Roving Actors with Mobile Devices

June 2013:  The amazing property of a telepresence platform is that actors can stream right into the platform with an iPad or an iPhone. An actor in New York City can be en route to Ray’s Pizza for a slice and interacting with a London actor en route to Pret a Manger for a Peking Duck wrap.

As long as the two actors in the two different cities and time zones have a decent Internet connection, they can stream into the same virtual space online.

The quality of the stream depends on the strength of the wired connection and the personal device. We’ve found that iPads deliver the same quality stream as a high-powered laptop.

An actor can tote around iPad and live stream his or her surroundings – e.g., a frenetic Manhattan intersection with engines revving and horns blaring – into the virtual space. Suddenly, an actor in London hears a dog bark from a Lower East Side street.

In “Dead Drop,” a security agent for the British government has to extract information from the British brother of an FBI’s “person of interest.”

Security agents in New York City need info from London to figure out what the connection is between the once estranged brothers. The format is a roving spy caper between the US and the UK. And, indeed, their interrogation styles are rather different. Culture clash jokes aside…

The actors in New York – Teddy Canez (“Clive”), Susan Louise O’Connor (“Jane”) and David Rysdahl (“Adam”) – and the actors in London – Anniwaa Buachie (“Polly”) and Thomas Rushforth (“George”) – rehearsed online with J Dakota Powell directing.

One challenging aspect of rehearsing on a telepresence platform is maintaining focus on the person you’re interacting with in a scene. You don’t have the ability to look someone in the eye as you would in a physical space. It seems that the actors rely more on vocal cues. Because they’re on screen, their acting also becomes more natural and less “stagey.”

The questions we have concern the use of a “controlled environment” versus one that isn’t controlled, such as a street. Since this format requires that actors in New York City travel through the streets, how much risk is involved that the actual performance can be sabotaged by, say, a traffic accident or a dropped iPad?