David KS Tse: My technology

David KS Tse talks about using video projection and computer animation in his new stage production, 'Play to Win'
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The Independent Online

I began to understand the possibilities for visual technology in theatre after first using slide projection five years ago. The slides were of family portraits and enabled us to evoke feelings of memory and place other than through a complicated set. A box of slides is very portable and that makes it perfectly suited to small-scale touring - though it's a risky business if the slide projector gets jammed when you're a company who doesn't have the budget for technical support!

I began to understand the possibilities for visual technology in theatre after first using slide projection five years ago. The slides were of family portraits and enabled us to evoke feelings of memory and place other than through a complicated set. A box of slides is very portable and that makes it perfectly suited to small-scale touring - though it's a risky business if the slide projector gets jammed when you're a company who doesn't have the budget for technical support!

I have since used live video projection, and this has a very important part in ' Play to Win'. The play uses about nine minutes of specially treated video that represents the environment and characters in a computer game. The play was created for young people and I wanted to focus upon something that they could understand and computer games are a daily part of their own culture.

It has been a rapid learning curve that has challenged me from my initial hope of getting an animation company to use 3D modelling, to approaching PlayStation and finally settling upon a collaboration with the digital animation company Lost in Space. The potential of this project was very exciting, but making it happen was difficult and that's perhaps because we were all learning. And with technology, once it has been made and recorded it's difficult to change, unlike live theatre.

We decided on filming one of the actors playing all the computer game avatars and then getting Lost in Space to treat that with computer animation effects in post production. They animated digitised characters and backgrounds and will be projecting them, life-sized, on to the stage, so that real characters and computer characters will interact in real life.

We used the set as a screen because the designer liked the idea of the projection being textured, and the set is mainly white to allow for the clearest projection. The film is projected on to the stage when the boy is playing the computer game. In the dance fight sequences between the boy and the game characters, we had to choreograph the boy's moves to appear to interact with the projected characters he's fighting with.

There is no physical computer console on stage, but the actor does have a handset to refer to there being a computer. Aside from the avatars fighting, there is a video sequence of a computer environment that is shown in the final act when the boy falls into the computer. We wanted to make this sequence look as much like a computer game as possible.

The technology helps explore the themes of violence and macho culture that are part of the story and highlight the young boy's inner world and emotional journey through the course of the play. He starts making up survival rules for himself, playing out his own fantasies in computer games and martial arts. This piece looks at the forces behind gang violence, cultural differences and the need to belong, against the backdrop of the fantasy world of computer games. The play also explores the debate about whether virtual violence is healthy or not.

In one sense, it's quite positive when the young boy plays a computer game and imagines that the avatars are the bullies and this time he wins. It's catharsis and he feels empowered. Similarly, when he plays with another group of school kids and through the game they bond and have fun. But the last time is very much an emotional breakdown, after the boy pulls a knife on his mother when she confronts him about involvement in drugs, gangs and fighting. His only salvation is the security of playing a game.

'Play to Win,' is at the Drum, Theatre Royal, Plymouth (01752 267 222), 7-11 November, and at the Soho Theatre, London (020 7478 010), from 15 November to 2 December.

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