Tag Archives: theater

The Dreamer

•   K N O W    T H Y S E L F   •

Meet the Dreamer, my new interactive art project, which I have just started to prototype.

This illuminated sculpture aims to make us more aware of the characters who live inside our heads, and how our emotions influence the way we perceive the world around us.

The Dreamer’s head lights up with rear-projected videos of some of the characters who influence us, along with memories and feelings that fill in our minds, day and night.

To show what the Dreamer is thinking, our first prototypes will display images of people and nature, sparking different moods, each represented by a different color, as shown below.

The Dreamer’s emotions can be shown with different colored lights, such as: red for anger, orange for fear, yellow for happiness, green for surprise, blue for sadness, purple for love, for example.

You can change the Dreamer’s worldview by pressing buttons to make him/her more happy or sad, angry or kind, fearful or curious (like social media emoticons). In response, the Dreamer’s head lights up with different colors and facial expressions, as these emotions are activated in his/her mind.

This kinetic sculpture can give us a glimpse at what goes on inside our heads, as images of our lives pass by, fleeting like clouds in the sky, colored by our moods. The Dreamer’s quiet face keeps transforming, responding to new images and emotions with images and sounds of its own.

As times goes by, we see the interplay of the forces that drive us: anger can turn into love, sadness into joy, fear into curiosity. And we can learn how changing our emotions can transform how we view the world.

See more photos in our Dreamer album.

Development

The Dreamer is being developed at Tam Makers and Pataphysical Studios, our maker spaces in Mill Valley, where we are creating our first prototypes.

We are just getting started on this project, so we don’t have precise specs yet. We will add them here soon, after we’re done experimenting with our first prototypes. The small AAXA P2B projector we’re using seems to work best about 24″ away from a standard 6″ wide mask. And the mask’s illumination varies based on your viewing angle, so we may want to make it rotate a bit from left to right, using a motorized turntable, as shown below.  

The current plan is to first sculpt a clay mask for the head (the prototype shown below was made from a life mask of my own head), flattened it a bit at the mouth, eyes and forehead, then vacuum-form that mask with translucent white plastic, so that we can rear-project a variety of faces onto that slightly opaque form.

Products

This interactive art piece will be presented in different ways:

• as part of the Time Machine we’re building at Pataphysical Studios (see photo below)

• as a stand-alone exhibit in art shows and galleries

• in large street performance during public events

• in short videos on the web.

The Dreamer is inspired by radical puppetry, maker technology and modern art. It is also informed by our recent art projects: Art Float, Bamboodu Theater, Maker Art workshops and Ubu’s Dreams.

Research

In previous experiments conducted in summer 2016 by Fabrice Florin and Jean Bolte, we attempted to bring characters to life by projecting videos of human faces onto ‘life casts’. For these first tests, we projected some of Fabrice’s interviews with Jean’s daughter Natalina and our friend Mark Petrakis onto the David Bowie and Sean Connery life casts, as well as on a plain mannequin head and mask.

The results of these first tests were very encouraging, as you can see in this video and in these photos of our first session and second session.

We think we can apply this projection mapping technique to the Dreamer project by combining full face projections with images of what the characters are thinking. For the Time Machine, we can project re-enactions of historical figures, against masks or heads set in a dark box behind of the Time Machine’s porthole. Opening the porthole would reveal an animated face from the past or future, which would speak to you for a moment, across time and space.

Here are some of our observations from those first tests:

• this technique works well to bring characters to life

• it creates the illusion that you are seeing a real person

• aligning the faces from the videos with the life casts can be tricky

• we may need to hold the actor’s heads to keep them aligned while we shoot

• getting the eyes, nose and mouth to match may require adjusting the video as well

• some interesting expressions come out when the faces are not perfectly aligned

• people can be made to look older or younger, depending which cast you use

• when the face looks straight at the camera, you really feel that it is talking to you

• some facial expressions work really well, like shifting eyes left and right

• some interesting effects can be created by speeding up the footage, as in Max Headroom

In our next experiments, we will play with different ways to align the projected image and the life cast, and make it all work in a small space.

Next Steps

We will start by experimenting with medium-size heads (8-inch high), to develop the characters and their interactions. These prototypes would be shown in a toy theatre (about 2 feet square).

Future versions could let us open the Dreamer’s head to see the characters that lurk inside and drive her emotions. These characters could be moved or replaced at will, to change the influence they have on the Dreamer. For those versions, we can adapt the customizable robot kits we developed in our Maker Art classes.

In the next phase, we could create larger versions of the Dreamer for street theater performances, in public settings such as marches or fairs. For those larger version, we could re-use the same trailer we built for the Art Float, which could support a large puppet as high as 8-feet tall.

We can create fun interactive experiences with the Dreamer as a focal point. In “Share Your Dream”, we would invite you to become the Dreamer for a moment, and project your own face inside its head. You would then tell us about your dream and we could record you on video.  

The Dreamer invites us to better understand how our emotions make us perceive the world in different ways. It can show us how to replace our destructive emotions with a more positive outlook.

Learn more on our planning page: http://bit.ly/dreamer-plan

See more photos in our Dreamer album.

 

MVCAN-Do Revue

Singer Matt Jaffe performs ‘Dark Ages’ at the MVCAN-Do Revue. Photo: Martha Ture.

We celebrated one year of resistance with friends and neighbors at the MVCAN-Do Revue, our first anniversary celebration for MVCAN, our progressive political action group in Marin. To energize our community and lift our spirits, we presented an evening of music, dance and storytelling at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, on Saturday, November 11th, 2017.

I produced and hosted this community celebration with a world class team of MVCAN volunteers, to honor community members who took political action this year. We featured talented local performers, including rock singer Matt Jaffe, poet Natalie Frederick, hip hop dancers from RoCo Dance, music director Reed Fromer with the Shady Ladies and the Can-Do Singers — along with special presentations by MVCAN team leaders.

Watch their performances in the full event video below, shot by by David DonnenfieldEd Ellsworth and George Eade — and edited by yours truly.

In collaboration with filmmaker Gary Yost, I also created special video montages to tell the story of how MVCAN came together the day after the election, to resist the attacks against democracy by the Trump regime and right-wing extremists.

Their Year in Review video below showed many of the actions we took together: we marched for democracy, we defended civil and women’s rights, we phone banked to flip elections, we protected the environment, we helped reverse Trumpcare, we created political art, and much more. Watch other videos of this event in our MVCAN Vimeo album.

Special thanks to the photographers who took pictures of our event (Martha Ture, George Osner, Suz Lipman, Tim Pozar and Jean Bolte). You can view more pictures of our anniversary in our photo album on Flickr and on Facebook.

To produce this event, we assembled a special events team, which I spearheaded along with Danny Altman, June Cooperman, Mary Cosgrove, Suz Lipman, Carol Korenbrot, Marilyn Price and others. If you have any questions or comments for the team, please email us at events-lead@mvcan.org .

Thanks as well to the 60 cast and crew members who generously volunteered their time to host this event, and to all the donors who contributed generously to support our cause. And kudos to all community members  who took political action this year! In dark times like these, community action is more important than ever: it’s that choice to act together that defines us — and gives us hope that we can build a better world.

If you would like to participate in MVCAN , sign up here — and/or donate to support our cause.

Join your neighbors to keep democracy alive!

Event producer and host Fabrice Florin kicks off the MVCAN-Do-Revue. Photo: Martha Ture.

Young poet Natalie Frederick performs her poem about her political awakening. Photo: Martha Ture.

Activist and MVCAN leader Suz Lipman thanks our action teams. Photo: George Osner.

Dancers from RoCo’s Hip Hop group bring funk and groove to our event. Photo: Martha Ture.

Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears speaks about community action. Photo: Martha Ture.

Activists raise their fists for democracy at our MVCAN community celebration. Photo: Martha Ture.

MVCAN leaders Danny Altman and Bill Jansen list Top 10 things we did this year. Photo: Martha Ture.

The Shady Ladies sing their hearts out for democracy, led by Reed Fromer. Photo: Martha Ture.

Reed Fromer leads a sing-along with the Shady Ladies and Can-Do Singers. Photo: George Osner.

Activists, cast and crew gather for a final curtain call. Photo: George Osner.

MVCAN leaders June Cooperman and Bernard Catalinotto as Liberty and Trump. Photo: Suz Lipman.

Carol Korenbrot and MVCAN volunteers greet our generous donors. Photo: Suz Lipman.

Meet our event team: Suz Lipman, Marilyn Price, Fabrice Florin, Mary Cosgrove and June Cooperman (from left to right). Missing in action: Danny Altman and Carol Korenbrot. Photo: Ed Ellsworth.

View more pictures of our anniversary in our photo album on Flickr and on Facebook. Watch videos of this event in our Vimeo album.

Robot World

Create your own artistic robot! Learn how to make your robot move in a variety of ways, using a programmable Arduino board. Decorate your animated character, give it a story, and create a magical world for it to live in. All materials are included in this course: you can take your robot home when the class ends.

This Maker Art class for grades 4-5 took place at the Lycée Français in Sausalito. We met every Tuesday for 12 weeks, from 3:30 to 5pm, between September and December 2017.

Students developed new skills in playful ways: science, technology, engineering, art and math skills (STEAM), as well as creativity, problem-solving and communication skills.

Teachers were multimedia innovator Fabrice Florin and software designer Edward Janne.To learn more, view our photo albumcourse slides and student guide — and check our course page for updates.

For a quick overview, watch the short video below.

This short video of our Robot World class was created by Fabian at the Lycée Français. Merci!

Who is it for?

This program was for lower school children in grades 4 and 5 (ages 8-10). Four students participated in our afternoon class in Sausalito in fall 2017.

Where and when is it?

This class took place at Lycée Français in Sausalito, in the Innovation Lab (Room #340). The school entrance is 660 Coloma Street, Sausalito, CA 94945.

We met every Tuesday for 12 weeks, from September 12 to December 5, 2017, from 3:30pm to 5:00pm, at the Lycée Français in Sausalito.

Here was our course schedule:

  • Sep-12: Plan the robot world
  • Sep-19: Learn about robots
  • Sep-26: Build your robot 1
  • Oct-3: Build your robot 2
  • Oct-10: Program your robot 1
  • Oct-17: Program your robot 2
  • Oct-24: Break: No Class
  • Oct-31:Program your robot 2
  • Nov-7: Break: No Class
  • Nov-14: Finish your robot
  • Nov-21: Create the robot world
  • Nov-28: Rehearse your show
  • Dec-5: Shoot videos
  • Dec-12: Show & Tell

 

Can we see pictures from the classes?

Here are photos from our last “show and tell” class, when students performed a little play with their robots, based on their own original story: Devil Bot stole a secret recipe from Chef Bot, who runs the bakery where all the food is prepared in Food Ville. Police Bot and Swat Bot then chased the devil and locked him up, restoring peace in their little world, with “pizza for all.” 

Here are some photos from our first classes.

You can see more pictures in our photo album.

What are students learning?

Students are creating their own robot and interactive art, in a playful way that makes learning more fun. Working collaboratively, they make their bots move, bringing characters to life and interacting with others in their new ‘robot world.’

This unique combination of art and technology helps them develop a range of new skills:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • Arduino, robotics and programming
  • science, technology, engineering, art and math skills (STEAM)
  • creative expression, communication & collaboration skills

Learn more in our course slides and student guide.

 

Do you also teach this class for adults?

Yes! We taught a Create a Robot class for adults and teens at Tam Makers in Mill Valley.

In just two evenings in September 2017, we showed students how to build their own artistic robot with Arduino, make it move around, shake its head and wave. And they got to take their animated creature home with you, to impress friends and family. 🙂  We may teach more adult classes in the future. Check out our classes page at Tam Makers.

 

What materials are included?

Each student received a robot kit, which they learned to assemble, control and program.

For this class, we created our own robot kit, using an Arduino Feather M0 for the robot, an Pro Micro for the remote, a custom chassis, plus three additional servos and more parts. Our robot kit was similar to commercial kits, but with a lot more features at a lower cost. This robot kit was decorated by the students to create an interesting animated character. Learn more about our robot kit in our student guide.

This robot kit supports these features:
Roaming – the bot can move around under user control
Moving – the bot can move some body parts (turn its head, wave its arms, using servos)
Inputs – the bot has a variety of buttons (on/off button, buttons for different gestures, etc.)
Remote – the bot can be controlled remotely (using a remote control or desktop app)
Lights – the bot can have lights in its body (LEDs that blink, glow, or fade on and off)
Sounds – the bot can play audio (using piezo buzzer to play simple beeps and tunes)
Programming – the bot is easy to code (with visual programming tool like Snap4Arduino)
Flexibility – the bot can be expanded (with extra parts to be ordered separately)
Pricing – the bot is affordable (we’re aiming for a maximum of $75 per robot)

They programmed their robots with Snap4Arduino and made them move in different ways with servo motors. We used the school’s Macs to program the robots, using the Arduino software and Snap4Arduino, a visual programming tool. Arduino code was shared with parents when class ended, so they can help students to continue to program their robot at home.

What do the robots look like?

Students created some cool characters for their Robot World: Chef Bot, Devil Bot, Police Bot and Swat Bot

Each student received their own robot kit, which they learned to assemble, control and program. They built a chassis, wired up the Arduino electronics, made their own remote control, added a head and arms (laser cut based on their designs). Last but not least, they painted and decorated them to give them unique personalities. You can track their progress in our photo album.

The video above shows what our robots looked like in early stages of development. Our fun robots can roam around, shake their heads and flap their wings, at the touch of a button. 

Below are a few photos of our first prototypes, made with laser-cut wood figures and servo motors (to see them in action, watch our video). We call them ‘Bambots’. This name is short for ‘Bamboodu Robot’: it is inspired by the fictional Bamboodu tribe we created for art projects like the Bamboodu Float and the Pataphysical Slot Machine.

Bambots like to shake their heads and flap their wings back and forth. The photos below show other prototypes of a Bambot Angel and an Bambot Dude, in different stages of construction.

For more pictures of this course, see our photo album.

 

What does the robot world look like?

We invited students to design a magical world for their robots, then build it and decorate it.

They imagined a future wonderland called FoodVille: a peaceful world filled with food, to insure a life of ‘everlasting fun.’ They created a colorful landscape centered around a volcano spilling out candy lava, with robot homes and a bright red soda fountain.

We asked students to decorate their robots so they looked like characters in that fantasy world. For a closer look, see our photo album for this course.

Who are the teachers?

Multimedia innovator Fabrice Florin and software designer Edward Janne taught this course.

Fabrice Florin

Fabrice is an art maker and social entrepreneur who creates unique experiences to inform and engage communities through digital and physical media. He has led the development of many pioneering products in education, news and entertainment, working with innovators such as Apple, Macromedia and Wikipedia. He is now a teacher and artist at Tam Makers in Mill Valley, where he teaches maker art to adults and kids. Learn more at fabriceflorin.com .

 

Edward Janne

Edward is a software developer and teacher at Tam Makers. He has an extensive background in interactive design and engineering. Prior to joining us, he was a technical animator at Bonfire Labs, a creative content agency. He also studied at the Academy of Art University and the University of San Francisco. Edward has taught several Maker Art classes with us, and will lead more classes for adults and teens at Tam Makers this fall.

 

How can I learn more?

To learn more, view our photo albumcourse slides and student guide — and check our course page for updates.

Also read this overview of our Maker Art classes, and visit our site for Tam Makers, our community makerspace in Mill Valley.

For more info, email Fabrice at fabriceflorin-at-gmail-dot-com.

Ubu’s Dreams

Ubu’s Dreams is a shadow puppet show featuring Père Ubu and surreal characters from his unconscious. This play was created by Mark Petrakis and Fabrice Florin, with Edward Janne, Dan Cantrell, Phyllis Florin, Jean Bolte and our friends at Pataphysical Studios.

We premiered Ubu’s Dreams at the Canessa Gallery in North Beach, San Francisco on November 3, 5 and 12, 2016. Watch the video here. The show was part of the ‘Pataphysics of Dada exhibit for the Dada World Faire hosted by City Lights Books.

What’s it about?

Ubu’s Dreams stars Père Ubu, the protagonist of Alfred Jarry’s plays at the turn of the 19th century. This shadow puppet show features many surreal characters from his unconscious: big faces, talking ravens, exploding cows and other creatures from the wild ubu-beyond.

Ubu’s Dreams explores new ways of telling stories with shadows, combining laser-cut wood figures, mechanical automata, a rich musical soundtrack as well as video and multimedia scenery. This 12-minute show consists of three separate plays with music interludes.

Watch the video below. For more details about this first show, check out this scripts page.

Where was it shown?

We premiered Ubu’s Dreams on November 3rd, 5th and 12th, 2016, 6-8pm, during our ’Pataphysics of Dada exhibit at the Canessa Gallery in North Beach, for the Dada World Faire.

We may perform Ubu’s Dreams again in 2017. Please contact us at info@pataphysics.us with any questions or suggestions of possible venues for our next show.

In the meantime, you can watch the video of our first performance here on Vimeo.

And here is our photo album from recent shows, including the ‘making of’ Ubu’s Dreams.

How are the characters made?

The shadow puppets in Ubu’s Dreams are made of wooden figures and shapes created in Adobe Illustrator and laser cut onto ⅛” birch plywood. We animate these puppets by hand from behind the screen, holding them on thin vertical sticks planted on animation stands. A few of the characters have moving parts, such as arms or mouths — and some of the parts light up.

We plan to bring some of these figures to life by making them move with small motors. We’re also experimenting with spotlights and other forms of automation. Some long-term aspirations for this experiment are outlined in this Theatre Mécanique blog post.   

 

What does the show look like?

Here are photos for each scene in the show.

See more pictures in this photo album — including the ‘making of’ Ubu’s Dreams.

What is going on behind the screen?

Here are photos of the performers and their puppets.

How does it work?

This shadow puppet show takes place inside the Magic Theater, a mobile stage for interactive storytelling we created for this project.

The Magic Theater is based on a wooden cart with a PVC framework. It includes a powerful projector over the performers’ heads, which illuminate the top of the screen, so the show can be seen even in a crowded room.

 

Who created this?

Here are the fine folks who created this project:

Created by Mark Petrakis and Fabrice Florin

Written, Performed and Directed by Mark Petrakis

Designed and Produced by Fabrice Florin

Animated and Engineered by Edward Janne

Music by Dan Cantrell

Stage Design and Construction by Fabrice Florin, Phyllis Florin, Edward Janne, Mark Petrakis and Jean Bolte

Special Thanks to our friends at Pataphysical Studios

 

How can I learn more?

Watch the video here. See also: photo album, scripts page and timeline.

 

Bamboodu Float at the Parade

People loved our Bamboodu Float at the 2017 Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade!

I created this political art performance with the Mill Valley Community Action Network (MVCAN), to express our frustration with the Trump regime.

Our puppet theater on wheels stars Lady Liberty and Tiny Trump: each time Trump tweets fake news, Liberty bonks him on his thick bobble head.

Here’s a video of our parade with dozens of artists and MVCAN members:

Thousands of spectators cheered and sang along with us: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses …” This lovely poem by Emma Lazarus was turned into song by Gareth Loy and performed by local singers, including members of the Shady Ladies.

Veteran journalist Paul Liberatore wrote this fine cover story for the Independent Journal, the largest newspaper in the North Bay. ABC 7 News featured our political art throughout their Memorial Day coverage (a clip from their news report is included in the above video). Our video also includes footage from a wonderful parade montage by Gary Yost, with a moving guitar solo by young musician Matt Jaffe.

This Memorial Day Parade was organized by Larry “the Hat” Lautzker, Mill Valley’s colorful clothier. The parade judges gave us the “Best Community Spirit Award.” One judge, Eric Christensen, explained why he voted for our entry: “I thought it was a very appropriate message to send on Memorial Day: if people don’t stand up to Trump and his policies, our future will be filled with many more war dead to memorialize.” 

Our friends at MVCAN invited me to give a talk about this project and the importance of art in politics at their monthly MVCAN meeting. Here are my takeaways:

  • Art engages us at a deeper level
  • It unites us around shared emotions
  • We identify with the characters of our stories
  • We spread our message to a wider audience
  • It invites people of all ages to participate
  • It sparks our imagination to invent the future
  • Making art together is fun and inspiring
  • It encourages playful collaborations
  • It builds community and strengthens our bonds

Here’s the video of my talk. See our slides for more info.

I’m very grateful to all the MVCAN friends and neighbors who helped build this float in our front yard: Danny Altman, Laura Boles, Phyllis Florin, David Glad, Peter Graumann, Edward Janne, Suz Lipman, Charlene Lundgren, Jean Marie Murphy, Mark Petrakis and Martha Roush, to name but a few. See the team in action in our photo album.

Special thanks to my amazing friend and associate Edward Janne, who designed and engineered the technology behind this float, using an Arduino, an MP3 shield and NeoPixel matrices. He coded the Bamboodu Player, the custom software which allowed me to choreograph our live performance, using this simple script. If you’d like to learn how to build systems like these, we’ll teach another Arduino class together this fall at Tam Makers.

Many thanks as well to our friends at Pataphysical Studios, our art collective, who marched ahead of us holding a large Traffic Jam sign, from an earlier caper memorialized in this video. We all wore our purple lab coats and funny hats, to set the tone for this new political art march.

I’m really happy that so many people enjoyed our Bamboodu Theater — and that our performance helped promote the Mill Valley Community Action Network — a grassroots political group that helps us coordinate our resistance to right-wing attacks on our liberties. 

Through this interactive art experience, we hope to engage people of all ages to get engaged in political action. If you live in the North Bay, sign up here on the MVCAN site — and join your neighbors to keep democracy alive!

Vive la liberté!

Fabrice

Learn more about the Bamboodu Float:

#art #bamboodu #indivisible #mvcan #politics #puppets #resist #theater

Bamboodu Theater

Behold the Bamboodu Theater, my new puppet stage for civic events and art shows.

This interactive theater experience features the Bamboodu spirit, a mythical creature rising from the earth to expose the troubles facing America and the world. Above his head are some of the characters that haunt his dreams, playing out the eternal fight between fear and hope.

Our first scene stars Lady Liberty and Mr. Trump. As surreal music plays, Mr. Trump’s recent tweets and alternative facts scroll by on a news ticker below the stage. Each time Trump says something wrong, Liberty hits him on his thick, bobbing head — until his oversize jacket falls off, revealing that the emperor truly has no clothes.

At the end of this short play, we invite our guests to sing along the inspiring words of Emma Lazarus’s poem about the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor …”). Through this interactive experience, we hope to engage people of all ages to think about the values we share — and help change the world through civic action.

Bamboodu Theater is a work-in-progress, combining mixed-media art with radical puppetry, along with electronic text, lights and sounds powered by Arduino. We customize the experience for each public appearance, whether it is shown as a stand-alone exhibit, a parade float or a street theater performance.

We premiered this interactive theater experience at Signs of Hope, an inspiring exhibit of political art that ran from April 14th to 29th at Art Works Downtown in San Rafael. See photos of our theater in that exhibit. Learn more on our project page.

We are now building a special float to feature the Bamboodu Theater at the Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 29, 2017. To create this float, I am working with a wonderful team at the Mill Valley Community Action Network (MVCAN), a local political group which I recently joined to resist the conservative takeover of our country.

Our new Bamboodu Float is coming along very nicely, as shown in this photo album. Learn more on our project page. In coming months, we plan to show it at other civic events and political rallies.

Bamboodu Theater was created by Fabrice Florin, in collaboration with Phyllis Florin, Edward Janne, Mark Petrakis, Geo Monley, Jean Bolte, Howard Rheingold and our friends at Pataphysical Studios and Tam Makers. Special thanks to Gareth Loy for permission to use his Mother of Exiles song, and to all the MVCAN members who are helping build our parade float: Danny Altman, Laura Boles, David Glad, Peter Graumann, Suz Lipman and Jean Marie Murphy, to name but a few. I’m deeply grateful to you all.

It’s been a true pleasure to work with so many friends and neighbors to keep democracy alive through art and theater.
Vive la liberté!

Théatre Mécanique

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system for recreating a wide range of stories with animated puppets.

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system featuring animated puppets and computer-controlled multimedia.

I propose to create a Théatre Mécanique — a project which I would like to work on in coming years, in collaboration with others. (For a visual overview, check out these slides.)

The idea is to build an interactive storytelling system that would let you experience and remix some of the great myths and legends shared by all cultures around the world. It would enable small groups of people to collaboratively reenact some of these universal stories, connect them with their daily lives — and better understand each other as a result.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience some of the universal myths we all share.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience universal myths, and select plot elements.

This mini theater would be mobile, like a hot dog stand, so it could be located anywhere, from birthday parties to street fairs or even on the Playa. It would feature animated puppets, which could either be controlled manually by live performers, or automatically by small computers like Arduino: the puppets could slide in and out of the stage, face one another and/or move their heads and limbs, as shown in the prototype we’re now developing for a balinese cuckoo clock.

Animated puppets would act out short stories selected by participants, set against colorful images on a rear-projected screen.

Animated puppets would act out short stories against colorful images, rear-projected on a background screen.

This mixed media system would include a good sound system for amplifying background music, sound effects and character voices, either live or pre-recorded. A rear-projection screen would set the mood by displaying a wide range of images for each scene, from landscapes from around the world to historical or futuristic scenes. An interactive controller at the front of the stage would let visitors and performers select different types of stories, characters, images and sounds.

Participants would be invited to approach the theater and pick a topic, place or time on the controller. The puppets would then act out a short 1-3 minute scene based on your selection. At the end of each scene, they would ask you for more plot ideas, to guide what happens next. The performance would be recorded on video, which could be emailed to you afterwards, as shown in this first example.

This is an ambitious project, but it appeals to me deeply, because it has the potential to support a wide range of applications: from simple party entertainment to more creative uses, like a time machine simulation — or even scenario planning for group discussions.

In coming months, I would like to explore this idea with friends and collaborators, starting with simple low-tech theatrical experiments and eventually building small prototypes for key parts of the system. I am quite aware this is a large, multi-year project, so I am proposing to start small, and spread research and development over time, with actual fabrication starting a year later. This process is inspired by our collaborative work on the Pataphysical Slot Machine, which we aim to exhibit in public this year.

For this Theatre Mécanique, I hope we can find the right balance between existing storytelling traditions and new interactive technologies — so that the human qualities that make great performances possible are supported by these tools, rather than supplanted by them. Interestingly, this also ties in with the larger challenge we all face as a species, as we look for the right interplay between human and machine intelligence. To that end, I hope that we can tap diverse communities of artists and engineers to participate in this creative experiment.

Fortunately for us, there is a large community of puppeteers already practicing around the world, from Guignol to ‘toy theaters’ to Wayang — and these creative artists have already paved the way for this art form to evolve in a computer-assisted setting! I look forward to discussing these ideas with interested collaborators later this year. For now, I have included below a variety of links that might inspire us in planning this project.

Onward!