Tuesday, February 29, 2000

CONTACT: David Saltz, (706) 542-2083, [email protected]


ATHENS, Ga. -- The Interactive Performance Laboratory at the University of Georgia is pushing the boundaries of live theatre with a unique production of Shakespeare's The Tempest that combines actors and digitally created characters using motion capture technology.

"Up to now technology has been used in the theater to create flashy special effects that ultimately serve to distract the audience from the drama and from the vitality of the live performances," said David Z. Saltz, the play's director and a professor spearheading the efforts of UGA's Interactive Performance Laboratory. "We propose a new way to use technology that enhances the text, broadens the expressive range of actors and redefines what it means for a performance to be live."

The character of the spirit Ariel will appear on stage as a large-scale computer animation, but one that varies with each performance because its movements and voice are controlled by a live actor. As a result, the production will retain all the spontaneity of live theater, while exploiting the unique capabilities of digital technology to convey Ariel's magic nature.

The actor playing Ariel will be trapped in a small cage in full view of the audience, with sensors strapped to her head, wrist, elbows, hands, waist, knees and ankles, and special gloves that will allow for more nuanced control over facial expressions. The actor's movements will control the movements of the animation. In this way, the animation will function as a kind of virtual puppet. The digital technology will enable Ariel to appear and disappear in a sparkle of light, and to fly, grow, shrink, stretch, and twirl. In one scene of Shakespeare's play, Ariel transforms into a monstrous Harpy; in another she becomes the waves and thunder of a sea storm, and in yet another she creates a spectacular wedding celebration that vanishes with the snap of a finger -- "the stuff that dreams are made on."

According to Saltz, "Prospero's magic is a perfect metaphor for contemporary digital media. Prospero creates illusions that everyone else in the play accepts as reality, in much the way that digital media is increasingly shaping and manipulating our perception of reality."

The Tempest will be the first large-scale production of the University of Georgia's Interactive Performance Laboratory. The laboratory's mission is to explore the creative possibilities of new art and entertainment forms that result from the marriage between live theatre and interactive media. The laboratory, with close ties to graduate-level programs in computer animation, acting, stage lighting design, and playwriting, is the first of its kind in any drama department in the country.

Faculty and graduate students at the University of Georgia are creating animations and electronic music with software applications including Maya, Lightwave, After Effects, Sound Designer and Opcode Max, and using a Polhemus UltraTrak motion capture system and Kaydara Filmbox software to create the real-time interactions.

The Tempest will be presented at the Fine Arts Theatre in the Fine Arts Building at the University of Georgia. The show will be performed April 12-15 and 19-22 at 8 p.m., and April 16 at 2:30. For more information, call the University Theatre Production Office at (706) 542-4235, check the production Web site at http://www.drama.uga.edu/tempest, or contact the director, David Z. Saltz, at (706) 542-2083, or [email protected].

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