Kay Voges, who in the space of just a few years has transformed Schauspiel Dortmund into one of Germany’s most exciting and innovative theatres, explains how the use of digital media is changing the world of theatre and what theatre can contribute to the lives of digital natives. His play The Borderline Procession was performed during the Berliner Festspiele in early May. His production of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach has been playing at Opernhaus Dortmund since 23 April.
Kay, what changes are taking place in the world of theatre today?
Theatre is the art of the present; it takes place live in a moment where spectators and actors are sharing a space. And so theatre needs to engage with the media of the present too, incorporating digitisation and globalisation thematically and aesthetically.
The digital native generation are constantly roving far and wide on their smartphones. But fewer and fewer young people are going to the theatre. What contribution can theatre make in today’s society and in the society of the future?
I do not view digitisation as a threat to the survival of theatre, but as a source of new ways of telling stories and understanding the world.
What does digitisation mean for the future of the theatre?
Digitisation isn’t something that came over humanity like a sickness; rather, digitisation is a space of possibilities that we need to give shape to. And I believe that theatres share part of the responsibility for doing so.
Is digitisation also changing your everyday routine or the way you work?
Digitisation demands new skills from theatres. Programmers, social media officers, networking experts and media-savvy artists will play an increasing role in the theatre ensembles of the future. There are also considerable financial costs involved in bringing theatres up to date – for hardware, research and training. Universities and companies have long since restructured to meet the demands of the digital age, but most of Germany’s theatres are still lagging decades behind. We need to rethink cultural funding and finally move on from a 20th-century understanding of theatre.
You have put on a production of the opera Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass, the founder of minimal music and someone who continues to have a profound influence on electronic music to this day. Artists were already using digital technology in their work back in his day. But what is new about today’s digitisation? And what new forms of expression are opened up by digital technologies?
For our production of Einstein on the Beach, I worked with three media artists and a networking expert. We set ourselves the task of programming and coordinating the lighting, video, costumes and staging according to Philip Glass’s music. We wrote algorithms and programmed networks in a way that allows the music to be seen and felt. We’ve known for hundreds of years that mathematics can be transformed into music and beauty. But thanks to the high processing power of modern computers it’s now possible to transform music into algorithms, and then in turn into beauty and images.
I believe that works like Einstein and the Beach are just the beginning of many more digital theatrical experiences still to come.