Platforms for Multilingual Tele-Immersive Storytelling and Improvisation

Abstract (in English): 

Theatre is a sometimes forgotten casualty of the current pandemic. Social distancing precludes the assembly necessary for participatory theatre. Theatre and theatrical improvisation rely on participants--performers and audiences alike--gathering in the same space, exploiting their physical proximity to tell stories. Because of the limited modalities of communication, virtual gatherings using video-conferencing platforms are, at best, an ersatz solution for audiences longing for connection in an ever more disconnected world. While some performance groups have embraced tele-conferencing and streaming for workshops, practice and performance, many theatre makers and performers are preferring to temporarily pause while waiting for the conditions of performance to resume [1]. We took the opposite view, believing that live theatre cannot wait for the pandemic to wane.

We therefore built a computer tool for online performance. Our system, called the Virtual Director, enables actors to recreate a feeling of presence with stage partners while performing and storytelling remotely [2].

Our research combines cinematic and video communication technologies with the theatrical practice of improvisational and scripted theatre, and aims at recreating presence, virtually.
Virtual Director relies on commodity software (TouchDesigner, web browsers), widely adopted video conferencing tools (Zoom, Microsoft Teams) and streaming platforms (YouTube, Twitch)--digital platforms for streaming and video conferencing that we subverted for participatory online performances.

We deployed Virtual Director during community-based performances at the Online Paris Fringe festival. We noticed that the audience was curious about new interaction formats and performance modalities. We believe that our streamed performances redefined the nature of live performance, as we identified four levels of participation: performer, privileged audience member, general audience member, and onlooker who watches the recording of the show. First, our tool enabled visual collocation and presence among performers. Second, Virtual Director enabled visual collocation and audio interaction between selected audience members and the performers, or recreated visual presence if we placed them in a virtual “amphitheatre”. Third, audiences could interact indirectly via chat. Finally, onlookers followed the show via streaming. As a complement to previous analyses of the performers’ experience of presence in a tele-immersive virtual space [2], this paper examines the perception of the performance by audiences and their participation in collective storytelling; we situate our work in literature on improvisation and interactive performance.

As we performed remotely with multilingual actors from different countries, we exploited live translation and speech recognition technology to enable actors to improvise in multiple languages while being understood by cast members and audiences. Building up on an existing multilingual improv stage show [3], we combined tele-immersion with translation to create a multilingual performance that transcends typical physical limitations of the stage. Our paper concludes with our ongoing work: once we assemble again in a post-pandemic world, we will keep the tele-immersion and translation tools to create mixed-presence connected international shows.

[1] Berger, "The Forgotten Art of Assembly”, April 2020, retrieved January 2021,
[2] Branch et al, “Tele-Immersive Improv”, SIG CHI 2021.
[3] Mirowski et al, “Rosetta Code: Improv in Any Language”, Computational Creativity 2020.

Critical writing referenced:


ELO 2021: Spatiality & environments, May 26 2021

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Record posted by: 
Milosz Waskiewicz