Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Abigail de Kosnik, Center for New Media, University of California, Berkeley

Abigail de KosnikUnderstanding Performer and Audience Interactions in Multi-Person Virtual Reality

23 August – 22 September 2018


Abigail De Kosnik is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the Berkeley Center for New Media and the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. She is the author of Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom (MIT Press, 2016), and a co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University Press of Mississippi, 2011). De Kosnik’s essays on the intersections of popular culture, networked technologies, gender and women’s studies, and critical theory have appeared in a number of peerreviewed journals, including Modern Drama, Cinema Journal, Performance Research, Transformative Works and Cultures, and Verge: Studies in Global Asias, as well as in several anthologies. She is a founder and co-faculty organizer of The Color of New Media, a UC Berkeley working group that studies and produces scholarship about how women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people in the Global South use, make, and interface with new media. In early 2019, University of Michigan Press will publish an essay collection by The Color of New Media titled #identity: Hashtagging Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nationality. Prof. De Kosnik’s graduate seminars include History and Theory of New Media; Theorizing Popular Culture; and Performance Theory, and her undergraduate courses include Performance, Television, and Social Media; Sound Design; and Introduction to Performance Studies.

Project Summary

Interactive intermedia performance is an emerging, rapidly developing genre, and there is little consensus on what constitutes a “successful” VR experience for a live participatory audience. From 23 August to 22 September 2018, de Kosnik will interact with a range of Bristol academics, including student Lisa May Thomas (Theatre and Performance/Comp Sci), PhD student Alex Jones (joint Chemistry/Comp Sci), Dr. David Glowacki (Chemistry/Comp Sci), Prof. Simon Jones (Drama), Dr. Anne Roudaut (Computer Science), and Dr. Oussamma Metatla (Computer Science) to develop, workshop, and brainstorm new modes of virtual reality (VR) performance. During her visit, Prof. de Kosnik will participate in a series of workshops run by LMT in the Wickham theatre (from 10 – 21 September) to explore the performative and artistic possibilities afforded by a state-of-the-art multi-person virtual reality framework developed in Glowacki’s lab. The aim of these workshops is to bring together a multi-disciplinary group of experts drawn from the Arts and Science faculties in order to better understand the sort of interactions and technical design considerations that arise when a group of VR-embedded performers interact with VR-embedded audiences. In particular, we will attempt to understand: (1) the extent to which we can direct participants’ attention in a VR environment using motion and sound; (2) methods for creating expectations of where the “action” in the field is about to occur; (3) techniques for heightening participants’ sense of proprioception, given that our initial experiments show that VR offers many more affordances for experiencing proprioception (and thus, immersion and presence) than conventional 2d screen media; (4) how audiences engage differently with modes of VR performance that center around conflict vs. modes that are conflict-free; and (5) how variations of scripts and choreographies enable guides, hosts, instructors, attendants to interact with, teach, and lead audiences through a VR performance environment. In collaboration with Roudaut and Metatla (both of whom have been experimenting with various uses of VR/AR, as part of the Bristol  Interaction Group in the Department of Computer Science), Prof. de Kosnik will observe and study how performers use the technology, the discoveries they make along the way, and also investigate audience responses to this format. Along the way, she will use this insight to offer dramaturgical research insight, offering suggestions and experiments for carrying out performer-audience experiments. Throughout the process, there will be a number of “open dropin sessions” scheduled, allowing anybody with an interest to come and participate in the experimental research process, ensuring that the results of this “VR dramaturgical” research can be more broadly communicated to undergraduate students, graduate students, and researchers across both the science faculties and arts faculties.

Professor de Kosnik’s visit will be hosted by Dr David Glowacki (Chemistry). Please contact the host for more details about this visit.