Last week I participated in “Letters to the Earth“, a global cultural response to the climate and ecological crisis. Following an open call for the public to submit letters written to the earth, Friday 12th was the day of action: theatres and arts organisations around the world held live readings of selected letters – and we did the same online, in UpStage. Our readings were more than just readings, we augmented the text with live video streams, animated graphics, sounds, live drawings and of course the real-time accompanying text chat into which audience members wrote their own letters and poems to the Earth, and commented on our performance.
It’s almost a year since the last UpStage performance; we are in a difficult time at the moment with UpStage, which is an online platform for cyberformance, live online performance that involves the real-time manipulation of digital media by remote participants. UpStage was first developed in 2003, which is ancient history in cyberspace, so it’s now almost obsolete. Riddled with bugs and suffering from reduced functionality (for example, where we once had about 100 text2speech voices, we now have 2), it’s amazing how well UpStage still functions. Feedback from the online audience suggests that everything worked near perfectly, with the main issues being some lag in the streams – nothing to do with UpStage, rather with individual internet connections. There can’t be many 16-year-old internet platforms that are still functioning so well.
The performance was also a reminder to me just how much fun it is to create and perform in UpStage. We put the whole thing together in less than two weeks and had only one rehearsal, if we can even call it that – it was more of a meeting, where we shared our ideas and material and made a quick order for the performance. Everyone jumped in and produced great material in the short space of time, and the performance itself was full of energy. Partly because the topic of ecological collapse is URGENT but also because we were there, connected through the ether, in the magic space of cyberformance: it’s powerful!
This performance is part of the growing global movement for serious action on climate change and ecology – the school strikes, Extinction Rebellion, the decades of continuous protest by environmentalists around the world. Finally it’s starting to gain traction, ordinary people are beginning to accept that massive change is not only necessary, it’s happening whether we want it or not. Will we fiddle while the Earth burns or will we do everything in our power to avert disaster? The choice is ours and if we don’t make it, it will be made for us.