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Testing 1 2, 1 2, 1 2

Upstage Festival of cyberformance.
Vicki Smith
Come and Go - Avatar Body Collision
Lagging With the LOLOLOLS
As the annual festival of cyberformance reaches it's final same-number-date 121212, Upstage Festival co-curator and performer Vicki Smith tells us how it has evolved and what comes next.


Avatars, open source and meeting in cyberspace may be mainstream today but was a bit more niche when the online performance environment UpStage was created a decade ago.

As the annual festival of cyberformance reaches it's final same-number-date 12-12-12, Upstage Festival co-curator and artist Vicki Smith tells us how it has evolved and what comes next.

Tell us a bit about your background and involvement with Upstage.

My turangawaewae is Harihari on the West Coast of the South Island, and am currently based in Nelson. I have a visual arts and am a founding member of Avatar Body Collision, We four, Helen Varley Jamieson (NZ), Karla Ptacek (UK), Lennea Saarinen (Finland) and myself used free and open-source internet tools to create cyberformance (live performance that connects actors and audience through the internet).

We instigated the online performance environment UpStage (built by digital artist Douglas Bagnall) which was supported by the Smash Palace Fund. It has been used by artists, students and community groups around the world for almost a decade.

Tell us about the beginnings of the Upstage Festival

The UpStage festival originated with the launch of UpStage V2 – when we were able through a Digital Strategy Fund to add some new features and improve the original UpStage code.

We held an exhibition at the Film Archive in Wellington called Puppets to Pixels as part of the launch event. The gallery space evoked for visitors the sense of entering the UpStage world of Baba Yaga through the beautiful puppetry work of Rebekah Wild, with whom I perform the show.

With the physical environment we hoped to attract artists and audiences to UpStage and to attend the inaugural festival 070707 which featured at the end of the two weeks.

The festival became an annual event when in only a few days after the festival we had already received the first proposal for 080808!

What is cyberformance?

Cyberformance is performance that occurs live online. In UpStage it is manipulation of media (still images, video clips and animations) playing audio clips, drawing and using the text to speech function to allow the avatars/character to speak.

The actors and audience are connected in the event by the internet. For example in the 121212 UpStage festival there are a variety of platforms that will be the performing venue. All the audience need to do to attend a show is to go to the schedules and click on the links provided.

One of the activities of the UpStage community in October this year was to the online event CyPosium  which linked a global network of artists and academics in discussing this question. The documentation has just all been uploaded and there is a varied selection of presentations from some of the early originators of this form which is well worth a visit.

How has the festival (and technology) evolved since its beginnings?

There have been constant design enhancements and feature upgrades to the UpStage platform since its V2 release in 2007 – Thanks to the efforts of the Developer Team which includes computing students from Auckland's AUT, and software developers here in Aotearoa and overseas. Those interested in code development can join the development team through the UpStage website or through the project page on Sourceforge.

What combination of people and resources are involved to put it on?

There is a huge number of people involved in the festival each year. Helen Varley Jamieson and I are the Festival Architects – so we build the 'frame' for the festival this started back in march with the call for proposals and walk-through events where people learned about UpStage and how they might make their works. We co-curate the event from whose work is involved to managing the festival over its duration. We are assisted in this by a team of guest hosts (a global group of people who have created work in UpStage previously and some who are also performing again).

There is the development team I mentioned earlier, and a team of people will document the performances – so the artists can have a record of their work.

Then there is a large group of artists themselves – from all different creative backgrounds they come together often with international teams of their own and develop a work that has created especially for the UpStage festival.

There is a comprehensive list of everyone involved, and how they are contributing can be found here;
The 121212 UpStage Festival Team:
In terms of resources we have support also from CityLink (server hosting), AUT (development), and have Creative New Zealand (quick response) support.

We are running a GiveaLittle campaign to try and offset the cost of the largely voluntary effort.

What is the level of audience engagement – nationally and internationally?

The numbers are hard to be 100% specific about. Although we have a counter for audience numbers logged in that does not tell us how many are watching from individual computers and form the RL nodes or physical sites where UpStage is projected into public spaces.

We have had a maximum of 67 individual audience logged into one show (with two logged in performers) in past festivals the numbers have varied throughout the scheduled event form just a handful up to 40-50. The engagement for those attending online is that they can interact with the artists through the text chat function in UpStage ( a similar function will operate alongside the streams of the other interfaces), in some shows this audience interaction forms an extra nuance to the performance – marking it as a truly unique event as only being that configuration of actors and audience in that moment of real time performance.

With the addition of physical venues which we call Real Life (RL) nodes, such as The Physics Room in Christchurch and the projection into Glover Park in Wellingon and all the museums. Theatres and gallery spaces internationally then the numbers have the potential to be very large!

There is a list of all the places the UpStage festival is popping out into Real Life on the website.

Tell us a bit about this year’s retrospective programme Walking Backwards into the Future.

Walking Backwards into the Future
This a selection of some of the shows that have happened over the previous 5 festivals so all of the work has been created in UpStage – I can't pick a favourite but do appear in a couple ;)

What are some of your personal highlights from the past?

Well it is hard to identify just a few within the many fantastic works that have been produced over the years, and there are many shows I have collaborated in or produced myself (so I don't want to seem biased ;)

The walking backwards has a great selection from the range of work that has been created by artists from across the creative spectrum as well as from school age through to experienced artists. A personal highlight is always getting to see the artists I have been working with realise a work in the festival, UpStage is all about everyone from the very technically adept and high end performers to the fledgling storytellers have a voice and this year's festival is no exception.

To get an overview of the festivals and an idea of the works there is our vimeo channel

What are some of the new works this year?

There is an incredible range of work for Testing 1 2 1 2 1 2 – this is the part of the festival that will happen over the global day/night 12/12/12

Kaingaroa Kura a school on the north eastern tip of Rekohu/Wharekauri/Chatham Islands the first inhabited land to see the sun on the 12th of december kicks off the event with three stories exploring local identities through young imaginations, leading into works by artists and academics well versed in their creative voice. 27 hours later the festival having been to the Party at the End of the World in Buenos Aires arrives back in Aotearoa for the final performance Dan Untitled's Afterparty.

It is an exciting shift to step from the supporting role into an avatar or performer in a show and this year I am collaborating in a work that is audio visual rather than narrative and created using sound and video from my exploration of sailing and navigation.

You’ve finally hit 121212 – where to from here?

Well 121212 is an end of sorts but it is also a new beginning!

We have some new design features to test and release and the format of the UpStage environment itself is undergoing a shift in how it is deployed and how artists can use it as a creative space.

The UpStage community is diverse and very active so you can be sure that the the new incarnation of the festival will be as exciting as the one we are about to undertake!
Keep an eye on the website or join the list to find out more.

What’s your big idea for 2013?

Having just one big idea would be a great idea...
Personally I am exploring the digital space as venue for traditional practices and hope to begin 2013 with a project in Taranaki at the SCANZ (I will find out at the end of this week)!

I am also part of the Aotearoa Digital Arts Trustboard that will be bringing the Mesh Cities Christchurch project into being

101010 UpStage Festival Showreel from UpStage on Vimeo.

* * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

The Big Idea is a community space which for me as an artist from a remote part of Aotearoa NZ is fantastic to connect with what is happening in the rest of the country and introduce the community to what is happening in my part of the world/internet :)

What changes have you noticed in cyberformance in the past 10 years?

Well in the last decade there has been the increase of broadband speeds locally allowing a greater involvement form a range of artists and community. The audiences have developed in sophistication in terms of navigating digital environments and there has been an increase in the number of environments people use to perform through some of them you will see in the Testing 1 2 1 2 1 2 portion of the festival.

Within UpStage the artists have been pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the online platform and in the media they create and upload. The development of the venue has seen added features and enhancements and as an open project it is continuing to evolve.

One of the activities of the UpStage community in October this year was to the online event CyPosium which linked a global network of artists and academics in discussing this question. The documentation has just all been uploaded and there is a varied selection of presentations from some of the early originators of this form which is well worth a visit.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

5 Dec 2012

The Big Idea Editor