A Publication of WTVP

Dr. George H. Brown, chairman of Bradley University’s Department of Theatre Arts and interim chair of Interactive Media, discusses the digital transformation of those fields.

How has the rise of digital impacted the media landscape in which you work?
Oh, significantly. From journalism through live theatre to all the arts, the influence of digital media is transforming almost everything that we’re doing. Not only in the ways that we create, but also how we communicate. The Interactive Media program at Bradley has gone through exponential change over the last five years alone. We’re now offering programs in gaming and animation, as well as traditional web work and graphic arts. The rise of digital technologies has made things easier in some ways, and more complex in others, due to the complexity we can bring to the table because of what the tools give us.

What does the Interactive Media curriculum focus on?
Interactive Media has three primary tracks: animation, gaming, and traditional web and digital design. Gaming is probably the most significant new track. Across the board, gaming has become a significant new industry, and it’s impacting everybody. I mean, if you think about it, the musicians—the music for gaming—is a multi-billion-dollar industry now. When you look at creating avatar performers, you’re actually taking live performers into the studio, putting them in front of green screens and creating virtual environments and streaming those assets into the games. So when you look at music, when you look at theatre, when you look at filmmaking…when you look at all the visual arts as well as the performing arts, digital media is impacting all of that, and gaming is moving right along with it.

Discuss some of the recent trends in the industry with the rise of new digital tools.

Software is developing exponentially, as computer systems are. Macintosh has just gone through a major revision of Final Cut Pro, the film editing program; they’re actually changing the interfaces and things. So one of the trends in the industry is that you don’t teach the software, you teach the techniques that go with the software, so that as new versions come out, you have literacy—the ability to quickly jump into new programs and learn them. It’s not as much about new technologies—it’s the application of those new technologies, and the software is coming along.

If you look at the film industry and the ability to work in 3D, that’s a growing trend. Mobile phone technologies have become significant communication tools. I think those are probably the most significant things.

What was your aim in co-creating the concept for America Live? (Editor’s note: America Live was an interactive, collaborative production between the Theatre and Interactive Media departments.)
We truly wanted to create an interactive live performance piece; that was the key. We wanted to have the audience using a wide variety of interfaces, but we wanted the audience to be able to interface and actually control the direction of where the performance went. We had, in the end, something like 19 different variations of the play, depending on which choices the audience made, that we developed as we worked it in rehearsal. So, being able to respond to that type of interaction, and being spontaneous and truthful in it, was really the challenge for the actors; and at the same time, creating a technological network that supported those interfaces was the challenge for the people working in IM.

Are other schools doing similar things in their theatre departments?
There’s a trend moving across the industry to bring it into the 21st century. And one of the things we have to realize is that our students in theatre arts are not just going to be actors on the stage, they’re going to be working in the film industry, in the gaming industry, and in television. They’re going to be working as voice-over artists as well as live performers. So to train them for the spectrum of what’s available, we really have to step into the 21st century and start to look at how these technologies enhance storytelling.

Where do you see the field headed?
It’s really kind of unlimited. What tends to happen is that as people find a creative solution to a problem, using digital technologies, somebody takes it to the next level. If you look at how social media developed…[it] went to another level when mobile phone technology started to develop. So we’re seeing layering, and I think that’s happening in all the arts, as well as interactive media—somebody comes up with a unique idea, and somebody else takes that idea and adds another level to it.

What we’re doing in the theatre is no different than what we were doing 2,500 years ago, except for the technology itself. Theatre, the performing arts and dance have long integrated the most recent technologies into their shows. The ancient Greeks used simple cranes and levers to put gods on the stage, and now we’re doing that through digital media and telematics using high-bandwidth Internet. So we’re really doing the same thing, we’re just using the tools that we have at hand. I think that we’ll always continue to develop as the technology develops. iBi