Description: ‘Dinner Theater’, an interactive flash animation, follows the events of an evening at a dinner theater through the actions of individual theatergoers. Each pinned down by their unique locations on the seating chart, the characters cough, scratch, whisper, take photographs with their cell phones; they interact with each other, they act as a collective, and they act as if in private. Beginning entrenched in the realm of banalities, the reader is first only shown those things that one might observe as an audience member: a woman brushing her hair back with her left hand; a man pulling a handkerchief out of his breast pocket. As time unfurls, the user may zoom in on individual tables, and with this more intimate view comes more intimate information: the words people actually say, their minute facial expressions, and sometimes even their thoughts. ‘Dinner Theater’ explores the conventions of both the theater and the dining experiences, through a voyeuristic experience mediated by individual characters that the user meets only through their actions.
And Some More Details: Time will unfurl as the reader clicks through the animation, each click elapsing more time, revealing lighting shifts just as the animation’s characters would in the actual theater. As the theatergoers become busier and louder, the ‘stage’ of the animation becomes filled with more descriptions of their actions; and as the theatergoers enter into the thick of the play, the tension they feel creates a silence and stillness. In this way, the amount of action and movement is communicated to the reader through the volume of comments on the animation’s set. Although the volume will be predetermined, the user may see what other characters are doing my mousing over them, thereby changing which actions are revealed, but maintaining a constant volume.
Inspiration: I began working on capturing aspects of performance with writing about a year ago, after attending a small performance and being fascinated by all the little gestures, both individual and collective (like powering off cell phones) that people made around me. They felt both scripted yet personal. After attending more performances with the intent to research, the project evolved into a manuscript called ‘Dinner Theater’ which this project is modeled after. I continue to be interested in how to model aspect of the theater experience – from the flow of time, to the interactions with ushers, to the individual’s tendencies evoked by being in a space where ‘watching’ is what you are supposed to do – and with this project I hope to capture some of the more cinematographic aspects of the modeling process that are more difficult to evoke on paper.
Ideal space for reader encounter: The user will encounter this version of the project on the web. I imagine the project to be made for individual (rather than collective) experiencing, with each user making his own decisions about clicking, mousing over, etc. I am still deciding how much ‘instructions’ to provide to the reader. Ideally, the piece would be intuitive to use and would not require instructions, but I will get a better sense of this after making an initial version.
Potential challenges: I am not well versed in Flash, so learning the program well enough to do what I want it to do might pose some challenges. I would like, for instance, to perhaps create a vocabulary of actions for each theatergoer that the program cycles through randomly, but I imagine that this programming element will not be easily accomplishes with Flash, so I might leave it out of this draft. Also, I am not yet sure if/how to include sound in this piece, which poses its own challenges.
Relatives: Some existing projects capture the visuals that I am going for: urbanalities (clean and crisp), and spawn (a little grungier, but heavy and tactile in its grunginess).
Timeline: For Tuesday, April 29th: Capture the basic ‘functions’ I will need for this project with Flash. These include: • Clicking through to new pages / elapsing time • Mousing over to reveal different character’s actions • Lighting shifts • Zooming • Panning
For Tuesday, May 6th: Stitch these functions together to create a workable, semi-final draft of the piece, and export it to the web.
Here is a sample of my final project: http://technekai.com/ewriting/wiki/uploads/dinner_theater_sample.pdf