Immersive and Interactive Curators Mark Atkin and Tom Millen talk about their festival Electric Dreams Online

9E5A1FC4-5EB4-4528-8C58-8B8AEE8777FCWithin the past year, the way in which we’ve consumed live art has changed; due to the closure of arts venues, creatives within arts industries have had to adapt their work digitally, online platforms providing a space for audiences to connect. A response to our current climate, the Electric Dreams Online Festival showcases a mixed programme of web native theatre, music and immersive experiences exploring the use of various digital technologies from social media to Virtual Reality (VR). Curated by award winning immersive and interactive curators and co-founders of Crossover Labs Mark Atkin and Tom Miller, both tell us what we can expect from the online festival!

Hi Mark and Tom, your digital festival Electric Dreams Online will take place from 24th July to 16th Aug. How are you feeling ahead of the event?

Mostly, we can’t wait for it to start. This festival came out of the fact that we were looking around for ways for us to entertain ourselves and feel part of an audience again. I am really looking forward to three weeks of shows!

Due to the closure of cinemas, theatres and art galleries, this has inspired new ways of reaching audiences digitally. How have you found having to adapt your practice within this time?

The first Electric Dreams took place earlier this year in Australia, during the Adelaide Fringe Festival, back in the days when you could have thousands of people under one roof, sharing experiences and ideas. It was wonderful and, of course, we miss that. But we have been working at the intersection of art and technology for years and Electric Dreams is all about how technology allows artists to express themselves in new and exciting ways, and how tech can allow them to connect meaningfully to audiences, so this is very much a continuation of that programme. We are excited by the way artists are developing new forms of expression in response to the crisis – and this is what we are exploring in Electric Dreams Online. The other interesting thing is that since this is not a physical event, it can be international. We have shows that are coming in live from Australia, Canada, the US, Greece, Sweden, Argentina, Singapore; and audiences can attend from anywhere that has an internet connection.

Electric Dreams Online offers web native theatre, music and experiences that are live and social. How did you both approach curating this year’s programme?

We are responding to the need we all have to feel part of an audience, which is why everything is live – or an appointment to participate – across the festival. We were seeking out experiences that provide this for our own entertainment, so it was the result of our research, as well as contacts we have built up over years of curating festival programmes and running workshops with artists and creative technologists. Once people started sharing the call-out it seemed to go far and wide and we had quite a few people approach us as well.

As producers of immersive and interactive works, audience interaction is a key element of your work. Have there been any challenges in terms of curating shows for a digital platform?

The good thing about digital platforms is that they can enable interaction, so we are playing to some of their inherent strengths. However, since this is all quite new, we haven’t yet worked out the etiquette of online interaction. For instance, what if you, as an audience member, just want to watch and not interact? We are dealing with that in a couple of ways. If you purchase a ticket for A Conversation, you are asked at that point if you would like to be in the ‘front row’,  in which case you might be called on to interact. If you are not comfortable with that you can pick another ‘seat’ safe in the knowledge that you won’t need to interact. Coney, who are running two shows, Telephone and Escape Zoom, deal with it in a different way. If you have your camera on during the show, it’s a sign that you are willing to participate; if you turn it off, it shows you are not comfortable with that but you can still watch the show.

Have you both learned anything new from curating work for the festival?

All of us are learning something new. It’s been really interesting talking to all of the artists, since it’s become apparent that we don’t even have an adequate vocabulary to describe this new work. What happens when Zoom of a Google sheet become site-specific venues for performance. Is this still theatre? Or is it something else? If you are running an event on that venue, are you the production manager?  In the background in Electric Dreams, we are also creating events designed purely for the artists to meet and talk to each other, since we can all learn from each other and they’re all keen to share experiences of what works and what doesn’t. This is also why we decided on running the conference programme, where we can start a public discussion about what this all means and where are (we) collectively headed, and if anyone is interested, they are welcome to attend the conference free of charge.

What can audiences expect from the festival?

Expect the unexpected! We have tried to keep tickets as cheap as possible so that people can be experimental in their choices. There is music, performance, interaction, game-play, documentary, storytelling and art. Some experiences of very intimate – designed for small audiences. Others are larger, more communal events. You can attend alone, and meet new people in the audience; or you can book with your friends and family and attend together. There are so many different types of shows, you are sure to find something that suits you.

What would you like for audiences to take away from the festival?

We would like people to feel that they had attended a live event that they could have only experienced in that moment, with those people. We want them to feel that they were part of an audience again.

How do you envision theatre moving forward within our digital age?

So much interesting work has emerged in the past few months that we are confident that this will become part of the fabric of performing arts going forward. Even when venues start to open again, we expect that we will still have these new forms running parallel and maybe integrated into shows.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

The Electronic Dreams Online Festival takes places from Friday 24th until Sunday 16th August 2020. To find out more about the productions taking part and booking tickets, visit here...

To find out more about Crossover Labs, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop