noun a movable plank used to board or disembark from a ship or boat (Compact Oxford English Dictionary)

Gangplank is a project initiated by Bruno Pocheron that addresses the question of networks and interdisciplinary creation processes in contemporary performance-making and the issue of technology as an evolving dramaturgic mean.

It will involve 11 artists from beginning of 2009, ending with a a public presentation after a two weeks working period in PACT Zollverein.

The project is to be the beginning of a continuous exchange with further practical working periods in the upcoming years.

I. About interdisciplinary creation processes and some related issues

The idea of a series of meetings and project realisation about interdisciplinary cooperation and artistic networks comes from the emergence of common concerns that I observed in several working processes and discussions with colleagues.

The notion of interdisciplinary work has become in the last years far more than a word often used in project descriptions, but a principle applied increasingly more often to the very process of creation. Interdisciplinary works are not any more understood, for instance, as a video projected on stage as a wallpaper, but more and more as interactions in real time between different media and different practices that create the dramaturgy of a performance. This development is largely influenced by the evolution of technologies applied to stage and by the spreading practice of collaborative working methods.
Three examples of projects I’ve taken part in the years 2006 and 2007 can help to understand how much interdisciplinary cooperation is a very concrete issue when creating stage work. In these examples, I will point out where I see interdisciplinary cooperation actually realised:

Still Lives (Anderson, Gies, Pelmus, Pocheron, Schad): Still Lives is essentially an interdisciplinary project in that it has originally been initiated by an architect, three choreographers and a light designer. Furthermore, it is a choreographic project that starts from the words of the inhabitants of a specific city (interviews) and translates into a stage work involving non professional participants, also from the city, as dancers. The interdisciplinary cooperation carries on down the line through the realisation of a digital system allowing interactions between sound, video and lights, in close relation to the interviews and the choreographic elements, allowing a dramaturgic approach that includes and binds together all the elements at play. Still Lives, by the strong concordance of its themes and of its shape, both activates all the elements at stakes in a theatrical performance and offers a strong relation to the specificity of each city where it is performed, thus allowing each spectator to engage into the piece on multiple levels.

Le Sacre du Printemps (Le Roy): In Le Sacre, the core of the performance is constituted of the relation between different practices and their displacement: choreographer Le Roy dances a classical orchestra conductor score on stage, conductor Berno Polzer and dramaturge Bojana Cvejic work with the choreographer on the musicality of his dance and the realism of his conducting, sound designer Peter Boehm reconstitutes a classical orchestra in the audience space through a complex system of sound spatialization, placing the spectator in the position of the musician facing the conductor. This interdisciplinary cooperation, in the confrontation of different fields of experience, is in the end the piece, as experienced by the spectators.

Vous en Rêvez (Youri l’ a fait) (Depaule): This piece is a very advanced attempt to activate the whole theatre apparatus through a computer network allowing the different media involved to influence each other in real time. This activation appears as a strong dramaturgic statement devoid of superfluous effects. In ’Vous en rêvez’, live music, sound, video, set and lights are melting into one another, affecting one another, triggering one another, including the actors whose voices are treated in real time. The fusion of the different media is there achieved and one can’t really speak any more about designs applied to the piece but only about a global dramaturgic approach that is the piece.

This actual cooperation between disciplines affects of course the relation between artists and technology, between artists and technicians. We are less and less confronted to situations of hyper-specialization and industry-like division of the work, such as, for instance a choreographer hiring a light designer in the last week of the creation process to apply an aesthetic treatment on the choreography. Interdisciplinary work leads to a simultaneous and interrelated development of all the elements that make a stage piece on a conceptual and on a practical level. It also induces to a fusion of the roles in creative processes (to simplify, artists start to develop more and more technical skills and desires, and technicians are more and more involved in the artistic discourse). From this fusion of roles, we can see new dramaturgical writings appear as well as new necessities.

In my opinion, a situation that has been latent since arts and so-called new technologies began to really operate together takes an important dimension right now when the practice of interdisciplinary cooperation reaches a large scale of projects, from big to small, from alternative to institutionally supported.
This practice affects drastically working methods, time frames necessary to do work and the economy of performance making in many different ways.
On the other hand, the structural frames in which we currently do work are far from being adapted to these emerging ways of working and still favour a model of division of the work: long studio rehearsal times without technique and very reduced stage time to finalize the performance, for instance, are still common practice.

Therefore it seems important to start gathering together a number of professionals coming from different backgrounds (choreography, spoken theatre, light, sound, music, visual arts, network development etc.) to address together, through practice and discussions, the following issues:

- interactivity and networks
- finding common languages
- strategy for the development of common tools
- circulation and sharing of knowledge
- the principle of open source
- publicizing our practices and the tools we develop
- the place of technology in performance-making
- how to include the notion of formation / education in our interdisciplinary practices
- which contexts, which time frames and which spaces to do work?
- activating the theatre space versus fitting in the theatre space
- continuous work, project-based work or both?
- money and production
- authorship and credits
- structural independence, to which extend?

II. Gangplank as a mobile bridge between people, practices and projects

Gangplank is thought as a collaborative platform operating and appearing on several levels:

1. Its main aims are:

Opening spaces for reflection, exchange and debate on interdisciplinary creation processes through:
- questioning and confronting ways of doing art and relations to technology in doing art
- developing and documenting dramaturgical, technological and communicative tools for network-based collaborative processes
- developing strategies of communication within network-based collaborative processes
- developing strategies of communication towards the other cultural actors

Creating cross-project platforms:
As a way to make things concrete and to initiate cooperative work, Gangplank invites each participant to share questions, desires, practical riddles he / she is dealing with in his / her current productions. The group will give feedback and collectively or in smaller working groups provide support to each participant’s work. This support can take different shapes: dramaturgic advice, technical advice, development of a piece of software for show control etc.

Developing and publishing open show control tools:
Open source software (like for instance Pure Data) that allows actual communication between computer controlled items (light interfaces, sound interfaces, video players for instance) through the development of common IT protocols are nowadays more widely used. More and more low cost / high power personal interfaces tend to challenge the classical equipment dedicated to show control in the theatres (like for instance the Lanbox DMX controller for lights). We could thus say that the practice of interdisciplinary creation goes together with a greater independence from the venues in terms of show control.
Gangplank aims to promote and develop further such tools for the possibilities they open in creative processes and to make them publicly accessible. The development of hardware / software tool-kits for show control is planned.

Providing a data-base for interdisciplinary artistic processes:
Gangplank aims to provide organized and rationalized documentation of cooperative artistic processes as well as libraries of downloadable material related to these.

2. To reach these aims, Gangplank will be articulated on two levels:

The first step we will make in january 2009 is to open a wiki internet page dedicated to communicate and to plan projects, to publish text material, to provide free and open source software tools designed for stage work, to create downloadable archives of manuals and informations related to these tools and to offer links to other structures.
This page will primarily be the tool used to discuss the topics we work on, organize the periods of physical work together and define concrete agendas.
Secondarily, this page will be the place to organize and publish documentation of the working process (texts, images, video) as well as software tools that will be developed.

The first physical working meeting under the name Gangplank will happen in PACT-Zollverein between the 29th of June and the 12th of July 2009. It will bring together 11 participants who in their stage work cross over artistic work and the practice of technologies (see biographies of the participants below).
During this period the participants will develop an interactive installation that materializes their exchange both on a theoretical and on a practical level.
A public presentation will happen in the end of the residency.
Further meetings will be organized following the residency in PACT-Zollverein.

Published 19 February 2009