Arjuna’s Dilemma at Dallas Opera
08/05/17 Blog , News , Updates # , , , ,

Arjuna’s Dilemma at Dallas Opera

Douglas Cuomo’s original opera Arjuna’s Dilemma was given a presentation this month at The Dallas Opera as part of the Opera America conference. The production was a slimmed down version from the original (BAM Next Wave 2008), but did include my original video projection design. There’s a nice write-up here in the Dallas News by Scott Cantrell – “Dallas Opera’s ‘Arjuna’s Dilemma’ realizes Hindu legend in a mix of Indian and Western musical styles”

Photo by Nathan Hunsinger

Horror & Suspense Panel
01/06/16 Blog , News , Updates # , , , , , , ,

Horror & Suspense Panel

On June 14th at 6:30pm, I’ll be moderating a HORROR & SUSPENSE SCREENWRITERS PANEL at newly opened Ludlow House for The Lower East Side Film Festival & Writer’s Guild of America East (WGAE). The esteemed panel will include Academy Award winning screenwriter TED TALLY (The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, The Juror), Writer/Director CHRIS SPARLING (ATM, Buried, The Atticus Institute), Writer/Director/Actress INGRID JUNGERMANN (Women Who Kill, F to 7th), and Writer/Director JEREMY SAULNIER (Green Room, Blue Ruin, Murder Party). (image credit: Self-Organization sculpture by Courtney Brown)

Wingspace Salon #29
25/05/16 Blog , News , Updates # , , , , ,

Wingspace Salon #29

On Monday, June 13 at 8PM, I’m joining Wingspace Theatrical Design and XO Projects for their next salon: From Stage to Screen. For this salon Wingspace has assembled a group of film and television production and costume designers to talk about making the transition into this parallel industry. Many designers are curious about how to parlay their theatrical design skills into a career in television or film. Featured guests include: William Cusick (Pop Meets the Void), Andrew Jackness (Blindspot), Anne Kenney (Late Night with Stephen Colbert), Ola Maslik (Madam Secretary), Neil Patel (Last Week with John Oliver) and others.

Pop Meets the Void on VOD
29/04/16 Blog , News , Updates # , , , ,

Pop Meets the Void on VOD

Pop Meets the Void is now available on VOD.

Also, the 28 song soundtrack is available for streaming and purchase here:

Interview with The Rumpus
17/03/16 Blog , News , Updates # , , , ,

Interview with The Rumpus

I was recently interviewed by film journalist Dana Knight about Pop Meets the Void. The full interview is available on The Rumpus.

NY1 talks with Producer of Pop
11/03/16 Blog , News , Updates # ,

NY1 talks with Producer of Pop

Clodagh McGowan of NY1 speaks with the festival directors of the Queens World Film Festival and several of the filmmakers, including TaraFawn Maen, the producer of Pop Meets the Void. Watch the video and read the article online here.

LIC Post features Pop
27/02/16 Blog , News , Updates # , ,

LIC Post features Pop

The Long Island City Post Newspaper features the Queens World Film Festival in their recent article about the festival. Read the article online here.

15/02/16 Blog , News , Updates # , , , ,

Pop Meets the Void – Screening March 18, 2016 at Museum of the Moving Image

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Tickets are live for the next screening of Pop Meets the Void on March 18th at 8pm at Museum of the Moving Image!

The film is screening as part of the Queens World Film Festival in a programming block aptly titled “Peeling The Veneer.”

12/02/16 Blog , Essays , News , Updates # , , , , , , ,

TEDx – Virtual Reality & Theater

In November 2015, I gave a speech at TEDx Metamorphosis in Jersey City, NJ about the relationship between Virtual Reality and Theater. The principle focus of the speech explores how the two mediums overlap and could combine to generate new pathways to performance and experience. I’m currently developing a theory and approach to adapting performance practices into virtual reality presentation frameworks. As I shoot more footage and create projects, I’ll continue developing these theories into a more cohesive set of case studies for more in-depth analysis.

Disclaimer: The invitation to speak was extended only a few days prior to the event after a speaker cancelled last minute. I had approximately 48 hours to gather up my notes, write the speech and prep this first presentation of it. Unfortunately, this venue was not equipped with a teleprompter, so my phone was the best option, resulting in a lot of reading. I suggest skipping the video and simply reading the essay below instead. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to present some variation of this speech again in the future, and I’ll have a visual slideshow prepared with case studies of my work and the speech (mostly) memorized. For now… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The video is embedded here and the entire speech as originally written is below.

Virtual Reality and Theater: Simulacra and Simulation
by William Cusick

By most accounts, the phrase “virtual reality” first appeared in English in 1958, in a book about theater. Antonin Artaud coined the phrase in his widely influential text The Theatre and Its Double. Originally published in French in the 1930s, Artaud was describing the relationship of theater and reality as simulation. It should be mentioned that Artaud was a Surrealist, and as such, was adept at crafting paradoxes.

I love a good paradox. And I love a good show. Whether it’s a Broadway show or a student production, an hour long TV drama or a web series episode, a ballet or a dance recital, a rock concert or an open mic night, a Hollywood blockbuster or a no-budget short film… as long as it’s a good show, I love it.

When I see a good show or a good spectacle, I generally tell other people about it. I suggest they see it too, partly so we can share in our appreciation of it. Over the years, I’ve suggested many plays, movies, TV series, concerts and performances to others. And it’s not just me, I get recommendations from others all the time, too. We live in a spectacular society of largely passive identification, mediated by images.

Lately, I’ve been telling other people to see some Virtual Reality. It’s not like telling someone to watch an episode of TV or a movie or a play. With VR, it’s more like encouraging them just to go to the theater, any theater, to see anything at all, just to have the experience of being there.

VR is engulfed by spectacle. The spectacle is partly the wonder of a new medium taking shape, literally, right before our eyes. We watch as this new technology tries to adapt, pivot and react to our limitless expectations. Every day another article is published about Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, PlayStation VR, 360Heros, Ozo, Lytro, Jaunt, Jump, AltSpaceVR, NextVR, on and on. And every day the anticipation is growing, along with the uncertainty. And, as we know, anticipation mingled with uncertainty makes for a good story. A good show. Who doesn’t love a good show?

The subtitle of this talk refers to the book Simulacra and Simulation by philosopher Jean Baudrillard – but, it does so optimistically. In his 1981 text about mass reproduction and electronic media culture, Baudrillard coined the term hyperreality.

In our world, reality and fiction seamlessly blend together, the map precedes the territory, and signifiers have become the signified. Ultimately, Baudrillard suggests nihilism is the result of our over-mediated culture. In a world bereft of meaning or consequence, all that’s left is the virtual.

Virtual Reality as a concept is something I’ve heard of and read about all my life, primarily in fictional constructions. Movies and books are mostly where I learned how to think about Virtual Reality, without ever putting on a headset or venturing into a digital simulacrum until very recently. Who needs a headset or haptic suit with films like The Lawnmower Man and novels like Ready Player One? As a culture, we’ve been hyping up the anticipation for this new medium for nearly 50 years. It’s been the stuff of science fiction, and now it’s very nearly here, emerging into mainstream consumption though smartphones to tens of millions of users.

What does this mean for Theater?

What does affordable Virtual Reality equipment mean for contemporary performance practices?

Virtual Reality is a stage. VR is a figurative stage in the procession of the long history of theater and a virtual stage for performance. VR is an Empty Space in which theatre can occur. To crudely adapt Peter Brook’s definition, ‘a virtual man walks across this empty virtual space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.’ Theater has a long history of evolving and adapting new technologies for thousands of years.

Theater has absorbed all forms of mechanical engineering and architecture. Theater has taken electric light and recorded sound and made them characters onstage. Photography and film projection made it onto the stage almost immediately after invention. And in recent years, digital video projection and interconnectivity have become part of the integral language of theater, as virtual scenery, interactive visuals and moving imagery. Technology and Theater are bound together.

But…

If Theater is defined by presence, by the live performer in the presence of a live audience, and VR is defined by isolation, the lone, captivated, audience member inside of a headset, what happens when they are combined? This combination of “Live Theater As We Know It” and “Virtual Reality As Traditionally Represented in Media” may not seem like an immediate fit. And that’s because it isn’t an accurate representation.

When Virtual Reality is working, it creates the feeling of presence. We cross the threshold from isolation into presence where our brain says “this is real” and the feeling of an experience actually happening occurs. Technologists have been in pursuit of this level of engagement for decades. Arguably, storytellers in all mediums have been engaging in narrative as virtual reality since the beginning. And yet, new forms demand new formulas. In the absence of meaning, in a virtual reality, the signification itself takes precedence and performance transforms into symbols.

As the tools of VR creation become increasingly available to artists and audience, vital questions emerge. Will VR revolutionize the creation and experience of live performance? Or will the same shows and techniques be repackaged again and again? Performance artists have been working with mediated liveness for decades. The questions need to evolve because a new audience is coming online. Is the potential of virtual spectatorship greater than that of a live audience seated in a theater?

When a VR show is live streamed to a decentralized audience, the experience should be individualized and curated. A bland and homogeneous VR experience defeats the purpose and denies the potential of VR. The creator of the live VR show and the live VR viewer both must do the job of experiential curation. Users must have choices and creators must make those options available, if not entirely obvious. Individual choice must play a role in live, performative, real-time Virtual Reality.

When VR feels strictly like a simulation of sitting in an audience, where we have the choice to look around but not move, the experience fails. Even in the audience, we can get up and move around, sometimes change seats or even get up and go to the lobby. Yes, I’m suggesting virtual theaters should have virtual lobbies, bathrooms and the option to explore those during a show, instead of feeling trapped inside a theater of captivity.

VR comes with new politics of perception. The audience could be set free to participate in the experience and determine their point of view in an almost metaphysical fashion.

The individual audience member should be able to shift perspective throughout the event. A single camera is not sufficient. And a single intermission is probably oppressive. The virtual audience members ought to be given free reign to move around the virtual space. And the live performers ought to know where each audience member is throughout the show.

Placing a 180 or 360 degree camera on the stage or near the action is more restrictive than creative, more physically paralyzing than watching a pre-recorded event from a single perspective. But, one of the topics often discussed as a problem with movement in Virtual Reality is a feeling of nausea, a feeling of sea-sickness. When most people start using VR, they can only do it for a few minutes at a time, slowly easing into it. This nausea we feel in Virtual Reality is similar to the nausea we feel in Real Reality. Simply put, when our perceptions don’t line up with expectations, we feel ill. But, once we get used to the experience of VR, the nausea subsides and it can become a very comfortable experience as an audience member.

However, there is still the potential for anxiety – the anxiety of being trapped in a single place, pivoting on a single axis, incapable of getting any closer or farther away from a virtual event. The more time you spend in VR as a spectator, the more the natural human impulse to interact develops and increases. The experience of looking at static 360 photos gives way to the desire to look at 360 videos, and then to move through these videos, and then to control your own movements. Beyond just a headset, controllers become an essential component for engagement and embodiment of the virtual.

So, clearly, half of the equation is the audience. The virtual man walking across the virtual stage must be observed, from an infinite number of potential angles. The concern here is the audience and their relationship to the technology – and how they actually use it. Developers of new technology will often discover that what they had planned simply isn’t what the end users need or want. Naturally, the end users hack the technology for other purposes. The X-Box Kinect is one example of a technology that had its purpose transformed by end-users who saw potential for reinvention. This brings up more questions about the newly affordable VR technologies and how mass market VR can be integrated into theater, or become a form of theater.

VR can supplant traditional theatrical experiences for a contemporary audience, if the technology is widely adopted and easily accessible to everyone. Broadcasting to decentralized audiences has been possible for decades through the mediums of radio, television and the Internet. The question now is if the Virtual Reality headset and controller can merge with Theater to create the experience of remote embodied liveness between performer and audience.

The use of VR headsets and controller within a traditional theatrical setting also has great potential. There is something about wearing a headset that can actually make live, group-watched performances a more personalized experience. You can be alone in a crowd, visually isolated by the technology and yet still fully engaged in the shared experience.

Compared to Theater, VR is still in its infancy. And yet – Virtual Reality and Theater are each other’s double. Combining the Virtually Real and the Really Virtual creates the potential for a double paradox of Live Virtual Reality Theater. I love a good paradox. And, real or virtual, I’ll always love a good show.

Pop at MoMI
29/01/16 Blog , News , Updates # , , , , , ,

Pop at MoMI

As part of the 2016 Queens World Film Festival, Pop Meets the Void will be screening at Museum of the Moving Image on Friday, March 18th at 8pm. Tickets go on sale in early February via BrownPaperTickets.

MoMI

TEDx Metamorphosis
14/11/15 Blog , News , Updates # , , ,

TEDx Metamorphosis

I gave a TEDx Talk today about Virtual Reality & Theater and how the two mediums can and do intersect. The speech was part of the TEDx Jersey City Metamorphosis event.

Here’s the blurb:

“Virtual Reality and Theater: Simulacra and Simulation”
Theater has evolved, adapted and transformed to embrace new technologies for over 2,500 years. Virtual Reality, as both concept and technology, has been rapidly developing for the past 50 years and is now approaching a tipping point of accessibility. As the tools of VR creation become readily available to theater artists, questions emerge: How does a live performance medium wield VR as a storytelling tool? What are the possibilities for a wired audience? Can a simulation of live theater, outside of the live performance space, transcend its own theatricality? The histories of these two art forms are fundamentally connected and suggest many ways forward into the unknown.

Best Feature Film Award
25/06/15 Blog , News , Updates # , ,

Best Feature Film Award

Great news! Pop Meets the Void was awarded Best Feature Film at the 2015 Lower East Side Film Festival! The world premiere screening at Anthology Film Archives was sold-out and we had a great talkback after the film. If you were there, thanks for joining us! If you missed the first screening, check back for more soon.

Check out the beautiful award and our new poster artwork by illustrator Barry Bruner below. The Facebook page for the film will be updated regularly with announcement, so like and follow the page for updates.

Thanks again, LESFF!

Pop Meets the LESFF
17/06/15 Blog , News , Updates

Pop Meets the LESFF

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the Lower East Side Film Festival last night for the premiere of Pop Meets the Void! It was a great premiere screening and a total blast. We’re looking forward to more screenings, so please check back and thanks again!

 

New Poster by Barry Bruner
14/06/15 Blog , News , Updates

New Poster by Barry Bruner

New poster design for Pop Meets the Void, illustration by Barry Bruner.

Pop Meets the Void on June 16th
21/05/15 Blog , News , Updates

Pop Meets the Void on June 16th

Pop Meets the Void will have its World Premiere here in NYC with The Lower East Side Film Festival on June 16th at the legendary Anthology Film Archives. We premiered our film Welcome to Nowhere with LES in 2012 and I’m excited to be back in the lineup this year in such great company. Tickets here.

Check out the full lineup of films and events on their website.

Live Design Q&A Online
18/05/15 Blog , News , Updates # , , , ,

Live Design Q&A Online

I was recently interviewed by Meghan Perkins of Live Design Magazine about my recent and upcoming work. The interview is now available on their website and is also available in their incredible digital version of the magazine, which you can download free for iPad and Android. I suggest checking it out and coming to the Live Design Master Classes in June, if you’re in the city and looking for inspiration and engaging dialogues about designing performance.

Cinema Projects Workshop
10/05/15 Blog , News , Updates # , , , , , ,

Cinema Projects Workshop

40 of my students at The New School collaborated on 5 original narrative short films as part of the MFA Cinema Projects workshop I instruct for the Drama & Media schools. We’re showing the 5 films each night over May 15-17. Stop by and check out the films!

Pop Meets the Void update
17/10/14 Updates

Pop Meets the Void update

It’s been one year since we funded the film on Kickstarter! Post-production is still moving along as planned, and we’re headed into the final polishing phase. In addition to our 300 backers, we’ve had over 140 artists help us create the film in the past year, which is just incredible to me. The image above is a work-in-progress still from the film… Thanks for checking in, and please follow the film on Facebook and IMDB for more updates.

Everyone’s Attention is available
23/09/14 Blog , Updates #

Everyone’s Attention is available

I’ve completed work on a new LP with Jeffrey Doto entitled Everyone’s Attention. We’ve released 3 EPs the past few years under the Boys & Murderers monicker (for the literary fans).

The album officially releases Sept 23rd. Stream it on Spotify or order it via Amazon and iTunes. If you’re super indie,  stream it on Bandcamp.

It’s 44 minutes of instrumental, electronic music. The songs were written and recorded in dedication to 8 Kickstarter backers of Pop Meets the Void who pitched in big to help fund the movie.

New Monsters / Video Installation
29/08/14 Blog , News , Updates # ,

New Monsters / Video Installation

The video art installation An Instrument for the Measure of Absence, which I conceived and created for Temporary Distortion in 2009 during my artist residency at Harvestworks Digital Media Center, will be visiting Seoul, Korea this fall as part of the continuing tour of Maison Des Arts de Creteil’s New Monsters exhibition. If you happen to be in that part of the world, I strongly urge you to make a stop in at the exhibition, if you haven’t yet see the amazing collection of works. More information on the exhibition website here. Here’s an interview of me in 2009 explaining the complexities of the installation.