Precipice Theatre Company

Colin Funk directing members of the Precipice Theatre Society
We were fortunate to find and form an alliance with the Precipice Theatre Society, an environmentally-oriented improvisational theatre company based in Banff. Under the direction of Colin Funk, the Precipice troupe studies pending legislation or development plans that threaten the natural environment in Canada, then develops scripts on these topics through improvisation. The company gives rollicking, commedia-style performances throughout Western Canada, often meeting - and overcoming - vociferous audience disagreement with their point of view. We sought the company's help in developing the characters and interface concepts for Placeholder. They were ideal collaborators, both because of their excellent improv and performance skills, and because they were generally naive about computers and free of preconceived notions about virtual reality.
One member of Precipice Theatre acts as a Hoodoo while a second plays a Critter.

By way of preparation we gave the actors lists of story motifs that Lucinda deLorimier had found about the kinds of places and Critters we were using. As soon as we had settled on the locations and characters we wanted to use in the piece, we asked members of the troupe to improvise action with the characters in the actual environments that the Three Worlds were modeled on. Immediately we began to see new ways in which people could play in the environments and what kinds of affordances were needed in order to facilitate such play. The actors also improvised vocal and physical characterizations of the environments. We later recreated some of the environmental vocalizations in the studio and mixed them with natural sounds to create an auditory signature for each environment that was played through the Portals. The improvs were crucial in shaping the individual Critters characters as well.

After the improvs in the field, we did another series of improvs in the studio, re-creating the spaces through mime and vocalization, and improvising interface features like Voiceholders to see what would seem "natural" to a person who was not technologically inclined. When it came time to script the Critters' voices and sounds of the story seeds, we took much of the dialogue directly from videotapes of these improv sessions. We cast actors from the company in the roles of the various Critters and places and re- recorded the dialogue digitally. The dialogue was post-processed in some cases to apply the same Critters voice filter that would be applied in realtime to a participant embodied as that Critters (Crow always sounded like Crow, whether he was speaking stored dialogue or with the live voice of a participant.) At performance time the dialogue was spatialized using the Convolvotrons.
Brenda Laurel assists Karen Maiolo of the Precipice Theatre Society "suiting up".

renda Laurel assists Karen Mailo of the Precipice Theatre Society "suiting up".

It was a joy to finally include the members of the company in the Placeholder performances - we gave them a special show of their own, and they were able to experience the interfaces, the sounds of the story seeds and Critter boasts, and everything else they had so skillfully improvised and helped us to devise. Several months later Colin came to visit us later at Interval, where we had started a weekly improv group, and spent a week directing us... later we heard that he had moved to British Columbia, and the group had disbanded. When Brenda Laurel and Rob Tow visited Banff a year later for the Fourth CyberConf, no one from the troupe was left to be found.

Here are some Quicktime movies of the Precipice Theatre Society doing improvisations as part of the development of Placeholder.

Papers Movies Sounds Images