Set the Stage
New courses for digital production of culture and media
“Set the Stage explores current states of social virtual reality. The project concentrates on inclusive conditions of production and reception of culture in (the) metaverse. The approach is based on an artistic case study: a virtual theatre stage will be developed, designed, implemented and played in VRChat. Within this process, the project aims to practice and foster work in transdisciplinary and diverse teams.”
The metaverse is on everyone's lips and generates both defensive attitudes and utopian hopes across an immense spectrum. On the negative side, it may be the rejection of the idea of one single metaverse originating in Silicon Valley; worries about monopoly, surveillance, manipulation and profit-oriented monetisation by a few individual business enterprises. Ideas of new forms of transcultural community in virtual reality, offers of (safe) spaces for discriminated groups of people or subcultures, but also promising conditions for new forms of workshops, educational offers, virtual conferences, up to the digital expansion of medical application areas, are expressed hopefully.
The project Set the Stage intervenes in the assumption of a “Gestaltbarkeit” and especially the effectiveness of proposals and interventions in the current state of development of the metaverse. The status quo of these virtual worlds is here taken by a raw state—a virtual constructioon site— that is possibly a unique opportunity to think democratically, inclusively and diversely about emerging infrastructures and digital architectures, away from capital-driven interests, and to implement them transdisciplinarily.
The project Set the Stage is located in the field of artistic production and reception of culture. For this purpose, a virtual theatre production serves as a vehicle to explore the digital worlds for inclusivity and diversity and to explore potentials.
Set the Stage builds on a random inventory of existing technical implementations in the field of inclusive-diverse cultural production in virtual reality. For example, software-supported solutions for virtual sign language, offers for people with hearing or visual impairments or hardware-based alternatives for people with mobility impairments will be researched. Taking this technical research into account, a virtual space is being created, a virtual stage that meets the requirements for barrier-less work in cultural production and is freely accessible via the internet using VR glasses.
In this space—and already during its development—rehearsals of a play by Bertolt Brecht will be carried out. Brecht Into the Metaverse! With a diverse cast of professional theatre makers, artists, actors and designers, the field of digital art production in VR will be further explored. Different age groups, different cultural backgrounds and people with disabilities make up this cast and thus help to achieve a project-specific needs analysis through the project implementation, which is directly implemented.
Within the multitude of forms and spaces of use in metaverse, which is by no means centralised to date, the focus is on the application VRChat. Within this app, several virtual spaces can be entered and experienced, which are largely to be understood as social virtual reality; as virtual spaces that can be used by several users simultaneously in real time and enable communication by means of speech, text input and avatar-supported gestures.
During its implementation, the project sees itself as a tool for the creation of knowledge of inclusive cultural productions and the promotion of participation in this field. The resulting virtual production and presentation spaces can be individually adapted in terms of equipment, size and appearance by others after the end of the project at very little cost. Both virtual theatre and film productions can be planned and realised with this.
The implementation of the project itself is also subject to a diversification process. The internal diversification of the project team is being worked on through an offensive search for staff and network expansion in the field beyond our own bubble, in cooperation with corresponding institutions and associations (RambaZamba Theater, Berliner Blindenverein e.V., Sozialhelden e.V. and others).
The entire project will also lead to a publication focussing on cultural production and diversification in virtual reality. For this an additional interdisciplinary call for contributions will be announced in June 2023.