Zachary Scalzo, Dramaturg for Bury the Wren
Zachary Scalzo (he/him) is a theatre artist, writer, and translator currently working in South Florida. He has received degrees from Florida Atlantic University and Indiana University Bloomington, and has most recently completed an MFA in Drama from the University of Calgary.
Patrick Rizzotti, Toasterlab Advisory Board Member
Bury the Wren – Interview with Zach by Patrick
Patrick: [00:00:00] Um, hi Zach, pleasure to meet you under such strange circumstances.
Zach: I mean, always a pleasure to meet regardless of the mediation levels that are going on here, which feels, feels appropriate, doesn’t it?
Patrick: It does. It does indeed. Do you go by Zach or Zachary? Which do you prefer?
Zach: Zack and my pronouns are he/him.
Patrick: Okay. Yeah, Patrick, he/him as well. So this is, this is actually totally casual, right? Like, this is the maybe third or fourth interview I’ve done. Second for Bury the Wren. And then I, I, was assigned to another project to do some interviews and some synopsis on.
Um, and I think, what I have found works really well is, is if we do keep it totally casual, you know, I’m happy to lead with some questions. I’m happy to let this go wherever it goes. For me, I think the important thing is, is at the end, I sort of dig through the talk that I had with you, the talk that I had as a team with Beth, and then there’ll be another [00:01:00] talk, another, another interview with somebody else.
Um, and we put together a sort of, a compilation of what we talked about a bit of, a bit of a best practices assessment for this project that as Rachel said, will be folded into two dozen or so other projects, just as we learn to work with this new, in this new way, right? With these, with these tools on these types of projects. So for me, it’s, it’s really fascinating to get to know a little bit about you, like your background, your previous experience, um, you know, so like I’m going to start there, but again, I’m happy to let this wander wherever, wherever it goes. So don’t feel like we’ve gotten off track or that we have missed questions. It’s just, I I’m a bit like, oh, that was cool. Let’s follow that thread for a while.
Zach: Oh, for sure. And, I’m also one of those people who might start speaking around things.
So feel free to also just like direct me if we need to be pulling back or following those [00:02:00] directions, I guess.
Patrick: For sure, for sure.
Um, and then a little bit of background on me, right? So that it’s not, such a such sort of a cold, a cold interview where we don’t know much about each other. I am living in Vancouver, Canada right now.
Uh, I teach at the University of British Columbia. And up until the pandemic had spent about half my time back in New York, where I’m from with a freelance career in theatre and film. I still have a practice, it’s just been pandemic’d. But I did actually open an opera in December. And part of that opera was, was, it was recorded, right?
We did design it, we did create it, to be recorded. So it was a bit of a mediated experience. And, and prior to all of that shutting down, I do work in augmented and virtual reality, sort of through the lens of, of, how do we blend the physical space with the virtual space, you know, scenic design, that’s sort of where my interests lie.
Um, so that’s been kind of my path. I’ve been in Canada for about [00:03:00] four years now. So I’m still pretty new to the, to the understanding of people and theatres and, and players in this world. So for me personally, it’s, it’s actually been a privilege to get to meet Beth. And I’m excited to meet you, just to see how, who else is out there and how they’re doing this kind of work because, not only is it sort of, nobody’s really taken a good look in and recorded how we’re doing this yet, but, selfishly, it’s also a great way for me to just say, oh, now I know Zach, he seems like a, a nice person that I know.
And I, you know, Canada feels a little bit smaller now, which is cool. So yeah, that’s a bit about me. I’d love to hear a little bit about your journey and your experience. And I’m going to type a little bit, so if I put myself on mute, it’s just because I don’t want the clacking to be bothersome to you.
Zach: Okay, totally. So I actually am also between the US and Canada. I moved to Calgary three years ago for my MFA [00:04:00] in drama, focusing in playwriting. And that’s where I met Beth. And I’m currently living in Tamarac, Florida. So I’m, because of the pandemic, relocated, though the goal is to get back and more involved in Canadian theatre.
So I’m also pretty new to that landscape and my expertise, as much as one exists, is in knowing really the Calgary scene. Not even, I don’t know how much I can claim to really know the Canadian scene. In general, my experience with theatre is, as with most things in my life, pretty circuitous.
Uh, so I started in performance when I was really young. I was part of the New York City Opera Children’s Chorus and got a taste for theatre and performance pretty, pretty young, and professionally, as well. From there, I kept myself pretty much busy with more community involvement and community productions, working with a company [00:05:00] that did late high school, early university students, and had like a scholarship program that I was first in and then also worked with them for things like assistant choreography, dance captaining, basically just giving a little bit of what would be kind of like a stepping program between their community experience and moving into professional programs or productions, and then just went straight into the academic path of it all.
Um, I didn’t feel that performance was a viable option at that point for me. Like a bunch of life circumstances happened that made me have to really focus in getting a degree. I got, a couple degrees, in English Literature, Translation, Italian Language, and in, finally the MA in Comparative Literature that led me to apply to this MFA in Playwriting.
So again, real big circle that brought me all the way back, always with [00:06:00] Theatre Studies as part of my work and my academic practice. But leading back to my creative practice, being primarily rooted in performance and writing, and I think writing becomes one of those things that in a lot of traditional dramaturgical structures, writing gives you a useful format in the workshop model that I already started kind of sowing those seeds of interest that then led to working with Beth on Bury the Wren through a course that we had taken together that was focused in dramaturgy, but allowed us to actually work on projects within the university that needed dramaturgical support.
Yeah. It’s a big thing.
Patrick: Perfect. You’re the perfect theatre maker.
Zach: Uh, can I just have you like co-sign that on all the grants that I write? Okay, fantastic.
Patrick: Um, and so you, you [00:07:00] were assigned to this project through a class, or this came out of the, the relationship that was formed in the class?
Zach: So this was kind of both. What the class did is you had to propose some kind of project that you would want to work on.
And the other students in the class, after they were whittled down to three projects, would apply to work on these projects. So, Bury the Wren was one of the three projects that was selected for dramaturgical support. And I applied to work on that, like in the ranking, I was like, please, please, please, let me work on Bury the Wren.
Um, and it then had this kind of double weight for me where it was a professional experience in that I was working with theatre professionals and theatre creators, like Beth and also had this educational component where some of it did come down to my education, my, you know, [00:08:00] intellectual exploration of the topic, as well as my experience in the room — whatever room might mean in, in these scenarios.
Patrick: And so what drew you to this project? What, what made you say, please put me on that one, please, please.
Zach: Uh, well, one thing is certainly as a writer and as a performer, I was really interested in these forms of mixed reality. You know, it’s something that I had not been able to have an experience with in a formal setting.
It was one of those things that, you know, I’d read about mixed reality performances. I had played a lot of Pokemon Go, you know, I had, had a lot of mediated, technological experiences, or I guess, experiences mediated by technology or other realities. And I found that I would be really interested in exploring it both from a narrative as well from a performance perspective.
Um, another thing that I was [00:09:00] really interested in is, like game design and video game theory and narrative. And that was something that I initially thought, you know, I don’t think that the project wanted to be gamified. And I think even that early in the project, I recognized that there was a divide between the form of performance we were doing and the forms of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality that I’d participated in, and seeing that kind of hybridization of live performance and what we might not traditionally consider live performances, but are in always, you know, performative in some way seemed really compelling to me.
So I applied, you could also apply for this project under different… the only word that’s coming to mind is appellations and that is not the word I want to use. It’s like different types of professional. I could apply to [00:10:00] be this project’s dramaturg or to be an actor in this process or to be, you know. So I applied specifically for dramaturgy so that I could really have my feet in both camps of experience and narrative, uh, I say as if you can really divide those in this project specifically, but you know.
Patrick: Just typing. I know we have a recording of this that I can go back to, but I just… It’s so much easier for me to do it kind of in the moment and not have to suffer through hearing myself in a recording.
Zach: Totally. It’s also one of those things that I think like, as… anytime, like I’ve been in a situation like this, I always have like the running note pad next to me, which is like, probably indicative of my like experience in academia where you’re sitting in a presentation.
You’re like, oh man, I want to make sure I circle back to this. Not have the FOMO of listening to it later and be like, "oh no!"
Patrick: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, is there something specifically [00:11:00] that excited you about this project or that sort of like scared you about this project that made you say, okay, here’s specifically why I want, I want to try and word this carefully. So this, this is an assignment on somebody else’s project, which does not mean anything about like, I am a big believer in co-creation. And so being, being a member on a project, I think is incredibly important because most of what we do is co-created. So I, I don’t mean to pull any of, of the respect of a co-creator out of this comment.
Um, but as an academic, as part of this class, as part of the education, what were you sort of most excited to like take with you from this project academically to use somewhere else or in another way?
Zach: Yeah. I think one of the things that I’m always really interested in are these projects that deal with legacy and how we have audiences really interface with that idea of legacy.
And, these kinds of like reverberations [00:12:00] throughout history. Of course, one thing that I think really drew me to it is as a queer artist, I’m always interested in these narratives that uncover or reframe or bring to the forefront these histories that have been in a lot of ways, disregarded or looked over, which I think the story of Annie, definitely, from even reading the treatment, felt like it really compelled me.
Uh, and I think the, the extension of that then was once we start getting into these questions of mixed realities, where we aren’t tied to the same kinds of codes or bodies or forms of physical representation that live performance in my experience had traditionally been linked to, that became something that I thought was going to be a challenge, but one that would be really instructive in how I think through projects that I’m involved with in the [00:13:00] future. Mixed reality or, you know, more traditional live performance.
Patrick: Awesome. Yeah.
Zach: I mean, not to, sorry.
Patrick: Yeah, go for it.
Zach: I was going to say not to like maybe jump us somewhere entirely different, but I think that that’s one of the things that then when I was in the room dramaturging Bury the Wren, the kind of intersections within that project of live performance and different forms of mixing reality within it.
The starting in VR, moving into AR, moving into traditional live performance, but always with this kind of ghosting of the actor in the process felt really, really interesting for me to engage with, both as someone who was outside the project watching and kind of like trying to figure out what was going on from outside it, but also when I would step into the position of participant and actually experience those kinds of mediation, [00:14:00] and the kinds of relationships that, you know, naturally or otherwise formed as we were moving through this project.
Patrick: Uh, so that’s actually leads really greatly into my really, really greatly, yeah, that leads really well into my next question.
Um, so like, I, I do want to talk a little bit about, a little bit more about your role in the process. And I think, it would be really great to frame it in what you just said, right? The duality of your role, sort of the bifurcation of duties of, of, participant and observer and how do you… the best way that I can think about this is like, when you have a TV series that is successful and suddenly you get an episode where the director is the lead actor and you’re like, come on, really? Like, how does that work? Oh, okay. I guess it does work because it is mediated through film and you can step back and watch it and go back in. But [00:15:00] this process that is, that is sort of being constructed as you go, right, there’s no framework, in which you can step out and say, okay, there’s, you know, a second AD or a third AD or, so how did you, how did you handle both of those responsibilities and still keep yourself?
You know… How did you handle both of those responsibilities?
Zach: Yeah. You know, I think that this, I think the distinction between like participant and observer is really, really fascinating because that’s something that I think this project, and a lot of projects with mixed reality that I’ve either read on or encounter, start to really muddy.
And one of the things that really draws me to dramaturgy is that that’s already kind of muddied there. You know, whenever I go into a room as a dramaturg, whether it’s traditional like text-based dramaturgy, or if it’s, you know, developmental [00:16:00] in some way, or if it’s like, you know, getting into like the fun, like again, like academic taxonomies, is it like perceptual dramaturgy, is it like…
One of the things that’s always really nice is what underlies it is that there’s this really blurred line between participant and observer for me as the dramaturg, right. I need to be able to step in and out of both of those things and sometimes occupy both at the same time. The benefit of doing it in this project, aside from the fact that Beth was very open in us kind of figuring out a process as we were going along, and very open to taking not only what we could pull that is of use from traditional structures that we know around dramaturgy and traditional models, but also how we could critique those models for our own use in the room, became really, really important.
And for [00:17:00] this project specifically then, I feel like I keep doing this thing where I’m like going out to the point, coming back to the point, going out from the point of the back to it.
Patrick: That’s why we’re doing, that’s exactly why we’re doing these interviews: to see how this situates in, I won’t say the bigger context of the field, but the field that we all know, because there is a lot of research done about, let’s say, text-based narrative art forms.
Um, and so, so going back and pulling back in is… that’s what we’re doing here, so great.
Zach: Oh, totally.
And I mean, like, I think again, like Bury the Wren the project, what really compelled me dramaturgically about it is in some way, your participant in the project has to also occupy those spaces, right? Both of you look at the script, and if you think about the experience that this participant’s in with the headset and the live actor, the headset initially again, like set so that you cannot see anything that is not this virtually created space, although you’re obviously occupying a physical space, then augmented reality, which the, with these kinds of like, tin-typey sepia [00:18:00] tones, and then moving into live performance, there are a lot of moments where that participant we quickly learned, was also in some ways, always stepping across this same divide that I was as a dramaturg. You know, there is a way that, you know, I, as the participant, could have done a lot of the same things I was doing dramaturgically in the room, where I was like, oh, this is actually really curious to me. I’d like to hear more about this. And I would go over to this virtual pile of bones, or I would like get on the floor and try to figure out what was happening with this book that I couldn’t touch but like I could clearly see the cover of, and all of these objects that you’re manipulating with, um, this like thing that we’ve called a variety of fruit and vegetable, but I think the apple is what we ended up settling on, this weighted tracker that would populate an image that the script is talking about: a physical object, a stool, a book, a [00:19:00] picture, teapot, et cetera.
Zach: So I think like that, that negotiation of the dramaturg became the negotiation of the participant.
And we were really trying to figure out how we could create this model specific to the participant of Bury the Wren to explore this, you know,
Patrick: And yeah, and how did that change as it moved into, like, let’s say user testing phases, right. As, as other people started experiencing it and you, you moved into observer and then participant and observer, how did, how did other participants experience this? How were you able to observe that?
Zach: Um, one thing just in terms of practicality, one thing that was really interesting was, another student who was assigned to this project, it was… She has vertigo in virtual reality spaces, and augmented reality spaces, as well as the professor who at one point had to come and like [00:20:00] observe, and what we did is, during it, we were like, oh, would you be comfortable being the participant? She’s like, actually I have horrible, like, you know, vertigo and dizziness in virtual spaces. So, one of the things just like purely practically, we had to figure out how we could create a safer experience for people experiencing this, especially since, you know, it’s not exceptionally common that you’re like, oh, I’m going to go for a night at the theatre, and you go into this, you know, virtual reality guided experience with, you know, a voice from someone who’s walking around you. And occasionally, you know, tinkling with objects in one corner and you turn around and you’re like, whoa, this is not what I’m like seeing and hearing and working through that tension became just a practical concern at one point. We wanted to make sure that no one would fall or trip or, get dizzy to the point where they’re, you know, going to vomit in this, in this [00:21:00] of rehearsal or performance space. What, in terms of, as we were stepping in and out, we ended up finding that something really interesting is, the script was based…
I don’t know how much of this you might already have. So feel free to stop me if I’m retreading a bunch of stuff. Not necessary…
Patrick: Even, even if you are it’s, it’s always nice to hear it from a different perspective. So I welcome it.
Zach: Okay. Awesome. So the script was primarily devised, and devised through kind of a two slash two and a half step process with the first actress who was Annie, then the second actress took like that initial suggestion of a script and devised based on that and her experience in the role. And then, that kind of third step would be the one that I think would be where I think it would be the applied dramaturgy of, you know, me and the other student and the [00:22:00] professor and our experiences in the room where we’d be like, oh wow, this specific object, the candelabra is supposed to be exerting some kind of force in the narrative, but it actually doesn’t feel like I’m invested in it. Why am I not invested in this like virtual object that is on fire in front of me? And like, by all, by all means should be like one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. But like at what point did I feel like I’ve kind of like already acclimated to this space, to the point where I’m distancing myself from it?
So what we did is it was like partially text-based and partially like our, our form of dramaturgy for this project was figuring out the moments when we were more keyed into the tension between this virtual object and what we are expecting it to be. Right. Why it felt weirder to hold a stool, which we realized was [00:23:00] initially rooted in the middle of the bottom of the stool.
So like we were holding it by nothing as opposed to holding it like by a leg or something. And also moments that were already naturally being generated in the script. At one point, I think in the second version of the script, it was… either the photograph or the teapot, but it was actually directing the participant how to look at it.
Um, you know, it’d be like, oh look, this is the dress that I was wearing when, and you would naturally be like, oh, that’s the dress. So figuring out how to like mediate these moments of allowing you to acclimate on your own terms as participant, but also guiding that so that when all of a sudden you go from this, I want to say the stool to the candelabra.
But anyway, like you’re looking close at something and all of a sudden a flaming candelabra is in your face and you have this moment of… Again, like mediating that experience felt really [00:24:00] particular to this process. Whether it’s of this project or of mixed reality in general, I think might be, a little bit up to debate because of, obviously the breadth of mixed reality performance.
But it was certainly something that I recognized as kind of guiding us in a way that I hadn’t yet thought of in traditional text-based or live performance narrative.
And, and then what was the relationship like between you and the rest of the team? Like, again, knowing that this is specific to this process and these personalities and these types of creators, do you feel that, that you sort of slipped into a role?
Um, what gap did you fill? Right. Like that is to say was Beth really focused on something and somebody else really focused on something else? And so you, you were able to say like, okay, I’m going to focus on these types of mediated moments or I’m going to focus on… [00:25:00] Where did you, where were you able to slip in there?
Zach: Yeah. I think that, kind of the natural, uh… hmm. The natural model for what we were doing here had a lot of us kind of stepping in and out of multiple roles and bridging them, but to think of the kind of like a broader strokes of it, I think that Beth was really interested in the historicity of it.
Right. She would be the kind of person who, if we would need to check in on something like, is this something that we, you know, quote unquote, can claim about Annie’s story? Can we do that? We would go to her, right. The, kind of like acting beats and script-based moments was something that our actor would fall into.
Um, and I really think that dramaturgically, for me and the other student in the room, it [00:26:00] was really, really focused on participation. Right. So like, we really were… oh, and of course Neil, the co-creator would be, I think, the more like kind of on the, like, I hesitate to say tech side, cause there’s like a lot of tech going on there, but like the, like building of virtual spaces and like, some more of those, traditionally tech needs.
Again, I don’t know that I have a great vocabulary despite having worked so intensely on this process for, for that. But yeah, I think for, for me specifically, it was really figuring out the participant’s relationship to what was being presented, whereas it allowed, I guess by, by extension, it allowed the rest of the team to really focus on the experience itself.
Um, and I would be kind of like that step to how do [00:27:00] we, how do we bring this thing to an audience, you know, not, I didn’t have to program it or anything, but like, in terms of the experience itself.
Patrick: Yeah. Understood. No, that makes perfect sense. I mean, that’s, you know, in this, in the small scope of what I’ve been looking at so far with this project, those blurred lines, those, those, the loss of the traditional roles seems to be pretty prominent, which is, which is why I sort of ask.
So that’s interesting information. Do you wish there was anything more or less that you had been asked to do on this process?
Zach: Uh, you know, I think initially I did, because I think I came into this with a really rooted version of what I thought dramaturgy was. And it was very much rooted again in like traditional text-based live performance. So I [00:28:00] found myself really invested in picking apart some of these like narrative questions to a point that I don’t think necessarily benefits the project.
You know, I think that I was so interested in picking apart the thing that I didn’t think about where I might be more useful, which is this relationship outside of the thing and with the things. So I think that definitely initially I thought like, oh, all I am, is this person who sometimes jumps into virtual reality and sometimes asks a question.
And I was like, actually, maybe there’s more, more work there than that, like initially relatively dismissive, articulation was. And I mean, do I think I ever like, went into this process being like, oh, wow, I’m just like some dude who’s going to like sit in the corner the whole time? No. Like I knew that, I knew Beth well enough to know that like, we would have like [00:29:00] an actual, like really nice collaborative and like fruitful relationship as dramaturg and creator.
But I think it really took a lot of this kind of process back and forth that we were working through for me to realize the depths of what I could do, you know, of what I could actually bring to this process, because I was so used to, you know, being the person who’s like, how come they talk about the photograph and the envelope on page 30, but that never came up until now?
You know? I was, you know, based on my background as a performer and a playwright, I was very interested in a different kind of logic than I think I ended up bringing to the project.
Patrick: And so that’s, so that’s awesome. That’s an awesome observation.
These roles don’t exist yet. Right. Like, or, or, or these roles are being better understood as we, [00:30:00] as we try them. So how would you start this differently next time? What would you come in knowing next time? Even if it’s just another, mediated experience, like what would you prepare yourself for, um, next time?
Zach: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that one thing that I definitely like to remind myself going forward into a process like this, would be to figure out how to establish this like openness around building the process together. Right? What is the useful check-in structure for us that it is actually serving the creator and other creative professionals, myself included, in the room? How do we create some kind of clear but changeable working agreement between us that can really allow us to bring our expertises, but [00:31:00] through the lens or focus of this project? I think, again, one of these things that I found myself always kind of pushing back against, I was like, oh, well, this isn’t what a dramaturg does.
And I was like, well, to be fair, there are people who’d be like this isn’t what theater does either. So maybe what we can do is, we can allow for that exploration and that changeability in a way that is productive for us, you know, instead of coming in and being like, okay, this is my set role, these are the things I will do, be like, okay, we recognize that we’re all a little permeable here. So how can we create an experience for us working in the room, or a model or a working structure that allows us to change it when it needs to be changed because we’re already changing something else.
Patrick: Totally. Yes. [00:32:00] Awesome. I’m just thinking of like, if I’ve captured that correctly, that I’m going to remember the value of that statement later. I guess I could listen to the video.
So then to build off of that, um, do you feel it’s important to have a dramaturg or the role of a dramaturg present in these experiences?
Zach: Um, yes, I do, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a dramaturg. Because I think like obviously I’ll have to have to admit my bias being a dramaturg. Of course I’d be like, well, yes, of course you need a dramaturg in the room. But I think especially for creating these new relationships in the room and creating these new relationships in the performance, dramaturgy allows you to make this, you know, safer, more [00:33:00] engaging, more or less immersive, [inaudible] based on what you’re going for, experience, that a lot of the other people in the room might have some kind of unintentional unawareness of. You know, if you’re focused on the historicity of the thing, if you’re focused on the acting choices of the thing, of the technology of the thing, even the narrative construction of the thing, or even just the participant experience of the thing, dramaturgy can explicitly allow you to kind of go in and out of these roles or facilitate other people going in and out of these roles, in conversation with each other.
So I… long, long, long, long way of saying I do think dramaturgy is incredibly necessary, partially because it allows you to really think inside and outside of the thing as is useful for the project.
Patrick: [00:34:00] Yeah. Awesome. That’s, um, that’s kind of what I get from talking to Beth and reading some of the paperwork on this. It really feels like the dramaturg acts as a bit of a guide, right? For some of this, really allowing, creating a space in which moments can be explored from a, from a variety of angles, in a variety of ways, without anybody losing sight of the specificity of their role when they need to be specific on that stuff. So, um, that’s helpful. Thank you.
Zach: I think also one of these things, like if you think of the dramaturg, maybe not even necessarily as a guide, cause I don’t know that I felt myself as guiding anything, but as like, you know, whoever the person on your expedition is who has like the backpack with like all the maps and like everything.
I’m like, look, I don’t know if this is going to be our best way forward, but I’ll tell you that, like, if we look at the geographical map, we can go on this path. If we look at like the resources map, we can go down this path. If we look at like, you know, animal migration maps, we can go down this path.
[00:35:00] But you know, of course these maps are all things that are like, okay, if we look at Pokemon Go, if we look at traditional VR, if we look at Oculus, if we look at Hedda Gabler, you know, what are these different ways that I can help you forge your path? You know, I don’t know that I’m necessarily guiding anyone down a specific path. Um, or at least I try actively not to. I just try to illuminate the different paths that can be taken to get there.
Patrick: Thank you. That’s awesomely said.
Zach: I think that, in addition to this, you know, that might be something that can, can be taken forward usefully into this process to recognize that, you know, traditional dramaturgical models are like, I think generally… the academic in me doesn’t want me to say this, but like… [00:36:00] generally are like, okay, yeah, you want to like lay out these possibilities, but like in practice it usually ends up feeling weighted or hierarchical. And I think one of the benefits of this process is that Beth worked very hard to push against this hierarchy. So even things where we were kind of like the experts, right, whether it was technology, history, acting, participant, whatever, we would be encouraged to make offers to all of those things, you know?
Um, and that’s something that I think your dramaturg can do as well. Right. They can create the space and mechanisms by which we can figure out how to make these offers and how to negotiate these offers. You know, sometimes it comes down to just like, no, I can’t have the technology do that. Or, no, Post Malone didn’t exist in the 1700s, and we’re not looking for that kind of project, you know, but figuring out how to, especially in [00:37:00] collaborative rooms, negotiate against hierarchy is something that I’d like to take forward as well.
Again, this kind of like metaphor of exploration, in the room as well, and with mixed reality presentations, feels really apt to me.
Patrick: Totally. So that’s sort of a good segue into my final sort of set of questions and, and, the final area. So this was done inside of an academic setting, in which technology and space and time and advisement and the lack of the need to produce for profit, let’s say, right. Like, this is, this is very, this is my US-based model showing a bit, right, where things don’t often… people don’t often fund process, they fund product. And so this was created as part of a, as part of an [00:38:00] intellectual educational experience and exploration. Were there things… what was the advantage and disadvantage of working within that model?
Zach: Oh, totally. Yeah. The first thing that I thought of too was, the fact that we didn’t have to produce for profit, which really allowed for what I think was like a much stronger project in the end, because even though we were unlike the other two projects that were selected, we had a production that was going up, right.
We got on this project and they were like, all right, in like two months, we are going to have presentations of this thing. So we did still have the pressure of like producing for a public, but not for a profit. And I think that, in an academic environment, one thing that it really does is because you don’t have to worry about things like profit or, you know, even to a certain extent, we had the slot, we had the time and like if literally no [00:39:00] one showed up, it would have been like a real shame because it’s a great project, but like, it would not have reflected necessarily poorly on anything we had done, but maybe marketing, which again, didn’t, didn’t fall down to us.
It was more a departmental thing, which to be clear, every slot was filled into, like I had to add more and like accommodate other people. Like it was a very popular project. But just to say, you know, one of the real pressures that was alleviated, and allowed us to really explore within this, right.
I felt like a lot of us could leave some offers that we were, might have been more insistent about. Right. You know, there are certain things that, you know, I’m sure that came up in the process. I wish I had a more specific example to draw on, but where I’d be like, no, one’s going to sit through this, you know?
Cause I think that’s the thing, like when you’re producing for profit, you’re like, [00:40:00] everyone’s going to go home and like tell their friends, this is dumb, don’t go. What it allowed us to do was actually figure out, how we could make it engaging in ways that I guess aren’t even like necessarily traditional, right?
The benefit of producing in an educational atmosphere is, at the lack of being obvious about it, the education of it, you know, in allowing us to figure out what our new metrics of success for this project would be. Right. And I think one of the metrics for me was definitely figuring out the relationships that naturally formed in the room and how you would work into them and against them. You know, are there, are there moments where it is useful for me to be like, okay, well, like, you know, maybe history could win out about this thing or like [00:41:00] maybe we can be a little more like loosey goosey about this thing, or we don’t have to worry so much about the distance in, you know, our historical retelling of this because we’re trying to reframe it anyway, so why don’t we focus on the experience of these realities or the transitions, I guess, is another great example and maybe the example I should’ve gone for first, but like, I think what it really allowed us is to take the amount of time that we needed to realize that we were not only dramaturging one relationship and one participant experience, but at least three. You know, we had the virtual reality experience. We had the augmented reality experience and we had the carbon reality experience, which then, arguably, we also had many experiences on either side, which was, Beth leading the person into the black box to have, you know, kind of the setup, uh, and then at the end, they’re left alone. The participant is left alone in [00:42:00] this area that has since been populated with set pieces and props and is allowed to explore it. So we were actually able to really delve into each of these things individually. And then, because we had that freedom, we were able to figure out the logical through-line of them, whereas for a more traditional process, I could see myself very easily being mired down in the through-line before figuring out individually what each piece is doing, for this project specifically anyway.
Patrick: What was the outcome based on that type of explanation, the freedom that you were able to create, or really, how did you look at it, that you were allowed to like dive into the three different experiences, right? The AR, the VR, and the carbon based, and then build your through-line. If, as you say, the time might have been different and you had to come at it from [00:43:00] timeline, or from through-line and then create the rest, how might that have made a different kind of show for the audience experience?
Zach: Hmm. I mean, I think one thing that I definitely asked myself is like, what if this had been framed as a mixed reality experience, as opposed to, I believe the, like the, like marketing and other materials call it a VR/AR/carbon reality experience? Cause I think that there’s something in that kind of specificity of layering that really spoke to me as the dramaturg, and I think spoke to the project as a whole. You know, it’s talking about this woman, who’s been kind of like written out of history, lost to time. So she’s already got like these kind of layers of removal that we’re dealing with. And then by framing it as VR/AR/carbon reality, and then again, these kind of [00:44:00] like too many modes of like a live interaction that bookend it, it feels like that offered us a really useful mode of layering as well, where the form and the content of this performance really felt to, to speak to each other. And I’m not sure that this entirely answers your question, but I feel like that was the major, major takeaway for me.
Patrick: No, that makes sense.
The whole process should have a dramaturg. So that sort of goes without say, but what parts of the development, like the creation development of the experience, the testing, let’s call that sort of like dry runs, rehearsals, tech rehearsal-type stuff, and then previews where things are still changing, and then, you know, show opens kind of to use, to use traditional theatre terms. In which spots are the dramaturg sort of most valuable, perhaps second most valuable? [00:45:00] Which ones do you think really were able to be expanded because there was a dramaturg that was able to, you know, give, give different, different input, uh, and co-creation? Does that make sense? It’s like, I’m not trying to say… when I write this up, I want to make sure that I say very clearly, this is why a dramaturg is important for these parts… for all of the process, especially here. And no, this shouldn’t be a one-day experience.
Zach: Oh, for sure.
Patrick: Not to lead the research, but that’s…
Zach: Yeah, no, I mean, I think that, you know, I, I would hesitate of course, as it sounds like you would also hesitate to say that, like, you know, you never need a dramaturg in the process.
Um, I could see a dramaturg being maybe more active or more apparently useful as you’re moving kind of your rehearsals into previews and then, you know, getting up to, getting kind of [00:46:00] like your draft, whatever your equivalent of that would be, if it would be like your kind of like devised moments and, um, technological objects and headset to use, again, Bury the Wren as an example. I could see that my particular use in this project was to come at it in kind of a mid-stage of development because they already had kind of the general arc, the general material they wanted to work with, both in terms of narrative material and technology.
Um, and they had kind of a general frame of what they were looking to do. So I think as soon as they had like the material and a goal, then what I was able to do is be like, okay, so does this material serve this goal? And in what ways does or doesn’t it? And I think that changeability, I mean, in terms of previews, what would have been like essentially previews for us or like tech week…
Things were still changing, you know, and from like, even like a dramaturgical [00:47:00] thing. It wasn’t just like, oh, this asset isn’t loading, we’re going to have to replace this. It was like, oh, this actually still doesn’t make sense. Can we further direct this experience? Or, we want to leave something new in here.
Right. There were things that, you know, Beth was adding and either the other student or myself would like notice and we’d be like, oh wait, is that, is that something that I’m like noticing for the first time? Or is it new or is it like, you know, is it something that grabbed my attention because it’s there or because it’s new, you know?
Um, so I think that definitely, kind of like moving rehearsals towards previews and through previews, it is of particular use, especially like with the traditional model. I think by the time you hit performance, it can still be of use, but it would need a very different implementation, I think, than a lot of traditional production models.
Um, but yeah, I [00:48:00] think that would be kind of the, the sweet spot that really worked for us.
Patrick: In the perfect world, would you like to be in the room as much as the actors? Would you like to be in pre-production meetings with the directors and designers? Like in the ideal world, what parts of the process would you like to be involved in, and how deeply, like, you know, parachute in for a day to say like, oh, got it, I see what’s going on. See you next week.
Zach: Yeah, I mean, I think like maybe the, the ideal… and again, like, speaking primarily informed by this experience, which again, the academic in me is just like always ticking that off in the back of my head. I think like maybe light involvement in pre-production like to the point where they’ve had their kind of, the amount of time that they’ve needed to develop that initial material.
Again, like pre-production is, for this project in particular, was like kind of difficult. And I imagine it would be for mixed reality performance in [00:49:00] general, even like thinking of pre-production as, you know, is pre-production like post-script and tech until like we get an actor, or is it like, you know, figuring out where that line is?
It’s a little difficult for me, but I’d say probably being somewhere, you know, once or twice mid to late in the design process to just again, have that check-in of like, here’s your goal. And now you’re like, I see your materials. And then moving into rehearsal would be, I think the, the most time involvement that I think would be of use for a dramaturg.
Um, and then probably by the end of rehearsals, you would need to, in the ideal world, figure out how much of previews are useful for. You know, cause I, for this project, I think I was, it became very clear that I would be of use through our tech [00:50:00] week. But I could definitely see, at some point, like you should have at least a little involvement in previews because you’ll have new participants, so you’ll actually be able to like see someone who hasn’t seen the entire process and be able to talk some of those things out, but maybe you don’t need to be as involved as you were in rehearsals. It’s like kind of like check in, involvement, check in, might be…
Zach: It might be a useful model.
Yeah. And again, fully acknowledging that every process, every person, I mean, devised versus, versus script existing. Like I totally get it.
Zach: And I think… sorry.
Patrick: Yeah, this is my way of like, again, advocating for different funding models that say this, this, this team member, this co-creator is valuable for these reasons. When you fill out grant applications, please consider a budget line for this.
Zach: Yeah. I mean, I, I do think, even beyond the, the [00:51:00] general caveat I’ve been giving of, you know, very much informed that this process, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I do think that kind of negotiation of usefulness in previews might be something that transcends even that. You know, I think that might be something that just might always be a part of the process.
It might not be, it might be that, you know, put in a line item for the amount of time for previews, but you might find that like, you’re, again, kind of stepping in and out of this model that you were working in, in rehearsal, and then also figuring out some of how the more traditionally external facing things have to be adjusted or prepared.
Right? How do we set up the, the like waiting area before they get into this space. How do, you know, it might be that the dramaturg has to then take on some of that straddling those two spaces, you know?
Patrick: Gotcha. I do, I guess, have one, one more final thought now that I’m thinking [00:52:00] about. So, so we have this fantastic interview and this is great.
And I think what we don’t always do so well as, so when we’re in an academic environment, we do it well, because we, we, we sort of have to, we talk about our process. We record our process. We write about our process. We share our process in a, in a retrospective way, right. In a way that is thought through that is, that is captured, that is presented.
Um, I, I give that context because we do that as well, even when we don’t do it in an academic way, but it tends to be at the bar or through some kind of war story or, or, you know… So how… Do you have any thoughts or any plans? Like how do you think we might want to start recording, capturing, talking about, disseminating this information, on these kinds of processes?
Zach: I mean, I think that this is something that we actually might have like a useful model with some of the things that we’ve already got, you know, if you can [00:53:00] think of like the amount of, you know, playbill videos that are like behind the scenes, in the rehearsals of Oklahoma, like, you know, I could see something like that being a useful model, not only before the run, but also during the run.
Um, because for especially one-on-one mixed reality performances, you can’t have like a traditional talkback because, it’s one person, or even if you were like, you know, oh, we’re going to like run eight people tonight and we’re going to have a talk back. It’s like, all right, well, that first person has to wait two hours.
They’re likely not going to wait for two hours, you know? So I think traditional backs, which I put very, very high value in, especially because they can be really modified to the room. I think that would, that would require a level of pre-thought that I don’t have right now, or a level of forethought that I don’t have right now.
But I think that we already have some models for how we [00:54:00] do disseminate these processes. And I think that there’s still room to grow within those, you know. I don’t think it always has to be, you get two of your actors to blurb the show and that’s like you’re inside the rehearsal room. I think it could be actually, discussing some of the processes.
I mean, I think of my background, relatively limited background in fundraising. I was working for a dance company and like, one of the things that came up was, you know, how many of our donors would be swayed by something like, oh, can we come to a rehearsal? You know, even if it’s just like last 10 minutes of rehearsal and then like a Q and A, you know. I think that we do have models for this. It would just be a matter of figuring out how to adapt those models or maybe enrich those models with our lens of mixed reality performance.
Patrick: Really well said, Zach. That’s awesome.
Zach: Thank you.
Patrick: Is there anything else that you’d want to say, or is there any questions that I didn’t ask that you wish I [00:55:00] had asked or that you wanted to answer?
Zach: Um, nah, I think like you definitely like pulled a lot of things out that I didn’t even know were in there. So, yeah, no, I think that pretty much covers at least just kind of the, the broad strokes of what dramaturgy for this project was. And probably a lot of the small strokes of what it was for this project in particular as well.
Patrick: No but it’s fantastic. Again, thank you like this, this is going to be, this is sort of one, one dip into a great large area that, hopefully we’ll, we’ll make other people looking to explore this, this avenue or an avenue like this inside or outside of academia, a little braver, right. They’ll have a little bit more knowledge, when they start doing it.
And so they will take the risk, take the chance and, and try it. That’s, that’s sort of the biggest fear I think, is when you are, when you are [00:56:00] doing something that hasn’t really been done before, and you don’t quite know how to start, especially if you are a big or small company, that is, that is, you know, this is a risk either way, knowing that people have gone before you, even if, even if people want to say, well, they did it that way.
I’m going to do it the complete opposite, which, that’s awesome. Like it’s got, they’ve got the history, they’ve got some background.
Yeah, Zach, how did you, take notes on this process? How did you record this process?
Zach: Um, so there were a couple of different things that we used. One thing we did was, Beth recorded some of our kind of explorations throughout the process where she would set up an external camera to… usually a static camera, or she would take stills moving around the space as we were doing kind of like run-throughs, to figure out what some of our natural, kind of inclinations towards this piece were. [00:57:00] One thing that was particularly useful for us was because we had two students assigned to this project, um, whether she was in VR or I was in VR, we could just yell things. I say yell, it was a very small room, so we wouldn’t yell, we would project things to each other. And, you know, maybe the other student would be like, oh, I need to sit down. And I’d be like, all right. You know, at this point in the script is when she does it or like I’m bored.
And like, I don’t think any of us, like explicitly said… we might’ve explicitly said I’m bored. But you know, what’s, what’s the moment of us like stepping back, maybe that’s a better frame. Where would we say, oh, I’m stepping back or, oh, I’m leaning in… those were kind of our general… pulling back and pulling in were our, metaphors that we would use, or, you know, at a certain point, we had tried an actor delivering [00:58:00] lines from like different places.
So we would just have the actor deliver that line. One person would speak. So if the other student was in VR, she would speak to her experience. I would like take it all down. And then at the end, usually for a half hour, the other student, and I would take our notes, put them all together, and then of course filter through what was actually like useful for the process and give like the full notes, but also like our condensed "these are what we think the big themes are."
Usually just having the full notes for record. I don’t know that they were all of incredible use to delve into like our granular, like moments of like, I’m really like focused on the fact that my nose is itching right now. But like if it came up five rehearsals in a row, we’d be like, all right, maybe we need to figure out some kind of adjustment here.
Or, the big one was seeing the light in the, in the goggles, in the headset. So we had the headset that initially we kept being like, there’s this weird, like blur on everything. And we realized that what was [00:59:00] happening is because the other student and I both wear glasses, the headset was being pushed in a way where it was still letting light in.
So it was through us giving those like repeated, just verbal notes, and major props to our actor who could just like keep delivering the script, cause by like the third or fifth run through, she would just barrel through. Like, it did not matter what we were saying back to her. You know, she would still be talking about like this very specific, like historical moment and having to listen to us, be like, why is everything so bright?
I’m supposed to be underground. So in terms of… those were kind of like some of the technical, practicalities of what we did to actually note-take in VR.
Patrick: Awesome. Cool. Thank you, Zach.
Zach: No problem.