MASS MoCA Performance to Blend Real and Virtual Life

Stephanie Rothenberg

(North Adams, Mass.) – Performed in front of both a real and a virtual audience, Stephanie Rothenberg‘s mixed reality talk show, Best Practices in Banana Time, will be presented on Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 8 pm n MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 as part of the ongoing Alt Cabaret series. Rothenberg’s theater piece questions life online and considers what it means to live between the real and the virtual world, while also looking at how labor issues encountered in real life manifest themselves in Second Life, an online virtual reality world/community. MASS MoCA’s current exhibition The Workers includes Rothenberg’s Portraits: Second Life Workers, which depict a range of avatars and the jobs they have found or created on Second Life.

In Second Life, users, called residents, interact with each other through avatars and explore a virtual world where they meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade virtual property and services with one another, and  buy virtual goods using the Second Life currency the Linden (which can be traded for US currency at a rate of  270 Lindens to  $1 US). When one avatar meets another, the creators of both can communicate through typing or by speaking directly over a computer microphone.

A scene from 'Best Practices in Banana Time'

Best Practices in Banana Time moves that communication into a real theater. For the performance, the virtual world of Second Life — complete with its angular avatars and elaborate computer graphics depicting a glamorous, pearly white TV studio — is projected on a giant screen facing the real audience. Rothenberg is seated on the stage dressed as her online avatar, Dr. Rodenberger, and she simultaneously hosts her talk show in the real world while also in the virtual world of Second Life.

As Briavel Schultz explained in a review of a previous showing in The Free George, “In the Second Life world, the talk show’s audience members were all real people scattered across the globe, tuning in from their computers to have their avatars sit and watch the talk show. At the [performance], we watched both the real-life version and the Second Life version, witnessing the virtual audience’s reaction through texts popping up on screen, and laughing whenever they said something funny.”

While the virtual guests are still to be finalized, previous guests have included residents such as a musical artist named Truellie Telling, whose avatar is a young, curvaceous twenty-something with red hair and a giant flower on her head but whose voice is that of an elderly woman, or Trill Zapatero who has built her own virtual fashion clothing store where users can buy unique outfits for their avatars, the proceeds going to support a real life organization named RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan).

The title of the piece comes from 1950s corporate culture where “Best Practices” were a set of rules that all employees should follow, while “Banana Time” alludes to a study by sociologist D.F. Roy in which factory workers created games out of repetitive work tasks in order to make their time more meaningful.

Stephanie Rothenberg is an associate professor in the Department of Visual Studies at SUNY Buffalo. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her work has been exhibited in numerous media festivals and galleries in the U.S. and abroad. In her practice, she uses performance, video, and net-based media to create provocative interactions that question the boundaries and social constructs of manufactured desires.

Focusing on new technologies and their social ramifications, Rothenberg’s recent works address labor injustices of the global computer video game industry and the virtualization of the workplace. Rothenberg’s Portraits: Second Life Workers in The Workers exhibition include accompanying descriptions that detail the workers’ occupations which range from architect to escort to EMT, and outline the real wages these workers can earn in the virtual world.

Tickets for Stephanie Rothenberg’s Best Practices in Banana Time at 8 pm on Saturday, December 3, in MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 are $12 in advance and $16 day of show.  Student tickets are $10 and MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount.  Tickets are available in person from 11AM – 5PM every day but Tuesdays at the MASS MoCA Box Office located at 87 Marshall Street in North Adams, online at MASS MoCA, or by phone at 413 662 2111.




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