PIPS:lab recently made its US debut during a festival featuring Dutch artists here in Pittsburgh. The Amsterdam group has been performing together for about a dozen years. The work that they performed was categorized as absurdist media theater and was a short evening length work without intermission. The use of technology for this performing group is integral. The performance itself was noteworthy for its innovation on a number of different levels. It is worth noting, however, the problems that PIPS:lab had in functionally executing the performance due to glitchy technology. The performance, Diespace, was essentially an introduction to a fictional new social network site that audience members were encouraged to visit after they die (or die in order to visit). The actors polled the audience about their opinions regarding whether or not there is life after (or before, humorously) death. These polls were conducted with a cool audience participation tool of light capture setup where the audience essentially wrote on a screen upstage.
The other insertion of tech into the performance involved video/audio remixes of various clips taken of audience member during and before the show. These clips were then edited in real time into the performance. This, in turn, served to engage the audience but through a pretty controlled format. The display of the video and audio taken from the audience drew laughter and made the audience excited and was a high point of the performance lending to greater investment from the collective. Additional audience participate was to be had through a lottery during the show where the faces of the audience were put into a virtual tumbler on the screen upstage. Three audience members won prizes with the grand prize being a premium account for Diespace (which included significant stage time for the audience member who won it).
The performance unfolded at a relatively brisk pace with musical interludes to cover moments where the technology and content was being prepped. The problem with this was that the performers ended up being a bit un-invested in the music and as a result it was hard to be carried away by the performance. It was easy to check out during these scenes through the distractions on stage. It was the sense of this reviewer that there was only one true musician on stage, a fact that was born out by the program notes about the artists backgrounds.
At least three times during the performance there were loud warnings of a computer crash each time forcing the performers on stage to repeat a few moments to a few minutes of the action. This in turn lent to a stutter stop feel to the performance. Execution of Diespace did not look like it was easy and to be certain what PIPS:lab is trying to do is not easy in general. They deserve applause for attempting to stitch together so many constituent elements in the moment. It was fascinating at times to see the failures of the technology and there was rarely a moment where the audience did not have something that they could try to be engaged in. The relative successes and failures of this performance reinforce the point that some technologies have a ways to go before they are both accessible to independent performing artists.
The innovation of groups like PIPS:lab hopefully will be the wave of the future and it is gratifying to see media artists take the stage with musicians and actors. The combination of talents of stage was a rich soup and Diespace was a valuable experience for the insights that it gave with regards to generation of true multi-disciplinary live work.