“Today, the mass audience (the successor to the ‘public’) can be used as a creative, participating force. It is, instead, merely given packages of passive entertainment.”   
(Marshall McLuhan, 1967)

Since the summer of 2011, the Ars Electronica Futurelab and media artist, choreographer and composer Klaus Obermaier have been jointly investigating innovative forms of audience involvement in stage-based media art. “(St)Age of Participation” is the three-year project’s title, a reference to the contemporary paradigm of social media, user-generated content and the culture of collaboration in the digital domain. In late 2010, the FWF–Austrian Science Fund’s PEEK arts development program granted funding for this project to the Futurelab, the only non-university research facility to receive such a subsidy.

Throughout the history of the theater, dramatists have taken advantage of the technical innovations of their times to transform artistic performances into highly emotional events in order to impart an unforgettable feeling of sensation and magic to their audiences. Now, the time has arrived in which the latest technology makes it possible for a modern, stage-based dramaturgy to reflect and conceptually integrate the audience’s potential to act in the capacity of a “creative, participating force” as McLuhan put it in 1967. This obviously raises the prospect of productive collaboration with experts in media art who have extensive, across-the-board experience with interactivity and participation.

The dance & media performance “Apparition” (2004) and a production of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” (2006) are two highlights among the many multimedia productions the Ars Electronica Futurelab and Klaus Obermaier have successfully staged together. Now, “(St)Age of Participation” is blazing a new trail. Whereas plenty of experience with audience involvement has already been gained in conjunction with individual interactive exhibitions, working in the genre of stage-based dramaturgical media performance confronts Futurelab staffers with wide-ranging new challenges. The aesthetic, emotional and intellectual quality of the production may not be diminished despite—or, actually, precisely due to—possibly unanticipated interventions on the part of the audience. When sounds, visuals and other content are being generated in real time by viewers or listeners, the flow of the work must nevertheless remain intact. Or else it has to be reconceived. This calls for a dynamic dramaturgical concept for the tripartite collaboration involving professional performers, audience members and technology, as well as coming up with new technological tools and embedding them in intuitively understandable interaction metaphors so that audience members can grasp the cause and effect of what they do. What is ultimately called for is a redefinition of what a stage is.

The artistic research process going on in conjunction with “(St)Age of Participation” focuses on achieving exemplary conceptualization of dynamic interaction dramaturgies. This effort is based on the analysis and enhancement of useful technologies such as tracking systems, laser scans, ambient devices, 3D avatars and augmented reality apps. Moreover, the project staff is designing three settings for dramaturgical experiments and testing them in cooperation with professional performance artists in multiple trials with live audiences. Each trial is being assessed according to artistic, technological and social-scientific criteria as well as from the audience’s perspective. The ultimate aim is to impart a new quality to the audience’s emotional and social involvement in artistic experiences.

Projektleitung: Christopher Lindinger & Klaus Obermaier
Projektteam Ars Electronica Futurelab: Roland Haring, Martina Mara, Veronika Pauser, Roland Aigner, Otto Naderer, Benjamin Mayr

Gefördert durch den FWF, Programmlinie PEEK, Programm-Management: Dr. Eugen Banauch.

Many thanks to the Anton Bruckner Private University of Linz, especially to Prof. Rose Breuss/Institute of Dance Arts.