not only in medicine but also in the way we train performers and athletes physically.
Humanities in the digital age
The year’s topic at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities Annual Series is ‘Humanities and the Digital Age’? and Emma Smith (Oxford Fellow and Tutor of English at Oxford) gave a very interesting paper on forgetting and archival in relation to Theatre. She mentioned how memory has become almost prosthetic, as our knowledge is archived and backed-up in social media, hard-drives and cloud storage. Things are being recorded and preserved for future generations and we are interacting less with the real-time world in general, but becoming more seamlessly compatible with the world and our technological devices. Live-ness is under great ontological pressure particularly as we are attempting to capture the ephemeral and transient world of performance with the pressure of it all looking pristine on camera. Live / lived experience is a presence in time and space and relies on the unique place of experience. Documentation and archival of performance has increased massively in the last couple of years and now the technologies are available to not only give us multi-perspective views through varied camera angles but we are actually at the stage of full virtual reality experiences. Oculus rift technology and apps such as VRSE allow us to be part of the digital world offering a 360-degree perspective that is almost completely under our control.
Live work in the digital age
The National Theatre produce high-end screen-adaptations of theatre based work for purchase online but unless the work is created specifically for film it is important to realise that a sense of that live work will be lost. The digitisation of live performance or in the case of our project ‘physical training’ shouldn’t be considered a replica of the work that happened in the studio or on stage, however it should be recognized as a separate entity. Live-ness is extremely important in the preservation of human interaction and experience but digital technology and tools are essential to understanding ourselves and our world further.
Overall I think digital learning and the way we experience the humanities digitally is something that we need to continue to question and be curious about. The digital age is upon us and in order for society to learn and grow effectively we need to embrace these tools that have become such an extension of our everyday selves. Although there is a sense of reluctancy from many to see the full potential of the digital world, it is also apparent that the reliance on digital technologies is so far removed from what any of us ever expected that we need to continue to understand the potential and parameters for this ever evolving medium in order to not be swallowed by it.