Senses & Scripts
Both of these elements were thoroughly explored in rehearsals, which helped when it came to applying sensations and clarity to our story. They also gave us a broader understanding of how to efficiently produce these elements when it came to the show, too. What would we need to create certain smells? To make audiences feel like they were in a completely different space? To make them feel welcomed, warm, distanced or displaced? Those answers came with sensory experimentation.
→ Sensory elements
“As we become accustomed to and crave the mediation of the screen, we become increasingly cut off from human contact, we are in increasing need of reclaiming mass public interactions to provide us with proximal human contact. We have bleached out personal smells. animal smells, and tastes from our world. It is a comparatively sensory bland environment that our animal brains crave stimulation to mimic the hunt, to savour the smells, tastes, and touches of the natural and social world. As a result, there is an ever-increasing need to create events that stimulate our bodies as well as our minds.” -Stephen Di Benedetto Provocation of the Senses in Contemporary Theatre (2010: 88).
Wanting to create a full-sensory experience, we set out on a exploration of sensations. Gaining inspiration from our mentor Roderick Morgan, we began our sensory R&D by using blindfolds in preparation for the VR headset that blocks out the 'real' world around the audience.
Ben and Carly created sensory journeys for each other. These journeys were designed to inspire feeling within the participant and had varying combinations of sensory stimulating elements.
Some of these experiments included:
- Letting Go - Beach Experience
- Central Park Walk
- Jazz Bar
- 99 Balloons
In Letting Go - Beach Experience, Carly lead Ben through a touch journey that included sand, water, glitter, rocks, and textured floors. As Ben was blindfolded, Carly lead Ben by his hands through the journey. Carly's intention was to inspire feelings of peace, calm and "letting go." After the experience, Ben reported feelings of feeling soothed, serenity and calm. This showed us that using these sensory elements and techniques for touch were effective in creating a calm feeling. Watch a segment of Letting Go (Right)
Central Park Walk was created by Ben for Carly. In this experience, Carly wore a headset that was playing 360 degree footage from Central Park during a race. In this experience. Ben asked Carly to view the experience in 5 various ways (see more on this in R&D 2: VR Experimentation)
We found that having a full combination of storytelling, 360 video and sensory stimulation (including touching leaves, pipes, siding on buildings and sticks) was the most effective for Carly in terms of emotional, immersive experience. We found that while the other options provided some sensory stimulation, they did not create a story. The fifth and final option was the best because it guided the journey through sensation and storytelling. See a link to Carly's Notes on this experience here
Jazz Bar was a sensory experience that Ben created to immerse Carly into a Jazz bar setting. Here, Carly was blindfolded and guided through the experience by Ben. Ben found a live recording of a jazz band playing at a bar, which surrounded Carly with sounds of clinking glasses, scooting chairs and soothing, jazzy tones. Ben sat her down at a table, and placed an opened cider under her nose. Carly then drank from the cider. She was then lead to a piano, where she was free to touch the keys and play a song if she wanted to. We found that this experience was quite successful in creating a bar setting. The use of intimate touch, the smell of cider and the sound coming from the headphones created a full and rich environment
99 Balloons was a storytelling and sensory experience created by Carly for Ben. In this experience, Carly guided ben to a chair and sat him down. She then played the audio for the video 99 Balloons, a story about an infant with cancer that lived for 99 days. In this experiment, Carly wanted to see how introducing touch stimuli to the audience could effect the impact of the reaction. Ben listened to the heart breaking story for about 3 minutes before Carly added any touch sensations. At this point, Carly placed swaddled sweatshirts into Ben's arms when the story mentioned the parents holding their baby. Ben gasped, and was completely in awe of how much he perceived this lump of sweatshirts as a baby. This showed us how effective storytelling can create a strong environment where very few sensations are needed to create a big impact.
After Experimenting with smell, touch and taste, we felt confident when applying sensory elements to the story.
→ Script edits. How the script changed over time + dramaturgy/clarity.
The script was devised considering themes, messages and imagery Carly and Ben had spoken about during the proposal stage. We set the story in a Science-Fictional world, in an altered reality. We'd hoped that we were able to justify the use of VR with an abstract narrative. By doing so, we could convey our ethical questioning of the rise of digital and social media. What was more important, the time you spent with someone in person, or the legacy you left behind? How could we remind audiences of intimacy with one and other in a world that is becoming less personable in its interaction? Ironically, we were trying to ask these questions by using a digital medium, but this was done intentionally. Hopefully, we'd be reminding audiences of what digital media lacks, and how feeling something is still more poignant than just watching it happen. What does it mean to experience, and not to be told? Our aim was to make the audience more active with their emotions, engagement and immersion within our experience.
Our very first draft was finished in October, and it acted as our starting point during the devising process. We made sure that it was rich in imagery, to try and help when devising moments of sensation. Not only that, but we aimed to showcase the foundations of what we were trying to say as clear as possible. The choice to write a script was controversial amongst our tutors, especially because we had not been in the rehearsal room that long. However, we did make it clear that through this was a working script, which was constructed for the purpose of translating our themes, messages and performance style, acting as a basis for our experimentation. Being new to us, we were unsure about how to experiment or devise from scratch with this sort of medium that neither of us had worked with before. This difficulty was also aided by the fact that every experience we had seen before had been either for promotional use, a game or documentary. We had not been exposed to many experiences that focused solely on a VR exclusive story that stood on its own. The script could act as our source material, allowing us to have something to work with when it came to film, exploring different ways to execute what we wanted to do for the audience experience.
The First Draft can be found here
Prior to buying the camera however, we did take on board our tutors notes of both refining our script and focusing on sensory interaction until buying our camera. We had recurring meetings with Nohar and Nick to discuss the content, form and specifics of the narrative. These were also discussed with our PAT tutors. We had found out that writing for this particular medium had made it less of a script, but more of an instruction manual for us as the facilitators and a description of the experience for readers. Much of it looked at imagery, transitions, cues, focus points and interactions with a participant. However, it was laced with scenes that contained dialogue to drive the narrative, as well as voice-over. We were also encouraged to write and devise text during our time working with sensory elements. For example:
- How could you devise text for darkness?
- How could you manipulate a participant using only types of sound?
This was also suggested for our time testing out the camera. As we were working with a different awareness of the space, we came up with a few thoughts and ideas that we could consider, film and edit. Out of the list of questions we had, these were a few to consider:
- How would text (and movement) draw the focus of a participant? How can you use text to manipulate that?
- How does your relationship with a participant change when working with a first person angle?
- What can you do in VR with story elements that you can't necessarily do in a live theatre space?
We did write some dialogue to explore these questions.
An example can be found here
We were very aware that we were working with 360 film, a new medium for the both of us. We were unfamiliar with how to film with a 360 degree camera, how long it would take to edit and stitch* the footage, which were just two considerations we reflected when developing a schedule. Upon interviewing practitioners such as Chris Elson from Diverse Interactive, we addressed these concerns. For his particular practice, they had to stitch and edit the footage manually, which was extremely slow, but necessary for their experiences. 15 seconds of film could take Chris up to four hours to manage. Luckily, our footage was stitched automatically, which could speed up this process. However, we knew that we had effects to add and new software to get used to, so we needed to give ourselves plenty of time to be able to comfortably and efficiently do so.
It was because of this that we needed our final draft sorted by March. With locations and dates confirmed and the camera available to use, we knew that we had to have this script as concrete as possible to ensure that we were happy with the final product. Loading the footage onto the software, editing and rehearsals with the film would take time, especially when combining all of the mediums together. If we did want to make changes, this could either be done in the editing room or by making sure that there was enough time to go back for re-shoots - which we made sure we had time for.
To make this goal achievable, we sought to have regular discussions on the script. We met regularly to sift through each scene, updating text wherever we could, based on any decisions made in the rehearsal room. We were also fortunate that our tutors were available to offer us feedback throughout the devising process. Through various meetings, we addressed the issues our script faced. On a meeting with Nohar in February, we found that although the chain of events and scenes may have been clear, the characters lacked depth. We acted on this note, by writing individual scenes that would give characters spotlight moments to drive the plot even more emotionally. How did they feel by a certain plot point? By a certain characters actions? We started to devise monologues to explore how these matters could be addressed.
A sample of those ideas/dialogues can be found here
We were very lucky that our peers offered to help with our process too. We gave a reading of the script at a writing workshop we organised with a couple of other MFAs, who also read their own excerpts and ideas for discussion. It was extremely useful to hear the script being read out loud from a different voice, as well as the comments made to consider how to better and further its development. We had mentioned beforehand that the script was not gender biased, and our main concern was to see if it read well. Not only that, but everyone was encouraged to summarise their themes or the piece overall through short paragraphs - to be able to address clarity, imagery and messages we wanted to reflect in our projects.
A common note was that the script was quite confusing in a couple of ways. There were many plot points which should either be explored more, or completely cut in order to make the narrative that much clearer. Not only that, but the participants role was unclear.
- Should there be a different term for their character?
- Who are they with regards to the story?
- Why is the narrative 'a secret' and why are all these actions happening?
Other notes included requests to make moments more specific and to allow time for moments with regards to the participant. It lacked a sense of awareness for the participant, and that we should factor that into our script. We were also given great references to research to help with our concept, including Glen Neath's Seance piece.
More notes from our feedback session can be found here
We also found that edits could be made as a result of experimentation in the rehearsal room. Sometimes we would find that a moment of play with sensations, that we wanted to factor it into the script for the audience to experience. Times where we were playing with the camera, testing out different angles for perception or interaction in relation to relationships with space or performance. We would add or remove moments depending on what we were trying to say and if it could be achieved. Every time a decision like this was made, we would assess the dramaturgy and reasons why we were deciding to leave or include them in the narrative.
Alongside our main project, we thought it would be interesting to devise smaller projects to test out on others. Ideas included a 'Piggy in the Middle' styled storytelling experience, in which participants immersed in the VR had the choice to either listen to Carly or Ben's story. Within this, each participant would feel sensory stimuli relative to whichever story they were watching. However, only one filming attempt was made at this and didn't progress throughout the year - however it is something we would be interested in pursuing. This was just one example.
The one sister project we did make some progress on was a piece called The Applicant. The setup and style of this particular project was identical to what we wanted to do with The Extension. The audience would have been given information for 'an interview', which disclosed location, timings etc. They would have met one of us in a room, set up with one small table, with 2 chairs either side, facing each other. When told that they were 'late' they would be instructed to put on the headset. From there, the footage would have transported them to a Cafe, where they would have met The Manager character, who would discuss their future employment. Exterior sensations would correspond to the visual imagery. E.g. the smell of coffee as a waiter walked past. After the footage ends, each participant would be seen to the door. When they got home, a follow up email of employment would be sent to them - as if it were real. The script was written, and an actress was being talked to for the role of The Manager. However, due to time constraints concerning the main project and availability, we decided to develop it at a later date.
The script for The Applicant can be found here
In March, we felt that we had reached a great draft of the script.
- We had created depth for our characters. Monologues and individual, intimate moments that addressed plot points made characters more emotionally engaging and easier to invest in.
- Made the narrative clearer in simplifying the plot. Other intruding elements like the possibility of having a previous attempt at creating an A.I. for the couples child was removed. The realisation to the audience about a loss of a child strengthened the Scientists choice to create an A.I. of herself for the Professor, making that understanding more poignant.
- Justified each choice for the audiences perception of the piece. Why were they experiencing these moments, and what was their standing in the piece? We made it clear that they were acting as the AI character, and that abstract moments were addressed with the text.
The final draft of the script can be found here