Thanks to the Covid19 pandemic, the mainstream world has suddenly woken up to the potential of the internet as a site for live theatre and performance. The performing arts have been particularly hard-hit by lockdowns and limits on gatherings, and turning to the internet has been a natural survival strategy. For many, streaming and video conferencing has been the obvious way to get their offline work out to a locked-down audience; but others have risen to the challenge of exploring further into what theatre could be in the online environment. This has led to a great many claims of "firsts" and declarations of "ground-breaking pioneers" of live performance on the internet. Of course it's wonderful, but unfortunately the media attention given to these mainstream newcomers is simultaneously erasing three decades of work in the field by experimental artists who are the true pioneers of online performance.
What to do? Well, there are plenty of resources out there if you are interested in the history of cyberformance and the wealth of experimental online/networked performance that has been created since the internet first because accessible to artists. Some has been lost, or only wispy traces remain, but plenty has been documented. Here are some places to get started:
Cyberformance is the term I coined in 2000 to describe my experiments in live performance with remote performers coming together in real time via free internet chat applications. It came out of the need to find a word that avoided the polarisation of virtual and real, and the need for a new term (rather than "online performance" or "virtual theatre") for a new genre. My Masters thesis, Adventures in Cyberformance: experiments at the interface of theatre and the internet, outlines what cyberformance is and could be. Someone created a Wikipedia article for cyberformance in 2008.
Helen Varley Jamieson
Creative Catalyst | UpStage | Avatar Body Collision