Telepresence in performance training and Performing Arts

Telepresence may be defined as “live video that allows for human-sized interactions, while offering clear sound and visual fidelity to individuals in remote rooms” (Miller et al. 2015) and this project explores its potential for teaching and learning in the field of performing arts. At the same time, it is quite clear that telepresence technology provides new perspectives and horizons to professionals working in the performing arts fields.

This project mainly facilitates international virtual mobility collaborations between theatre students at the University of Tampere (Finland) and Coventry University (UK), with a particular focus on acting in a foreign language. While providing students with opportunities to engage in intercultural collaborations and to develop valuable global attributes, the project promotes a more environmentally sustainable model, diminishing the need to move large groups of student actors across the globe for rehearsals, workshops and even performances.

The project also imagines and visualizes new possibilities for the theatrical arts with the help of the latest telepresence technology. Modern telepresence technology offers new, practical solutions to international collaboration and poses theoretical questions for the actor’s expression and bodily awareness whilst giving possible insights into the future of how we rehearse and make work. As the hardware and software becomes cheaper, artistic telepresence methods are becoming more common in low-budget theatres also. This project also intends to investigate how real and virtual environments intersect to support teaching and learning for educators/learners/performers and analyse any opportunities and challenges that may emerge in this setting. It also seeks to examine the pedagogic practices that the telepresence technology enables for synchronous teaching and learning across two different sites and time zones, and finally, explores the individual’s experience as a performer being mediated by technology


1. CORIOLANUS ONLINE project (2015-2016)

Taking the text of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as a basis for study, students from both the University of Tampere (Finland) and Coventry University (UK) worked on a small section of the script (3:3) in both Finnish and English. An ’immersive telepresence space’ was created in both locations through the re-purposing of videoconferencing technology and the use of large rear projection screens, high speed internet connections and unidirectional, hypercardioid microphones. Moreover, a unified spatial design and a careful use of lighting gave the actors the illusion that they were occupying the same physical arena.
Full documentary:

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2. KING LEAR project (2016-2017)

The second iteration of the project, King Lear Online, took place in February 2017. The students were divided into 5 mixed groups which rehearsed scenes from King Lear, one week online in the telepresence space and one week in a more traditional rehearsal space in Finland. This time a variety of scenes were explored including both intimate scenes and large group scenes. The possibilities of acting for the camera were investigated in more detail which resulted a novel blend between film acting and stage acting. Starting the rehearsals online also appeared to intensify and accelerate the more traditional ’live’ rehearsals and increase the actor’s focus in the telepresence space. The resulting scenes were performed live (and live-streamed) at the end of the week.

Telakka performance of KING LEAR 17.3.2017

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3. REIMAGINE EDUCATION 2017: Arts & Humanities Gold Award

Coriolanus Online received the gold award in the Arts & Humanities category of the third annual Reimagine Education Awards, a yearlong global competition designed to uncover transformative initiatives across the Higher Education sector. The competition, which is known as the Oscars of HE, attracted 807 submissions from 56 countries and only 140 were shortlisted. An international panel of 40 experts evaluated the projects based on three main criteria: innovation, impact or scalability.

Immersive Telepresence In Theatre is a multiple award winner

4. REMIX1918 (January – February 2018)

A study of Dramaturgies in Immersive Performances, Immersive shifts and fade ins and outs. This project rethinks the events of civil war of 1918 and Ignites the critical process of an individual visitor to seek analogies between the social structures of both 1918 and contemporary Finland.

In co-operation with WERSTAS (The Finnish Labour Museum) the aim is to create a performance that widens the possibilities of interaction and dialogue with the museum visitors. The performance begins as a normal 2D-museum-video then shifts through different virtual and telepresence technologies back to “heightened reality” where actors from previous 2D-video interact with the visitor.

Together with the museum visitors, the performers seek a dialogue that develops a range of presentational directions and scouts the topics that seem to interest visitors the most. In their engagment with the project, the visitors must decide for themselves the degree and scale of immersion, presence and virtuality in the performance.

Project leaders: Dr Tom Gorman, Dr Tiina Syrja & Dr Mikko Kanninen
• Dr Tom Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Theatre, Coventry University.
• Dr Tiina Syrja, Senior Lecturer in Theatre, COMS, University of Tampere.
• Dr Mikko Kanninen, Senior Lecturer in Theatre, COMS, University of Tampere.

RADIO MOREENI Dr. Tom Gorman, Steve Arnold and Santeri Niskanen discuss the King Lear Online collaboration between Coventry and Tampere Universities. The project is the second iteration of the awarded theater rehearsing technology via a conference call. The reporter is Miika Ronkainen. The radio program is in English.