Living in theatre | Hsin-Chien Huang

The fundamental difference between stages and theatre compared to today’s film and television is the following: the essence of theatre leans closer to real life. Television and film can be classified as ‘Story-Telling’, where the audience watches the story a movie tells. However, today more and more interactive, virtual reality based and immersive experiences appear. There is a transformation from ‘Story-Telling’ to ‘Story-Living’, which resembles more the theatre of the past. The audience can not only go watch the theatre’s story, they now have the possibility to go live within the story. Theatre itself is even more like a real life environment, where the actors live on stage, and time and space become continuous. Unlike the media of film and television, where one can rely on editing to jump through space and time, the space of theatre is subject to all kinds of real life functionalities and needs. The performers live inside this space. Theatre is a space that leans very close to real life.

Speaking in my capacity of ‘new media artist’, I would say that a large part of the technology used in new media emphasises its appearance by having a strong eye-catching quality. The audience of new media art gets to see many things that look dazzling, keep lingering in our vision and stimulate our sensory experience. However, such projects certainly do not allow our bodies to live inside the experience. Therefore, when I create a virtual reality piece, I usually consider returning to the reasoning of a theatre artist. In that way, I use the way of living in theatre to think about the virtual reality piece and to bring the experience closer to our lives again.

Because the purpose of virtual reality is exactly to allow the audience to live inside the imagined space created by the artist, the issue of ‘Why theatre’ has even more important significance in view of the development of new media art. To quote the insight of a female Taiwanese writer: “Male artists often see their work as something outside the body, and use their best efforts to ‘create’ the work. But the attitude of female artists towards their work is that it is an extension of their lives, as well as a process of life. They share their own lives with their artwork. In that way, they become a complete artwork themselves.” Life connects not only to theatre, but even to the creation of art itself.

At last, under the influence of the epidemic in 2020, we suddenly have no way to go to playhouses, theatres, art galleries and exhibitions any- more, but maybe this is an opportunity for reflection. Let us rethink why we should go to these external environments to appreciate art. During this epidemic, we see many musicians playing at home, dancers dancing at home, writers reading poems aloud at home, as such bringing the territory of art back to the base of ‘life’. This is a phenomenon that leaves me deeply moved and fascinated, and it is also the reason why I think we should discuss ‘Why theatre’ during this time.

Hsin-Chien Huang is a new media creator from Taiwan, with backgrounds in art, design, engineering and digital entertainment. He explores cutting edge technologies in art, literature, design and stage performing. His projects often involve large-scale interaction, performing, mechanical apparatus, algorithmic computations and video installations.