Friday, April 25, 2008

I Sing the Praises of Software: Isadora

I spent yesterday afternoon and a good portion of the evening last night running through the tutorials on my friend Mark Coniglio's Isadora software: "a graphic programming environment... that provides interactive control over digital media, with special emphasis on the real-time manipulation of digital video." That sounds very complicated but it really isn't: the software allows you mix multiple video/audio/image streams from a single computer—including live feed video. Mark created the software to realize the work that he and his partner, choreographer Dawn Stoppiello, create as Troika Ranch. It's remarkably easy to use, once you get the basics—I recently attended a 2 hour workshop Mark led at Tekserve here in NYC and that allowed me to breeze through the 7 or 8 tutorials I needed to study in about 4 hours.

I'm using the software for the visuals (they're just photos, really, not video... although I did Ken Burns some of them) and audio in the reading of my play, Floydada, on Monday. Even though it's not a fully realized production, I want to keep the stage directions that must be read to a minimum: as my partner, Ralph, will tell you, I always say that readings are for the artists more than the audience—I don't find them all that entertaining. The Dixon Place performance will be lightly staged—Catherine and Nomi will approximate their physical activities with scripts in hand and actor Christopher Hurt will describe the actions they can't actually do—and Isadora will help create the rest of the environment (at least, that's the goal...).

I created the opening sequence—beginning with archival photos of Floydada's town square, which will play under the Time & Place descriptions, and then into a visual for the first scene and the sound effect that plays throughout the scene. I'm really pleased with how it came out; it's not at all what I would do for a full production, because I actually think this play needs a very low-tech approach. But for a reading, I think it'll help minimize one of the two things I find least entertaining about readings—trying to imagine something that is being described (the other thing is that virtually every reading is too slow—you don't know the play well enough to emote: talk faster!)

As powerful as it is, Isadora is extremely cheap: a lifetime license is $350 which includes all upgrades and 3 installations per year (on the same computer). Plus there are discounts for approved non-profits, educational use and 10 or more licenses. I'd encourage anyone who's interested in the potential for digital technology in live performance to check it out—it's the kind of tool that, once you know it's capabilities, could help determine the kind of work you create and how you'll create it.

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