Digital performance

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Digital Performance is a very wide category filled with a range of productions, it is a generic performance but with an extra element of incorporating and integrating computer technologies and techniques into the production.[1] You can incorporate multimedia into any type of performance whether it is live on a theatre stage or in the street. Anything as small as video recordings or a visual image classes the production as multimedia and therefore a digital performance. When the key role in a performance is the computer technologies rather than it being an additional role is when it is classed as a digital performance. This can be as little as projections on a screen in front of a live audience to creating and devising a performance in an online environment to using animation and sensing software’s.[1]


If we were to look at the history of performance itself we would be able to find traces of digital performance from centuries ago, where it may be an old type of performance it is made new everyday by the increase in software and techniques and even by the uniqueness of performers' works, meanings and experiments. It is a continuing job to try and see how the acceptance of technology can increase the effects and spectacles of performances and visual arts.[1] Performances are normally reliant on the audience and obviously to receive a good reception from the audience so with the ongoing integration of multimedia within productions surprises the audience and keeps them on edge. It also deals with the emotional and sensorial impact of the audiences. The social impact it has after the performance is out in the world and what meanings have come of the performance from different cliques of people.[1]

The Digital Performance Archive[2] stores a lot of physical and catalogued archives from the 20th century, as they carried out a research project, which involved the increase and creative use of computer technology, and techniques within live theatre and dance productions to even cyberspace interactive dramas and webcasts.[1] Looking at a broad range of diverse productions would have enhanced their research project as they saw how each type of performance was affected and even how new types of performance came about due to the involvement of computer technologies and techniques and all other multimedia sources. Happenings also from the 20th century included new and emerging forms of drama and genres in performance; this occurred due to the active and escalating role of computer technology within all types of performances and productions. It became a significant and very important role within the society of live theatre.[1] Not only did it start to play a key role within theatre it also became a key role within our whole society, with businesses and education involving and using computers more and more as a convenience. As our society became more reliant on computers in everyday life it is exciting to then see how artists and performers use this everyday convenience to create new productions.

CD-ROMs, video games and countless installations exaggerated and performed by users, upped the level of interactive potential of computers.[1] With computers becoming more and more accessible and popular as well as advanced with time so are the performances that contain them.[3]

From the first digital performance to present day trends have been set and this has been helped by the upgrades that surround computers. Artists have followed each other’s works and therefore set trends of their own whilst the technology has set its own trends through upgrades and new software’s coming out which appeal to artists in the field. Another trend that is apparent is theoretical trends to do with all digital productions. Online environments are a strong base for theoretical trends as the frameworks are similar and sometimes the same.[1]

The largest base for theatre in the world is the World Wide Web; the Internet is seen as a satisfying place for relaxation and offers everyone who uses the Internet their ‘fifteen megabytes of fame.' Every single person who uses online networking sites, blogs, chat rooms, MOOs and IRC is creating their own performance with the use of e-friendships.[1] Therefore it is not just the artists who deliberately devise theatrical events via the use of computer techniques and technologies.

The whole catalogue of Digital Performance is so diverse and a wide spread that it creates new and different visual and stylistic aspects. Computers have so many platforms available to create performances on that each production allows the artist/s or companies to gain extraordinary and unique experiences, new genres and experience new existences and beings via virtual realities.

The relationship formed between technology and art is a wonderful one. Two completely different areas joined together to create something new. They blend so well together and complement one another perfectly to become a strand under digital performance. ‘Performance is undertaking a shift in the conception of technology’.[1] As the educational curriculum also upgrades with the latest technologies,[4] school/college/university students are becoming more aware of the techniques they can include in performances and they want to involve the digital side as it is seen as more modern nowadays and appeals to a wide audience.

Performers and devisors of digital performance productions have to approach the aspects of technology in diverse ways to be able to reach different meanings, content, drama, the impact of visuals and the audience-performer relationship. The computer is seen as the middle man, who fixes lasting problems rather than creating original and new performance processes and hype, in digital performance.[1]


The term Digital Performance can usually be defined to consist of all types of performance in which computer technologies have taken on the main role rather than an auxiliary one in the content, techniques, aesthetics or the delivery forms.[5] Digital performance will usually explore the representations of the subliminal, dreams, and fantasy worlds.[1]

Over the past decade or so we have witnessed a very vast and incredible development within every aspect of the technological world. And as a result of this, there has been a large increase in the experimentation with computer technologies being integrated within the performing arts; and with the new technological creations and the developments of existing digital technologies they are also beginning to create a greater, more significant impact on the way in which different art forms are being practiced. Digital media now has a new and much more dramatic role to play in live theatre, dance and performance; and while digital media performances are now beginning to proliferate there are now many new forms of interactive performance genres that have emerged. These new genres are most commonly in the style of audience participatory installation pieces that can take place either on the internet or can be played on a CD – ROM. “Computers are arenas for social experience and dramatic interaction, a type of media more like public theatre, and their output is used for qualitative interaction, dialogue and conversation.”[6] The computer is vastly becoming a significant tool and agent of performative action and creation. Computer technologies can be contextualised as being of a social, cultural and artistic change. Computers do now permit for the artistic modes of expression and for the new generic forms of networking and interactive performance. Theatre itself has always been right at the cutting edge of technology and it has been quick on the mark to be able to recognise, and to take full advantage of the dramatic and aesthetic potentials that these new and existing technologies have to offer. Theatre, dance and performance art have always been known to be a form of multimedia; and right at the very core of the theatre through all the manifestations right to the contemporary experimentation, as well as incorporating all of the visual elements into a production; at the foreground to any piece there is the human voice and the spoken text.[1]

Locating the roots of digital performance practices can be traced back for many decades or even centuries. There are three main periods that can be highlighted in the history of multi - media performance; Futurism during the 1910s, mixed media performance during the 1960s and experimentation with a performance and the computer during the 1990s. Both during the eras of Futurism and the experimentation with computer incorporated within performance, they are both greatly inspired by the development of new and existing technology.[1] Researching back, digital performance practices have experimented with numerous of the different avant – garde movements which can date right back from the early twentieth century, some of these movements can include the likes of Bauhaus, Dada, Surrealism and many more. It could be said that digital performance can be linked to the aesthetics, philosophies and practices of the futurist movement. One of the main links that has been found which can connect futurism to digital performance was with the use of the ‘machine’ which was used in the set of Robert Lepage’s Zulu Time (1999). Although, it can be said that the avant – garde movement Futurism does have a more philosophical basis for contemporary digital performance, more so than any of the other avant – garde movements such as the likes of Bauhaus, Dada and Surrealism which are mainly used to provide inspiration for a large part of the content and styles for the artistic expression. Looking back at the early twentieth century avant – garde, there were many works that would use pre – digital technologies.[1]

One of the earliest examples of when theatre and film were being integrated together in a performance, with the use of digital technology was to try and challenge the distinction between what is ‘liveness’ as in the live performer on the stage and the media imagery, it is about the relationship between the virtual and the actual performance being the dialogical interactivity. With the increased usage of digital media in a performance, not all performances are necessarily live, without the body’s physical presence it could be argued whether this is this still live theatre or just a set of media images and footage. Theatre pieces which have integrated digital media and computer generated projections built into performances have a long historical lineage that stretches back to over a hundred years ago to an experiment that was conducted by Loie Fuller. Fuller was the first modern dance choreographer to try out and to use new technology within her performance work. In 1911, Fuller, a dancer, conducted an experiment where she used film footage and projected it onto diaphanous robes. In the performance, as Fuller danced the robes in which she was wearing became a sort of ‘screen’ where multi – coloured lights were projected upon it. This was one of the first pieces of theatre where film footage was integrated into becoming a part of a live theatre performance.[1]

From the early 1960s, computer generated imagery had then began to emerge as a distinctive art form, and in John Whitney’s film Catalog (1961) viewers witnessed one of films’ first ever uses of computer transformations. Although digital arts had been developing since the 1960s, in the 1990s computer technologies had become much more accessible to artists which then led to a large increase in the digital performance activity. It was during this time that computer hardware was built to become much more “user – friendly” and we then witnessed the invention of the digital camera and the home PC’s (Personal Computer) and the establishment of the World Wide Web. It was during this period of time which would then go on to be known as being the ‘Digital Revolution’. During the period of the ‘Digital Revolution’ there was a great influence on the aesthetics, creation and culture of the performance arts; this had a significant effect on the process for film and television production to the creative writing and the visual and performance arts.[1]

From 1970 there was a period of time of when theatrical experimentation elevated the visual over the verbal; there was a proliferation in the use of media projections in theatre, dance and performance art, using both screens and video monitors. With the ease of using these video technologies more and more artists began to play around with the possibilities of integrating visual media within their live performance work. The use of media technology including the likes of film, video and sound equipment became some of the main characteristics for the experimental theatre, and some of the most noted performance artists of this time were creating work by incorporating video and film footage into their theatre productions. By the 1990s multimedia and computer technologies had widely become a part of everyday life. In live multimedia theatre: the projection screens or video monitor frame additional space, in two dimensions. Media screens are able to provide a uniquely flexible space, unlike the fixed point of view in which a traditional theatre provides to the members of the audience. Moving towards the end of the twentieth century digital computer technologies have become increasingly more ubiquitous.[1]

As digital media has now become more and more popular over the years, the perception of digital images and videos now are now lacking in legitimacy as these technologies have gradually intensified over the past few years. Digital performance is an expansion of a constantly progressing history of which embracing the adaptation of these new and already existing technologies, in which to amplify a performance and the visual art aesthetic effect, and to create the sense of a spectacle as well as capturing the emotional and the sensorial impact.[1]

Production examples[edit]

Video conferencing is also a part of digital performance, some theatre companies (such as ‘The Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre’[7] and ‘Kunstwerk-Blend’[8]) introduced this into their productions to bring different performers from different locations together live on stage to create a lively new brand of digital performance. The Internet is used as a base for these productions with text-based online environments such as MUDs and MOOs as well as the use of webcams and webcasts. They all created new forms to come under the live and interactive performance area. With the ongoing increase of internet users more and more people are made accessible to these software’s therefore more and more artists are experimenting and devising performances using computer technologies which them branches out and raises the number of digital performances and productions.[1]

Another case of what is under the title of digital performance is dance productions, using software and computer techniques such as advanced animation and motion capturing. You can project images of your virtual dancers made on to the stage.[1] As you are using computer techniques and software to project on to a stage, which has a live audience the performance/production, then becomes digital due to the elements involved. Software that is highly involved with digital performance is custom-made motion sensing; this software allows you to control images, avatars, sounds and lighting live on stage.[1] This is important for today’s artists and audiences, as audiences are looking for something new and memorable. Artists are equally looking to create something new that will grab audiences, this software allows this to happen as you can experiment and change as much as you like live.

Communication through the Internet has been classed as a type of digital performance as it has been theorized as a type of virtual performance of the self. As this is so, people have already stated digital performance as being everywhere, which has led to digital performance being modernized itself. It has been noted as incorporating the elements of electronics in everyday life through the communicational and production elements.[1]

Some strands of performing have always been seen as multimedia forms such as theatre, dance and performance art. Dance involves an intimate relationship with music for a start. All three of the above are involved with visual aspects such as sets, props, lighting and costume which are all a part of the production to enhance the body/bodies in a space.[1] Using such aspects makes the performance become multimedia and that is becoming more advanced with the new techniques that computers are upgrading to therefore making digital performance a strong and popular area to study.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Dixon, Steve (2007). Digital Performance. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-04235-2.
  2. ^ AHDS Performing Arts. "Digital Performance Archive", <"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2007-05-16. >, 2003, Retrieved 21/10/2011.
  3. ^ InfoTech Trends. "Market Research", <>, 1997, Retrieved 25/10.2011.
  4. ^ American School and University. "Technology Push", <>, 2008, Retrieved 25/10/2011.
  5. ^ Digital Performance Institute. "Definging Digital Performance", <>, 2003, Retrieved 25/10/11.
  6. ^ Stone, Allucquere. "The war of desire and technology at the close of the mechanical age", MIT Press, Cambridge, 1996. Retrieved 25/10/11.
  7. ^ The Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre. "GSRT", <>, 2005, Retrieved 24/10.2011.
  8. ^ Lycouris, S. "Kunstwerk-Blend", <>, 1997, Retrieved 24/10/2011.