Video Chat in Artistic Endeavors

skype-iconIt goes without saying that the travel associated with our artist endeavors is not the most sustainable. I’ve been to so many conferences this last year, mostly traveling by plane. Next week I’m off to Europe where I’ll be staying in Copenhagen for COP15 and Wooloo.org‘s New Life Festival, but I’m also headed to London for the Future Arcola Launch and, it’s looking like Prague as well, to check in with a project for the next PQ in June of 2011.

I personally love traveling. I feel guilty, yes, but I love going places. I also feel there is no substitute for in-person discussions. The spontaneity and intimacy of direct contact is important and this is easiest to accommodate face-to-face and in the flesh. And, even when it’s not about having a one-on-one, there is also that just showing up most of the time is a big deal. I maintain that our “success” with the CSPA is due to persistence and “showing up”.

Two weeks ago, I was in Orlando for LDI for a full day of Green Sessions for the show technology crowd put together by Bob Usdin and Annie Jacobs from Showman Fabricators. There I had the chance to meet Bryan Raven of White Light in the UK again. We had been on a roundtable panel at the Theatre Materials/Material Theatre conference at the Central School of Speech and Drama‘s Center for Excellence in Theatre Training in April of 2008. That previous conference was also when I was able to meet, and have a drink with, Ben Todd from Arcola. Ben, who was not able to come to Orlando, and was instead in Stockholm (maybe you saw his post early this week) , was present via a video chat to talk about Future Arcola.

With the ubiquity of broadband connections, more and more people seem to be relying on video conference/chat technology to get other busy, high profile, greener guests to be able to be in two spaces at the same time. And, as it tends to shake out, the resident technophile/ show technologist, I get the pleasure of making a lot of them work.

Google_Talk_icon_by_hungery5Last night, at California Institute of the Arts I set up a video chat audition for guest artists that will be in residency at REDCAT, CalArt’s downtown LA space. The Artists of Invasion from the Chicken Planet, are based in New York and, though of no sustainable intention, weren’t going to fly out to audition some of our actors to use in their residency for two hours.

The day before, we had tested the connection. We used the same computer with the same software on the same network (hardwired into the wall) that we’d use the next day. We tried Skype, which was too choppy, garbled and had a couple seconds delay that made it less than ideal. We then switched to iChat with AOL Instant Messenger accounts and after realizing another computer being connected was preventing a decent video link, it proved the smoothest and most immediate.

So last night, when we moved the computer into the room that we would be conducting the auditions in, we configured the machine the same way, but were not able to make a connection on iChat. Skype had the same issues. At the prompting of a student director who was assisting, we tried Gtalk Video chat. It ended up working immediately and with excellent quality.

Earlier in the year, at Earth Matters on Stage (EMOS), when Moe Beitiks had tried to link up Brent Bucknum to present his bio-remidative work via video chat, we tried ooVoo, which we gave up on in favor of iChat again. We had almost just given up, but I only thought to use iChar from the decent chats I had experienced with my brother-in-law who was living in Edinburgh at the time. Also at EMOS we had a video conference in the University of Oregon library with a panel in London arranged by the Ashden Directory, which used their dedicated video conferencing package.

aim_logo_2.jpgIn both situations the video wasn’t great, but we could sort of communicate. The Ashden Session involved each end of the discussion/video conference going into another room to watch a video and then coming back to discuss together. But there was lag and the video wasn’t particularly clear. The Brent Bucknam session was not bad, but very one-way. For Green Day at LDI, the audio was great, but in one session, with Seema Sueeko from Mo’olelo Performing Arts, the video was minutes behind the audio connection.

Having now had extensive experience with video conferencing in less than ideal situations, I do long for the day when we’ll be able to turn on whatever client we’re using to video chat and it works smoothly and immediately, let alone with high resolution. But, that day isn’t particularly close. There are a lot of variables in the way of making that happen. Network connections, equipment, client servers, client and local network traffic, sunspots, radio waves and the phases of the moon. Even when we tried to eliminate as many of those variables in Eugene as possible, it still didn’t work ideally. Or, what was ideally was not enough to convince.

Will our broadband video connections be able to save us the footprint of air travel for conferences and internationally collaborative meetings of the mind? Not yet. There might be some expensive corporate system out there, but we lowly green artists aren’t going to hold our breath waiting for that. Oprah’s skype seems to work fine, but I’ve never had such luck, so I leave that package just to replace my need for international phone calls.

I’d still rather sit and talk to you, especially when we aren’t both staring at our monitors in our Pajamas.

Also yesterday, Enci Box of Rebel Without a Car Productions came to speak to my and Leslie Tamaribuchi’s class, Sustainability Seminar. She can to talk about producing a short film as sustainably as possible. This included not using cars and transporting everything by bike with the help of the LA Greensters (green teamsters). She made the trip from East Hollywood, in the center of Los Angeles, to the edge of the county, where CalArts resides in Valencia, without a car. She came up on a Metrolink commuter train, biking from the station to campus. She and I had worked out the options for getting there and she had the time to dedicate to coming up. Also, she was lucky to had met a guy who regularly made that journey to visit his girlfriend at CalArts and could relay the benefit of his experience. She then went back home, via bike. all roughly 30 miles of the trip. Coming up to CalArts, it took 2 hours. Returning was supposedly going to be one and a half hours. All for a 45 minute presentation.

I suppose we could have had her “skype” in (even if we don’t typically end up on skype), but having her there in-person was a much greater thrill and much more in the moment for the students and for her. Instead it took dedication to not leaving a footprint, and finding alternatives to get to the class. I’m very much indebted to Enci for making the journey, which some might say was epic, to present for a fraction of that travel time. But, I think it far surpassed our alternatives.

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