By Karla Ptacek & Helen Varley Jamieson

This article was first published on the trAce web site and won the Process Award in trAce and Writers for the Future’s New Media Article Writing Competition, Nov. 2004

pick up an avatar hen

just doing that

ah, synchroncity within CMC

’Computer Mediated Communication’

crappy mangled chat

crap miss-communication

an innocuous acronym for what is usually a minefield

of misunderstandings, misinterpretations

and tangents

red herrings

bogus disagreements

as if speaking a different language

(len DOES speak a different language)

insults, slights, insights,

each believing we’re understanding each other

bogged down in prolonged, surreal exchanges where meanings are mangled and time & the machine seem insurmountable

no body language or intonation to guide us

jokes misfire, irony lost


that’s our panacea: means so much more then ‘Laughed out Loud’

yes indeed

it’s a crucial modifier. Softens the text.

yes, lol. it’s key

hang on, phone ringing

you know it’s strange that we don’t have more keys like that

one minute Hen, talking on mobile


keep that thought




yes, emailing

sometimes, you think you’re having a conversation, explaining a great idea only to discover you’re talking to yourself


the other person is disconnected, busy, afk

This is the default condition of

not a problem,a fact of cyber-life

collaborative online performance writing

absence and presence are closely entwined

e.g.len’s superb absence the other day

during rehearsal, when she was present, but mentally absent


Yeah. we hung around 4 ages wondering where she was, till she finally says ‘can we get started already’.

Who knew she wus there?

in a manner of speaking, she wasn’t there.

and Vi really really wasn’t there


wilderness moment


But it’s more specifically problematic in cyberformance writing, because as a new genre of performance there’s an emphasis

what is?

on visuals, subtexts, theatricality and metaphors

which reference a huge range of cultural sources and multiple languages of theatre, film, video, tv,

what is more specific?

its even different from online story writing, because performance is metaphoric language PLUS

back up k

what is more specific to cyberformance writing?


there are specific online problems, you mean?

yeah, problems we encounter in communicating during process is exacerbated by the nature of performance writing in general and cyberformance genre especially


and nature of any performance writing, collaboratively, is also problematic

now add stage & screen directions

visuals – avatars and video streams

audio from stage and screen text to speech plug-ins

divergent plotlines

and the requirements of the proximal performer…

RL interruptions

the needs of a proximal audience


hangovers, etc

which is different from needs of online audience

dialup, late buses

not to mention unstable technology

and you have an immensely complex stew


we are crazy, really

it says a lot about how much we desire to communicate though


my browser just crashed


third time it did that today, dunno why

did you get the animation link for the rough Prolog on DTN2?

no time. Wot is it?

simple Flash version of the Prolog I made to

demo what it should look like, since Vi & len don’t read the scripts.

shit- the ghost voices have just started 4 me

Vi prefers visual versions of texts, which is interesting. We could ‘write’ whole script in animations.

are you getting them?

No. Wot are you hearing?

i hear your text fine

instead of speaking what i typed

it spoke something completely different

like it picked up an old piece of dialogue

You know wot its like Helen?


When the technology goes haywire like this

Its like being in a deranged brain

it’s a dangerous cocktail

group brain as author. composed of words, images, movement, lag

not enough written about lag.


wot? we named a show after it

laggin with the lololos.


hey douglas!

kiss kiss

douglas here

we have just finished rehearsal& are chatting about our processes

(and now I drop the thread because douglas, our programmer, has arrived. Unexpectedly)

do you have sound at the moment, douglas?

i am experiencing what we call the ghost voice

i have a bad habit of upgrading my software everyday

with whatever anyone wrote overnight

so sometimes sound and stuff stops working


at midnight nz time?

(douglas is in NZ, Karla in London, Helen in Belgrade)

douglas do you mean the server is upgraded every night?

(Its 11:13am London, and 12:13 in Belgrade and 10:13PM in NZ).

no, it’s my computer

Unlike most collaborative writing teams

i leave the server alone as much as possible

right, that was what i thought

some members are asleep while others are awake

we’ve just been talking about our twisted process

some at work while others socialising. (UpStage is built in twisted isn’t it?)

I think the sound problem might have to do with caching

and some are steeped in winter doldrums while other lucky buggers are on summer vacation

we’re in different places

time zones

states of mind

might as well say it

we’re in different worlds

Karla Ptacek’s work spans two decades in New York City as a writer, performer and director in multimedia ensembles, involving over 50 performances Off & Off-Off Broadway. She holds an MA in Directing from Goldsmiths College, London, and a practice as research MPhil in Distributed Performance Practices, supported by a scholarship from the Arts & Humanities Research Board, UK. Together with Vicki Smith, Karla iniated World X in January 2004, a virtual exchange project between pupils in London and N.Zealand using UpStage. In her work with Avatar Body Collision she experiments with digital writing and performing formats. Her cyberscript, Screen Save Her (2002) introduced webcams into the company’s work as third performative stage for cyberformance. “What interests me is the diverse qualities of liveliness that occur across the animate and the inanimate in distributed performance practices.“

Helen Varley Jamieson has a background in theatre as a writer, director and producer, and has worked in digital media and the internet since 1996. Although she encountered chat rooms and MOOs early on, it wasn’t until she met up with Desktop Theater in 2000 that she became excited by the potential of the internet as a venue for performance. She coined the term cyberformance to describe live performance using internet technologies such as chat applications. In 2001, her cyberformance presentation at the Odin Teatret, Denmark, caused such a commotion that she was inspired to embark on a Hunt for the Body and Emotion in Cyberformance. This search began with a research project, the[abc]experiment, and continues in her work with Avatar Body Collision. She remains optimistic, saying that she has always been able to smell her goal and every performance takes her closer.

Avatar Body Collision (globally distributed performance troupe formed in 2001 by Karla Ptacek (London, UK), Leena Saarinen (Helsinki, Finland), Helen Varley Jamieson (Aotearoa, New Zealand), Vicki Smith (Aotearoa/New Zealand). ):

UpStage (open source software creating a web-based venue for cyberformance):

Avatar Body Collision (Digital Creativity):