Hunter Bird

Integration of Projection in Performance

Mar 14, 2011 by Hunter

The following series of laboratory performance experiments all try to answer my fundamental question regarding the relationship between live performance and projected performance.

In each of the three laboratory experiments relating to a different theme/integration of technology (analog/digital, agit-prop, and witness performance), I attempted to create a different relationship between the balance and direction of the projection/performance.


The analog/digital performance piece was set up as a comparative experiment between a live performance and a digitally projected performance. The control was the audience group, which was exposed to both stories. The variables in the experiment, which were much harder to quantify and control were the audience’s emotional response, the power/effect of a repetition of a story, and the predictability of the experience.

The performance entailed a performer (myself) telling a very personal and emotional story (my experience with cancer).  In the first presentation, I sat before the audience, with only a flashlight illuminating my face, and told my story.

The second performance, which was a filmed version of the first, was then projected onto a standard classroom projection screen using an LCD projector.

The feedback regarding the two performances primarily had to do with the power and emotional connection to the first performance, which the second lacked. I pointed out, however, that the second performance was flawed and biased in multiple ways. The projected performance was a filmed version of a live performance, versus a filmed performance, which could have been designed to be filmed as opposed to staged.

The other variable in the performance was the repetition of the exact same story (and the replay of verbal audience reactions).  Because of the audience’s familiarity with the story/performance, the projected performance lacked surprise and the immediate engagement that the fresh and unheard live performance had.

The relationship between the projection and live performer was comparative in this experiment. There was no direct interaction between either technology. Rather, this performance served to compare and contrast the specific elements of both performance technology.

Important to note that, when integrating film elements onto the stage, an element of temporarily which live performance has is broken. While a stage performance has certain constraints (it can only last a certain amount of time before the theater closes, the audience will get hungry/restless eventually), a filmed performance does not have the constraints. A performance can be played, on loop, for an infinite period, and can also exist without an audience.

The result of the performance was an overall appreciation for the live performer over the projected performance.


In my agit-prop performance, I put the relationship between the live performer and the projected performer to the foreground. The piece was a confrontation between a projected warped version of the live performer, and the live performer. The confrontation, which focused on sexual identity, was an imagined interior dialogue between one person fractured into two conflicting forces.

In the physical presentation of the performance, I placed the audience facing the confrontation, so that they could have two points of focus: the projection (Stage right) and the performer (stage left).

The comments for the performance were mixed. The composition, which was a white blanket, a black/white video, and black underwear, was complimented for its visual effect.

A comment was made regarding the actual subject matter; the commenter thought it seemed too predictable of a choice for me to present on. This comment, while pretty offensive, did provoke me to broaden my artistic focuses. But, as an LGBT studies minor and an LGBT identified student, it’s still an important subject for me despite how OBVIOUS of a choice it might have been.

An additional comment, which was important to note, was the relationship of the audience to the performance. The audience looked at the two subjects as two separate compositional focuses that bounced between one another. People responded well to this, but also offered advise to experiment with the audience configuration.

Also, when asked, the audience felt that the performer and projected performer had equal power in this composition.


For my witness performance, I took inspiration from Downtown LA’s Geffen MOCA Exhibit, “Suprasensorial”, which created artistic sensory-affecting environments. Using that as a jumping off point, I was interested in creating an interactive environment, which would engage the audience sensually rather than from a distance (as in the last two “performances” did). So, with this environment, I presented a table full of greasy, salty, and snack type foods (pepperoni pizza slices, rich cookies, and chips) and told the audience the performance would be over when all of the food was off of the table. Two live performers were also present. One, a man with two grocery bags over his face, was reaching for food on the table. A second, larger man, stood guard over him, preventing him from getting any of the food. In the background of the table, slides were shown of restaurants, food, and pleasant food-related environments, interplayed between photos of impoverished groups of people seeking food.

The environment had no particular objective, other than to finish all of the food on the table (which I, as the moderator, would occasionally replenish).

As the environment went on, the audience took a more active role in assisting the bagman to retrieve food. Other than that, they simply ate and watched the interaction between the bagged man and his guard.

In the feedback section of the performance (which was rather heated), there were several points brought up. First and foremost was the integration of the technology, and that it seemed that the projections were not the foreground of the presentation, and quite literally only functioned as a background element to the live performance. While I question the importance of a comment like this, as the technology was present and had a specific function in the piece, I understand that the technology in this situation wasn’t the medium through which the piece’s moment was generated.

An additional point brought up was the use of the photography depicting starving peoples. Comments included a general desensitization to imagery like that, and also to the stock semiotic coding that images like that bring. Typically, images like that have been used in a stock-like fashion, and some feedback rejected the casual use of such images.

I agree that the images have a presence in our society that often disregards them in terms of their actual content in favor of superimposing a meaning. As this was a study as opposed to a performance, I did look at the images in terms of their semiotic coding as opposed to their composition (a comment was made that they looked like they were compiled through a Google image search, which was exactly how they WERE compiled).  And, while that point may be questioned (morally, can you just insert photos like that into a performance?), I’m interested that their presence brought up so much conflict regarding their point in the piece.

If there is one thing is course taught me, in terms of composition, the visual art world doesn’t necessarily feel the need to justify every element within itself. Theatrical narrative, on the other hand, remains crisp, and must somehow justify/explore all of its inner parts and the pieces included within it. I took this witness performance as an experiment to the interaction between various elements that didn’t have a clearly thought-out through line, which was an artistic risk but made for a great experiment.


My final performance, which was a repeat performance of my Agit-Prop performance, had a rough start, as the video component didn’t load. On second attempt, however, performance felt good and seemed to convey everything that it originally intended to convey.  Two shifts were made between the original and the second performance: one was the removal of the tagline text, which presented a statistic regarding LGBT related youth suicides. This was done after a comment from the first performance; the commenter felt the statistic gave the performance too much of a prescribed meaning rather than letting it affect each audience member in whatever personal way it did.

The second change was the relationship between the audience and the stage picture. Instead of placing the two compositional elements in several visual areas, I put both on top of one another. The audience now looked directly at the live performer interacting with the projection, one on top of the other.

I wasn’t as happy with this audience configuration, as it didn’t place as much emphasis on the live body as I would have liked, but it did get the same point across.

Overall, I’ve been happy with the work this class has allowed me to do. As a performer, I’m still interested in this liminal space between the intersection of performance and technology, and how live performance will be affected by social media, holograms, and more sensory-engaging technologies yet unknown. It’s a scary time to be an artist.


Jan 13, 2011 by Hunter