Theatron 3 – Seeing Space: The examination of scenographic principals using Second Life technology

Dramatic arts, E-Learning

Project summary

This project will allow students to experience, analyse and evaluate stage configurations that are tied to actual theatre buildings, giving them a greater opportunity to understand how the spaces work and the possibilities each space offers to the scenographer thus better informing their scenographic decisions. Associated with the exploration of the spaces will be a research element in the form of a WebQuest that provides the students with the underpinning knowledge, both in terms of theatre history and design.

Context

On the current scenography module students initially engage with different stage configurations and analyse the advantages and disadvantages of each space before then looking at the implications of the spaces for the scenographer. Towards the end of the module students design for a set text in a given theatre space. Although the design work has a three-dimensional element in the production of a set model, and practical workshops support this, most of the contextualising work, brief theatre history sessions that look at the evolution of the playhouse and the development of scenography in response to this, are delivered in a now rather out-dated two-dimensional way, still in many cases dependent on photographs and indeed slides to illustrate the lectures and explore the spaces.

Seeing Space will allow students to virtually experience spaces and enable them to better analyse and evaluate stage configurations than previous teaching strategies allowed.

Aims and Objectives

The project aims to considerably enhance the students learning and understanding of scenographic principles through the medium of virtual, experiential, learning.

Furthermore, it aims to enhance the learning associated with the historical context by virtue of the potential the project offers to “visit” theatres of historical significance.

This project will provide an introduction to the basic vocabulary of stage space configurations. Once these are established, students will progress to design methodology, studying and putting into practice those elements that make up the essential tools of visually interpreting texts.

Students can then make considered responses to decisions made regarding the scenography for texts contemporaneous with the space and help in the provision of a rationale for a scenographic approach that moves away from the original design concepts.

Methodology

Students would enter Second Life and explore the theatre spaces that have been made available.
Tied to the exploration of the spaces will be a research element in the form of a WebQuest that provides the students with the underpinning knowledge of their designated theatres, both in terms of theatre history and design.

With the results of their virtual exploration and WebQuest, students would select a theatre space from the collection and design for an appropriate text that is either historically accurate for the chosen space or subverts that convention by designing a contemporary performance environment in an historical theatre building. These designs will then be realised initially two-directionally and then rendered in a conventional three dimensional model.

With the results of their virtual exploration and WebQuest, students would select a theatre space from the collection and design for an appropriate text that is either historically accurate for the chosen space or subverts that convention by designing for a contemporary performance environment in an historical theatre building.

Evaluation

Case studies will be made available on the web by means of the student’s final assessment, published as a blog on the internet.

My colleague and I have been successful in introducing the use of a blog as a means of assessment in a performance-based, Level 2 module Process and Performance. The blogs allow students to reflect on their process and to critically evaluate both process and product. It would seem an appropriate way forward for the Theatron project to adopt a similar methodology that will not only provide an assessment vehicle for the students but also a way of colleagues and interested parties accessing and commenting on, for it could be argued that one of the purposes of blogging is to engender debate, evaluations of the work in progress. The final products will be presented on the same blog so that when viewing the product, reference to the process can be made.

As module leader I will also contribute to this blog space in order to critically evaluate the use of Second Life in the context of scenography and thereby invite comments and discussion from colleagues and interested parties.

Outcomes

The key products resulting from this project will consist of the designs and models generated as a result of the in-world learning and the web pages generated through the on-going blog.

If the Subject centre could assist by finding a means of rendering the student’s models either in-world or on the web in a way that is appropriate to the project that would not only give a sense of credibility and significance to the students work but also allow for further dissemination of the project outcomes.

The learning outcomes and results of the tutor/student experience will be disseminated to colleagues through the delivery of a paper or papers at appropriate conferences followed by the publication of an article or articles in appropriate refereed journals. As this project is located in a Level one module it is unlikely that students will be responsible for the delivery of academic papers. There may, however be opportunity to give peer-group presentations and for further dissemination through research seminars held within the University.

It is envisaged that along with colleagues from other departments in the University who are engaged in projects using Second Life, a series of workshops in–house and in other institutions will be initiated. These workshops will be given by tutors with student support and form part of a wider University plan for highlighting innovative Technology-Supported Learning initiatives.

A proposal for a “position paper” has been submitted to the organisers of the SOLSTICE conference at Edge Hill University in June, and a similar paper has already been given to colleagues at Wolverhampton University in a recent research seminar.

 Benefits

This project will provide the potential to develop synergies between schools and departments across the University of Wolverhampton and other institutions working in Second Life.  The experiences from both student and tutor and the knowledge gained from working in this way, disseminated at conferences and seminars such as those organise by Palatine, will allow for the teaching strategies to be employed by tutors in other institutions and practitioner in the field with the potential for on-going development and sharing of ideas. Collaborative work between institutions, not only in the HE sector but also in the FE colleges would be an exciting and desirable way forward with meetings in-world solely for the purposes of sharing scenographic ideas in the space that these ideas are being created for. The notion of building a community of scenographers, potentially world-wide is one that cannot be overlooked and the enhanced learning that would come with this would be of great benefit to tutor and student alike.

Expertise

Although I have no computer programming expertise I have, in conjunction with the University of Wolverhampton – based, E-Studio Project, over the past four years designed and devised content for a virtual learning environment based on the New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme.
The “Virtual Vic” is due to go live in the classroom in the forthcoming academic year 2007/8.

Project lead

Paul Brownbill
Drama Department
University of Wolverhampton

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