Categories 21st Century Media Practice, Final Project : Immersive Telepresence in Theatre

This is not Stargate: Telepresence in Theatre

This is not a portal to some other dimension as in Stargate, whereby the lecturer teleports his students to some far off galaxy and they perform shakespeare.


But Imagine if you could walk up to a large flat screen, being projected on the screen is a room, that mirrors the room you are standing in. A person walks onto that screen and they are the same hight and build as yourself, but it isn’t you, its someone else. You realize that you can interact with that person, talk, communicate, there is a 2 way communication going on. So you’re probably now thinking, well this just sounds like a skype conversation.

Well its not, when you have someone the same size as you, in an endless space and you are performing Shakespeare together and the people on the screen, just happen to be performance actors from the the University of Tampere.

This becomes something else…..

What is Telepresence?

Telepresence may be defined as “live video that allows for human-sized interactions, while offering clear sound and visual fidelity to individuals in remote rooms” (Miller et al. 2015) and this project explores its potential for teaching and learning in the field of performing arts. In particular, the project facilitates international virtual mobility collaborations between theatre students at the University of Tampere (Finland) and Coventry University (UK), with a particular focus on acting in a foreign language.

Telepresence in Theatre: Coriolanus online: Saw two groups of theatre actors, who were positioned both in Coventry Uk & Tampere Finland, perform a scene from Coriolanus both in Shakespearean English & Finnish.

Each space is projected, in what would be considered the front of the stage. Actors mirror one another and a shared space is created, with the use of 21st century telecommunications


This way of collaborating and rehearsing has been created through a chance meeting with Dr Mikko Kanninen, Dr Tom Goreman & Dr Tiina Syrja. It has been a collaboration of actors who wanted to rehearse together, but didn’t necessarily want the expense and environmental impact of migrating students internationally to rehearse. The project has highlighted new ways of working and communicating and is its second year of development.


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It’s an experience that challenged them as actors, to think and communicate differently, both intentionally and by accident. Considerations for the way that they listened and communicated, not only through their performances but in their ‘out of class’ socialising through mobile technologies.

Secondly it gives an international experience for students, that allows them to experience rehearsals in new form and context. Enabling the student to explore their own pedagogy, how they communicate and relate personally and culturally.

Thirdly it’s how this collaboration between the people involved works, that is key.

And what an interesting group of people: You have the Irish guy, Dr Tom Goreman, who can use more syllables in 30 seconds than anyone I know, but when it comes to Shakespeare & performance his knowledge is layered in a way, that challenges you to think differently about shakespeare

Dr Mikko Kanninen, is your directing and tech leader. I have only met him the once and Tom speaks of him highly. From what I have seen so far, he likes to push the boundaries tech wise, to see how the technology can be used in new ways and that assists the evolution of the project and working practices. Its seems to be a case with Mikko; what do we know? How can we stretch it?, Is it possible? And how do we plan for the risks?

Dr Tiina Syrja is known as specialist and expert knowledge in acting in a foreign language. As an English speaker, there are times that Shakespearian language is so removed, from current 21st century english. So therefore to speak Shakespeare in Finnish and perform, seems like a whole other ball game. This way of working raises so many questions on communication level and therefore her knowledge of encoding and decoding language is key to intercultural performance.

Students have been disrupted in their learning and from this it has made them question many things, not only as students but as actors as well. Is this the future of international rehearsal? How can technology enable this way of working?  And how has it made them question themselves as actors?

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But this isn’t just a ‘one off’ learning experience, nor is it as simple as I may have explained. This is really a classic story of the ‘underdogs’,  and what happens when you give a group of ‘out of the box’ thinking lecturers & technologists, who work fluidity together and create something quite wonderful, innovative and new. What happens when you allow a project to mature?

Some may say serendipitous almost, but its this chance meeting, this shared ideology of ‘lets experiment’ and see what happens. This thought out ‘risk’, has now started to reap its rewards, by pushing the boundaries and becoming recognized internationally for the learning that is taking place online.


So one day, Tom mentioned that Mikko had suggested that they put ‘Coriolanus Online’ forward to be nominated for an award. Firstly it seemed clear from their research, that no one was using this type of technology in performance, so that was fairly encouraging.

Secondly it was a case of lets have a go, lets put ourselves in this environment and see what happens. Never actually thinking that maybe, just maybe, it might pay off.



And simply they won!

It simply just snowballed, and in December we saw the team head out to Philadelphia. Before hand there was some natural anxiety of who they were against, bigger, highly funded projects, corporate videos and of course some amazing ideas. However Coriolanus had something organic about it, even in the short 2 minute documentary that Tom had placed together. And this organic way of working, learning and experimenting shined through.

There was something honest, raw and exciting about it. And it was this that pushed them forwarded and exceeded any expectation that they had. Just to be nominated is an award, thats being acknowledged. However to actually win, well that says something else.

This is not the end of Telepresence in theatre, nor is it something that can be plucked and transformed into something else. This is just the start. What we have here is a group of people, who are collaborative and fluid. There are several steps involved in understanding how this technology can be used, and I would say that they are just starting to figure that one out. However with continuing to stretch the boundaries new questions are raised.

This coming year will see the project evolve into its next step: King Lear Online. The format will be similar, if not evolved. And with this new project, students will be able to physically meet in March, which raises a whole new experience for everyone.

And it it is this experience that I will be documenting. It is the students experience both with the rehearsal methods, their relationship with the technology and what they learn about themselves through the whole journey.

Project Post Link


BrainyQuote, 2017 (1650) William Shakespeare quotes page 5. (Accessed: 2 January 2017)
admin (2016) Coriolanus online wins the Reimagine education arts & humanities gold award. (Accessed: 3 January 2017).
Reserved, A.R. (2015) Reimagine education. Available at: (Accessed: 3 January 2017).
In-text citations: (Reserved, 2015)





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