Anton Chekhov The seagull starts with a game within the game. In a stylish mansion, decorative window curtains are replaced with dramatic red theater curtains. A large mirror – at least 10 feet long – is centered on the wall behind it with curtains. A group of spectators, at least six, wanders around the perimeter. Meanwhile, an angry Celine Song desperately clicks on the couch: “Sit down!”
Song, the Canadian playwright who wrote Endlingeputs on an adaptation of Chekhovs The seagull With The Sims 4 as a stage. The piece is called The seagull on the ledge 4, was broadcast live on Twitch Tuesday and Wednesday evening. She calls the project “a work of art for permanent installation” that uses both familiar, classic text and an ubiquitous life simulation game.
Song “casts” the actors before the game, or rather designed them in-game, live on Twitch. With the help of an audience of more than 600 spectators, she assigned them clothes and personality traits. These “actors” had to act The seagullThe characters like Constantine Treplieff, the creative and motivated playwright who called the song “The Original Incel”, and Masha, the emo-goth girl who wears a studded jacket, would rather be alone.
And so the sim who played Nina stood alone on the stage and recited the dramatic monologue in Constantine’s play in front of an audience that could not sit still. Song – again, controlling the Sims, hit the buttons to keep the group of onlookers busy, but it was ultimately pointless. Sims, of course, operate “free will,” which means they have one different need to be fulfilled – say they are hungry or need to pee – they will do that instead of what the player tells them to do.
That makes creating a live production where the Sims (as actors) should follow every move the player makes a lot more chaotic. But it also helps to reinterpret this classic text in a way that is both profound and funny.
Song’s adaptation of The seagull on the ledge 4 is part of the New York Theater Workshop’s Artistic Instigators program, which was started during the pandemic to support artists while personal performances were stopped. The aim is for these artists to create experiences and installations within the confines of the present moment – to redefine what is possible in these spaces, when it is so fair is not possible.
During the pandemic, we saw a shift in online worlds as people tried to connect in physically distant ways. Pandemic birthday parties and celebrations were held in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, with deaths also mourned there. Other events like political rallies are largely unsafe – large gatherings of people should be avoided – so politicians are also looking for digital venues for their events. US Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez did not appear in person in a physical room, but live Between us encourage young people to vote. Perhaps it is an event that – in a different, safer time – could have taken place as a personal event. But would it have been just as successful?
With theaters closed during the pandemic, artists and playwrights are also looking for new venues. This means that these artists can also reach a wider audience for an individual performance. And in the case of Songs Projekt, Twitch feels like a natural fit.
For many veteran gamers and Twitch viewers, the stream of Song may not look very different from other livestreams. she got The Sims 4 For most of the screen, with Twitch chat comments in the corner, a webcam focused on her face. But Song designed this performance how Theater – especially the melodrama of a Chekhov play – and playing with this particular story change the perception of the game.
Part of it is that Song’s online theater is interactive in a way that in-person theater cannot. Throughout the play, which ran over two nights, Twitch viewers were able to speak to the director in real time, help her make decisions and provide comments. The experience also included a handshake between longtime Twitch users and theater fans. On the first night the current went down for a moment. In typical Twitch fashion, some users began spamming “F” in chat, confusing new Twitch theater viewers – until someone finally explained the meme to them.
“The Sims are a very interesting video game because they try to simulate human life as it exists, worldliness and everything,” Song told Polygon. “In The Sims, we as players are both gods and voyeurs. It seemed like the experience of writing and watching a play as a playwright, but without the living, breathing people as actors.
“When I was thinking about adapting a classic piece for a video game, the Sims seemed like a natural choice. Twitch is used by millions of people to experience live content around the world and it is the primary platform that I use as a video game content consumer. That’s why I decided to stream there. “
Jerky streaming is of course suitable for this type of engagement; That’s why people keep coming back to the platform and their favorite streamers. But even before Twitch, artists were using online rooms and games for art and engagement.
In the early days of the Internet, when we still had dial-up modems, artists Adriene Jenik and Lisa Brenneis started off in public spaces The palace, a 2D visual chat room with emoji-like avatars and digital paper dolls. Jenik told Polygon that The palace was a space of anticipation – people waiting for something to happen. Jenik and Brenneis entered different rooms under the nickname Desktop Theater The palace and held impromptu plays, the first of which was an adaptation by Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot. (Desktop Theater called their adaptation waitforgodot.com.)
Others have also created online theater communities in unlikely locations and staged plays in virtual spaces like MMOs Final Fantasy 14 and World of Warcraftand the use of video game characters such as puppets in live stage events.
Jenik said she was drawn to visual chat rooms at the time because it was already a performative space. “It was already a place of theatricality, even if it wasn’t on purpose,” she said. “We felt comfortable when we started doing this with our deliberate performance because it always seemed like it was a place – and a lot of those places still seem like that – where people wanted something to happen.”
This can also be applied to streaming video games: although a live streamer doesn’t necessarily play a character, it has performative aspects. Of course, there are some livestreams that play a character, or at least take on a person when streaming. The appeal of many live streams, however, is that the streamer presents an authentic, relatable version of themselves that the viewer feels comfortable with when sharing a digital space. This is exactly why people enjoy seeing high profile figures like Ocasio-Cortez on such websites. As Polygon’s Patricia Hernandez wrote last week, it’s a mix of the political landscape and the idea of parasocial relationships – one-sided friendships that feel real. That’s not to say that Ocasio-Cortez or anyone else is faking their relationships with fans while they’re streaming live on Twitch, just that these are versions of themselves that are knowingly projected into the public eye.
Jenik said that people actually picketed in the early 90s Desktop-Theater Performance, upset that they named their drama theater. But a lot about online spaces and our perception of performance has changed since then. Even now, during the pandemic, it seems like communities previously unfamiliar with gaming and Twitch have a sense of urgency to better understand online rooms as legitimate in their areas – to see those rooms differently.
But the advancement (and corporatization) of technology means that online chat rooms and games have more limits on what is possible that wasn’t necessarily the case in the early days of The palace. “It was freely offered, people could develop their own [spaces],” She said. “It was pretty decentralized.” It’s a stark comparison to how much internet is now.
These limitations are a challenge that becomes an achievement in itself. There’s a real sense of adaptability and improvisation in Song’s The seagull on the ledge 4. The game’s limitations – within the ruleset of the publisher Electronic Arts – haven’t hampered creativity. You activated it.
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