I’ve been writing and talking (ok, mostly talking) about theater as an over-arching concept in digital history. My current book project tracks this influence both through the history of theater and performance, as well as in museums, galleries, and alternative forms of historiography such as historically oriented games. [I have been very interested in historical video games such as “Total War: Empire,” among others.]
Now, there’s a new development not in history, but space. Ars Electronica just posted about the creation of “Deep Space Theater” for the The Science Centre Singapore’s new exhibition “E3 – Emmersive Experimental Environments”.
This seems to follow a logical progression from previous science stagings, including most obviously planetariums and other forms of science demonstrations from the not-so-real occult performances to spirit photography to contemporary science theater. [I’m thinking here of examples cited in Kurt Vanhoutte’s projects in Media Archaeology at the Research Centre for Visual Poetics at the University of Antwerp, Sue-Ellen Case’s Performing Science and the Virtual (2006), and Ciara Murphy’s essay, “Participatory Electrical Performances in the Enlightenment Period – Shocks and Sparks” in Kara Reilly’s Theatre, Performance and Analogue Technology (2013).]
But, it also seems related to emerging issue in museums of all kinds, where the dominant mode of presentation is increasingly digital media deployed in and as theatrical experiences. It’s significant, I think, that these environments are cast as theater and not cinema. The theater, for all its creaky, antiquated techniques is still linked (at least in these iterations) with presence, immersion, and (dare I say it?) liveness. That the rivalry between theater and media should now wrap around such that digital technology is deployed in the creation of explicitly theatrical events…well, it makes me think I need to write another chapter in the book.
Quick update: This is the description of the Deep Space Theater from the E3 website for the Science Centre Singapore: “Big screens have been a mainstay of the cinematic experience for so long they are an accepted/expected part of watching movies. But what happens when you extend the screen beyond your field of view, even down beneath your feet? The result is similar to floating in deep space, and the loss of frame of reference from the real world creates a sense of immersion from what is essentially a simple projected image.”
So, in other words, when technology makes the cinema go beyond cinematic, it becomes theatre. Unreal.