The digital foyer

Spaces of encounter in the theatre of the future
"The Digital Foyer" is a project of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and the FFT Düsseldorf in cooperation with MIREVI of the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences. The project designs and tests future forms of community in theatre and explores new ways of communication between theatre and the public.
It offers spaces of exchange, encounter, creative engagement with the performing arts and digital communication. It develops and connects new, accessible applications at the interfaces between digital and analogue spaces. It extends the theatre experience to include playful participation in the artistic process and explores digital possibilities and limits. The project aims to enable direct encounters between people and art in a virtually barrier-free and playful way. It invites people of all ages and social classes who have a desire for new experiences and creative impulses, whether analogue or digital. MIREVI (Mixed Reality and Visualization) from the Department of Media at Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences is a digital partner in the project.
Digital partner MIREVI
MIREVI (Mixed Reality and Visualization) from the Department of Media at Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences is a digital partner in the project. The MIREVI team is interdisciplinary and made up of media experts, computer scientists, designers and artists who are passionate about everything to do with virtual and augmented reality, innovative human-technology interfaces, creative engineering and cognitive computing. Since the beginning of the project in 2020, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, FFT Düsseldorf and MIREVI have been working together in workshops to develop new digital concepts and basic principles for "The Digital Foyer".
10-11 October // Essen
Digital Lab #4
Organised by the Federal Cultural Foundation, all funded projects will be presented here. Info coming soon here.

19 November, 12-18 h // Deutsche Oper am Rhein & FFT Düsseldorf
Free admission
Open Day: The Digital Foyer
The FFT Düsseldorf and the Deutsche Oper am Rhein present the results of a four-year research project in search of encounters with music and theatre in the digitalised world. Experience magic mirrors and an expansive performance puzzle, ballet scenes in augmented reality, an exit game to play, installations and expert discussions on artificial intelligence and the theatre of the future.


From 2020-2023, Deutsche Oper am Rhein and FFT Düsseldorf have jointly developed digital-analogue applications. They invite people to play and enable exchange between theatre and audience.
An overview of all projects can be found on the german version of this page.

The project years at a glance


Kathrin Tiedemann and FFT team on "The Digital Foyer"
Hybrid spaces of possibility

Exploring the spaces of possibility between digitality and the performing arts has been a focus of our work at the FFT for some time. Especially through the collaboration with artist collectives like machina ex, who developed participatory, immersive performances at the FFT with their "Live Video Games" as a residency group from 2012 to 2014 as part of a double-pass funding from the German Federal Cultural Foundation, we were able to gain important experience, also in relation to the changing expectations and attitudes of young theatre-goers, which we are now building on as part of the "Digital Foyer".

We also wanted to find out more about what resources we need to be able to shape the digital transformation as a place where the public is produced. What effects does the permeation of our everyday life with digital infrastructures have on our coexistence, what, perhaps also new kinds of spaces are opening up for the performing arts? But also: How can we ensure accessibility so that digitalisation does not create new forms of exclusion? What strategies do we pursue in the face of the increasing power of large platforms?

We are therefore more than happy about the additional, generous opportunities that "Das digitale Foyer" has opened up for us as a four-year cooperation project with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, our digital partner MIREVI and many other experts within the framework of the Fonds Digital. In particular, the continuous exchange with computer scientists and programmers, developers and designers, but also with net activists and media theorists has enabled us to sustainably expand the competences of our team and our digital practices. Especially during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic, we were able to create qualified online offers that received great public attention and reached new audiences.

The activities within the framework of the "Digital Foyer" also represent a particular gain because with the move to a new venue in November 2021 at our new location in KAP1, we now actually have a spacious foyer for which very concrete applications are being developed and subsequently tested with audiences. One example is the "FFT Cubes", which were created with artists and the programmers of the MIREVI team and invite especially young spectators to playful, interactive encounters.

Many thanks to all the contributors, especially our project coordinator Lena tom Dieck, who have supported us in our exchange with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein on the way to a digital strategy so far. We invite everyone to continue exploring the hybrid spaces of possibility in the "Digital Foyer" with us!

Kathrin Tiedemann and the FFT team
Christoph Meyer on three years of "The Digital Foyer"
Dear audience,

Three successful years of our project "The Digital Foyer" together with the FFT Düsseldorf are behind us. Since then, our singing opera stars can be experienced virtually on the pavement in front of the opera house or dancing ballet fairies in the Düsseldorf city space. We also have a brand new digital costume rehearsal for our audience in Düsseldorf via magic mirrors in our foyer.
Having reached the final year of the project, we would like to take stock and give you an outlook for the coming year.

Together with the FFT Düsseldorf, we have launched "The Digital Foyer". The aim of the project is to create spaces for encounters - the foyer stands metaphorically for new virtual spaces that we want to open up with the project.
A central point for the success of the "digital foyer" was the cooperation with the FFT: the project partnership has brought our two houses, in all their diversity, to a regular exchange, we have been able to learn from each other and gain valuable insights into the work and needs of the other house. We at Deutsche Oper am Rhein are very grateful for the great cooperation.

The exchange with other cultural institutions also plays an important role: accessible to all, the data of the realised projects was shared on an open source platform last year. The aim is to provide access for the entire theatre scene so that our projects can be adopted and implemented in other theatres.

The many digital projects that we developed and implemented together with the FFT Düsseldorf enabled our guests to take a look behind the scenes and "peek inside" the opera; to break through the walls virtually. In this extension of the stages of the opera and FFT into public space, the biggest project at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein was probably our "OpAR" app. Here, at fixed points in front of the Düsseldorf Opera House, our singers can be virtually brought out onto the street via smartphone - and, brand new, even to your home!
We are very grateful for the funding and the insights we have gained, as well as the new opportunities for exchange with you, our audience. It is an important step for us to experience digitality in theatre, even apart from productions.

In the last year, you can look forward to further exciting projects - in particular, the participation of our audience is to take centre stage for the conclusion. You may be curious!

Your Christoph Meyer


From Observation to Implementation - A Workshop Report

Max, service employee in the foyer of the Düsseldorf Opera House, reports on the workshops with our digital partner MIREVI from the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences: The Journey continues! - The Digital Foyer goes into the next round.

The teams of FFT and Oper Düsseldorf sat together with the creative minds of MIREVI in December 2021 to brainstorm about the implementation of digital technologies to shape the community and communication of the future. A participatory observation of the foyers and the audience by the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences established key findings in advance.Based on these, we were presented with possibilities of modern media technology. An endlessly large digital whiteboard gave us the space to put idea after idea on paper. Even beyond the scope of observations, inspirations emerged that could shape a possible digital future for the foyer.After the unbridled brainstorming, we sorted the ideas into related categories and connected related ideas. Like a small jigsaw puzzle, the sorting of chaotic individual parts resulted in a vivid overall view of the ideas.

While the FFT emerged from the brainstorming with the areas of seating and room design, interaction and the FFT's external image, Oper Düsseldorf came up with digital attractions for children and impressive technical extensions to the cloakroom foyer. These ideas are now being pursued further. In April 2022, MIREVI will enable a fantastic experience: we will be able to touch and try out what was only an idea a short time before. The experts explain to us the functions, backgrounds, limitations and possibilities of the selected technology. The hands-on workshop quickly shows: this is ingenious! In order not to give too much away in advance, we will keep the explanations short here: existing spaces are rethought, unused spaces are made highly attractive through digital applications and guests of all ages find playful ways to leave a lasting impression.

Trying out the technologies was not limited to the ideas we came up with. We had the chance to gain completely new impressions of brand new, innovative technology for us. From projections on transparent surfaces and interactive avatars at MIREVI to screens behind concrete layers and holographic experiences in the showroom of MIREVI's partner tennagels, the demo day was a source of amazement and excitement throughout.

The conclusion of the day was therefore unanimous among all participants: Wow! The next weeks and months will show how this enthusiasm will be transferred to the final redesign of the foyers. The potential is huge and the motivation to bring opera or theatre and digital applications together has only increased since the testing of the technologies. What do you think it will be?
Podcast: Biscuits and AI
FFT Podcast with Janne Kummer aka.Alaska, allapopp, Arne Vogelgesang, Caspar Weimann, Katja Grawinkel-Claaßen
In 2021, the FFT released a chatbot to communicate with the audience. In doing so, we made our first approaches to a topic that is on everyone's lips. But do we really know what we are talking about when we talk about artificial intelligence, AI for short? AI promises many things: the facilitation of work, management and accumulation of knowledge, the further development of human abilities with the power of the computer. AI is supposed to be like us - only better! But of course AI also has a dark side: it reproduces stereotypes, requires enormous resources to function really well and often serves as a surveillance and control tool in powerful contexts. It's no wonder that many artists and theatre-makers have already dealt intensively with AI.To find out more about automation in theatre, about machines that talk to people and the prejudices we feed computers, we asked media artists Janne Kummer aka.Alaska and allapopp, director and performer Arne Vogelgesang and online theatre-maker Caspar Weimann to talk - and eat - biscuits.

Biscuits and AI - FFT Podcast

Janne Kummer aka.Alaska (they/she) works with hybrid media, between performance and digital art. She teaches, researches and works on the influence of digital technologies on the (re)presentation and perception of bodies and on the development of queer-feminist narratives of the future.
allapopp (no pronoun) works at the intersection of live performance, digital media and music. Alla's work focuses on tech-positive visions of the future and queer feminist perspectives on digital technologies. Alla is part of BBB_ and the dgtlfmnsm collective.
Arne Vogelgesang realises art projects with the theatre label internil and under his own name that experiment with documentary material, new media, fiction and performance. One focus is radical political propaganda on the internet. He also gives lectures and workshops on his research. FFT Podcast Boyz on the net - young, male, angry
Caspar Weimann is the initiating force behind, the app "Loulu" (Amadeu Antonio Prize 2021, Heidelberg Stückemarkt 2022) and the digital climate art conference #ClimArtCon. He is a lecturer and mentor for drama at the ADK Baden-Württemberg, part of the Digital Dramaturgy (, seminar and workshop leader on digital theatre formats and participatory theatre on the web.

Sources and references
Arns, Inke, Can Artificial Intelligence be biased? On the critique of AI’s ‚algorithmic bias‘ in the arts

Inke Arns (HMKV), Francis Hunger, Marie Lechner: House of Mirrors: Künstliche Intelligenz als Phantasma, 2022
Kostenloser Download

Björn Lengers, Tina Lorenz: Mein Kollege GPT

Geert Lovink, „In der Plattformfalle – Plädoyer zur Rückeroberung des Internets“ 2022

Sasha Costanza-Chock, „Design Justice. Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need”

This Person does not exist – Loulu // Hier kostenlos spielen


The House of Monstress Intelligenzia
Two years digital partnership with MIREVI

Almost two years ago, we, MIREVI, became a digital partner in the project "The Digital Foyer". As a working group from the Department of Media at Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences, we deal with mixed reality and visualisation in all conceivable and barely conceivable forms. Although we are a so-called "digital" partner, we come in a very analogue form. About 30 digital enthusiasts consisting of media experts, computer scientists, designers and artists who are passionate about everything that has to do with virtual and augmented reality, innovative human-technology interfaces, creative engineering, cognitive computing and their combinations and derivatives form the MIREVI team. What motivates us are projects that tread untrodden paths and experiment with technology and the contexts of its use, especially when applied in a lived everyday context.

Due to the interesting range of challenges, we gladly accepted the opportunity to participate in the project. Two institutions that could not be more different want to develop digital tools for their equally different target groups. For a team dealing with user experience, the conception and development of digital content, this was an invitation to a digital adventure.

Before we officially start the project in 2021, we organised a joint workshop in July 2020 to familiarise ourselves with each other's different motivations, ways of working and philosophies. In this sense, we wanted to work out possible digital tools freely and without predefined boundaries. It was important for us to let the imagination run free and see where it would take us before we jumped into a project together that was subject to budget and time constraints. Freedom was our entry point!

The beginning of our official collaboration in 2021 was the development of Augmented Reality "Fairies". The Ballett am Rhein was invited to contribute input to the world's first AR Biennale at the Museum Kunstpalast/NRW Forum Düsseldorf. It was a wonderful experience to transfer professional ballet dancers* into Augmented Reality by filming them in front of a green screen at the Theater Duisburg. Each of the seven fairies was assigned a unique digital effect, which was incorporated into the choreographies and later added as a visual effect. After the AR Biennale, the fairies were presented at several more events and made accessible via a local small app.

In parallel, we continued to design digital tools in joint workshops. Our February 2021 workshop was dedicated to web formats that would extend the physical foyer space into the digital realm. After presenting some technological solutions as food for thought, several new ideas emerged. The online chatbot as a special communication tool from the FFT to its audience was one of the ideas. The concept was realised in the following months by the FFT through an external service provider.

In December 2021, a third workshop was organised based on results of an observation of the foyers of the FFT and the Opera that we conducted. For several weeks, the MIREVI team conducted qualitative research together with members of both institutions. The audience was observed at different times of the day and performances. The focus was on identifying aspects, moments and places in the foyers that were challenging in some way and could be addressed using our digital tools. This very productive approach led to some concrete ideas aimed at improving the use of the foyer. For example, while the need for more children's content in both institutions was identified, some institution-specific needs also emerged - such as the need for intergenerational content in the Opera foyer or the inclusion of the large window areas in the FFT foyer as a form of communication with the outside world. The workshop led to three new ideas per institution, which, after some time to mature, developed into concrete work plans for the coming years.

To facilitate the concretisation of the work plan, we organised a demo day in May 2022 where we invited our partners to the MIREVI lab and tested some of the technological options for the realisation of the projects.Through hands-on experience with the technology, concepts were sharpened and plans for implementation were concretised.A clear view of the possibilities soon led to a firm production plan for the rest of the year - while the opera decided to focus on the interactive particle stream as a permanent installation in the foyer, the FFT decided to develop interactive digital cubes for children.Both projects are currently in an intensive development phase and will be presented in their final or prototype form in the foyers by the end of the year.

What have we learned so far?What are we proud of and what could we have done better?Well, like any interdisciplinary project, this one has brought some challenges.Some of them we have mastered well, others have made us even more experienced and better at what we do. We are very pleased with how fruitful and inspiring the workshops were - they made us understand each other's goals better and created great playgrounds from which to draw ideas for the rest of the project. However, the production processes that followed were more challenging.

For us as developers and technicians, the biggest challenge was to convey the complexity of a technical process, with the particularity that it is experimental and untested. The development of a digital prototype that has never existed in this form is a challenge in many ways.Even if we manage to define every desired functionality in advance, which is a prerequisite for sustainable programming, we still cannot know 100% if it will work until we actually try it out. Technology needs precise input and while it is predictable in theory, it is still prone to error in practice. It is a long process of trial and error that makes it perfect.
From the outside, technology can work wonders, but it is not as malleable as words, fabrics or a drawing. The materials that cultural houses deal with are much more ambiguous, indefinable and adaptable than a code, and these differences often lead to different expectations that need to be negotiated during the process.
So if the technical understanding between the partners is not sufficient, which is often the case in interdisciplinary projects, this should be compensated by the trust of the partners. And we are happy that we have received a lot of trust from our partners so far.What awaits us next year? There is definitely no lack of ideas for the last project year.The workshops in 2021/22 were so fruitful that some more projects for both institutions are waiting to be implemented.


Interview Deutschlandfunk Kultur: Digital Theatre - Crisis as Opportunity?

In mid-January we talked to Deutschlandfunk Kultur about our concrete projects - you can find the interview here:

Digital Theatre - Crisis as Opportunity?
2021 - An outlook

Finally the new year begins, in which we have so many plans, hello 2021! Even if the opera and theatre remain closed - we are right in the middle of it.

At the opera, the concept for our contribution to the Augmented Reality Biennale of the NRW Forum, which opens in autumn 2021, is currently being fleshed out. For this, the Ballett am Rhein is taking on small, timid creatures that are sometimes funny, sometimes cheeky, sometimes wicked or graceful - more cannot be revealed yet. In autumn, these creatures can be searched for and found in the Ehrenhof and around the NRW-Forum using their own smartphones. A new format that will hopefully arouse curiosity for more ballet. Works by the artists Jeremy Bailey, Louisa Clement, Lauren Lee McCarthy and Manuel Rossner will also be on display at the AR Biennale. Our digital partner MIREVI, who is also helping to develop the AR Biennale for the NRW-Forum, is supporting us in the implementation of this project.

The first signs of the opera house's "digital opening" on the analogue façade in the old town on Heinrich-Heine-Allee are also taking shape. How would it be, especially in the lockdown, if you could walk past the opera house and "look in" - through your own smartphone, "windows" or "glimpses" open up to rehearsals, singing lessons, a walk through the house? We are currently exploring all possibilities to push this project forward as quickly as possible in order to try out a new tool in the Lockdown, but of course also beyond, and to give all interested parties more insights "behind the scenes". Through augmented reality and with the help of a programmed app, content can be digitally pinned onto the façade of the opera house.

At the FFT, the new programme for our "theatre without a house" was launched with a lot of energy - the FFT is moving and will no longer have a venue for a good six months, so we do, but elsewhere, in places in the city, in other institutions, so we remain a theatre, but without a house for the time being. We are currently working on plans for the foyer of the new KAP 1, the new cultural centre in Düsseldorf, which will also house the city library and the theatre museum. For a foyer that is a real, analogue space but offers digital interfaces in which the audience can network, with each other and beyond that with the internet, perhaps with a game, an application, with other theatres and people. Where does the digital begin, where does it end? In conversations with experts from the fields of digitalisation, net politics, media art, AI, internet culture, diversity, inclusion and other new input, we want to find out this and more. By talking internally, we try to broaden our knowledge in the different areas and also take on new perspectives in order to shape our digital foyer and our work in general in the best possible way and to find inspiration for new projects.

In February, we finally sit down together again, digitally of course, to a task: with our digital partner MIREVI, we are thinking about new websites for FFT and Opera. Sure, the usual programme, tickets, contacts, the 0815 website content can of course be found, but what can a website offer beyond that? How can people get involved and participate? Where can one find research and background information on individual programme items? How can a playful tool offer new added value? What does the interface to the analogue space, to the foyer on site look like? The ideas developed in the workshop will be incorporated into the new version of the websites at the individual venues, which will go online in the autumn for the new season.

What else is happening? In January, this blog will go online. For whom? For the Opera and FFT team, for interested parties from other Fonds Digital projects, for interested parties from the cultural sector, in the end for anyone and everyone who wants to stay informed about the digital foyer. Through blog articles, but also through the link collection, we keep you up to date here and tell you about current developments. We would be happy if you read, comment, contact us and stay on the ball.

What else is in the pipeline for 2021? Installing WLAN in the foyer of the opera house, setting up a working group on digital attitudes and a working group on an overall digital strategy, thinking about digital furniture, entering into cooperations, involving the audience, researching the internet as a democratic tool, inventing new spaces for the theatre of the future. Let's go.
Workshop: Agile working and collegial consultation
- A note from Lena tom Dieck, Project Manager "The Digital Foyer"


The other day I took part in the "Agile Workshop" as part of the event "no Future? The Art of Departure" of the Cultural Policy Society. Here, the concept of "collegial consultation" was explained and applied in a three-hour practical workshop. Beforehand, cultural workers could come forward with their questions, which were then discussed and advised by other colleagues. All in all, it was a really great, very processual and results-oriented approach to solving problems, often called "coaching among colleagues". On the one hand, the courage to name a problem very concretely and to allow other colleagues to find out about it. On the other hand, advice from colleagues who are mostly strangers, sometimes from completely different contexts and sectors, who bring in and share their often long years of experience from cultural work.

A very smart and open approach to move forward from the broad knowledge of the cultural sector. Not everything has to be reinvented and rethought, experience and sharing knowledge helps to tackle more complex problems and find solutions, the network helps further. The prerequisite for successful counselling: trust, helpfulness, reflection. At the end of the workshop, the problem givers had concrete first steps to be implemented in the next few days.

"Collegial consultation" as a tool should be used more often - to focus on "agile working". What does "agile working" mean? That, despite the focused goals of a project, one can always adapt. That if the requirements change, the project is adjusted accordingly. Agility means that you can also react well to the unplanned, that the (naturally unknown) unplannedness is planned for from the beginning. Because anyone who has been working in the cultural sector for a long time will know - things always turn out differently than expected and planned.

Whether Kanban, Design Thinking Workshop or collegial consultation - "agile cultural management" is indispensable for the further development of institutions in the cultural sector. At the moment, there is a lot of discussion about the structures in theatres and museums, as a staff upheaval has already begun and also the realisation that the previous system may no longer fit the requirements of cultural work in 2021. In more and more institutions, the "long-established" managers, curators and directors are retiring, and more and more young, more broadly based professionals are taking over the management. It is precisely at this point that awareness of agile methods should be strengthened. In management, especially in cultural management, people who run museums, theatres, cultural centres and other cultural places, whether on the institutional side or in the independent scene, should also be able to apply these new methods. Through workshops like this one of the Cultural Policy Society, in cooperation with the #AgileKultur network, the exchange succeeds. This is an important point for rethinking the cultural sector.

What does the project "The Digital Foyer" have to do with it?

In this project, two very different theatre houses work together and have tried since the beginning of the project to implement a great openness, a togetherness and a sharing of knowledge in their daily work, to work in an agile way, so to speak. The project is made up of many small sub-projects, but they all pursue a similar goal: To try out new digital tools to rethink interaction and communication with the audience. The Deutsche Oper am Rhein and the FFT Düsseldorf want to provide more insights, more opportunities for talking and thinking along. In the concrete, daily work, this means above all - a lot of communication with each other, "keeping the threads together", focusing the interests of the two houses in individual projects and always readjusting here, adapting in an agile way. One could argue that the project uses agile methods to remain flexible, also because it has a duration of four years. However, "agile working" should go beyond individual projects, which are mostly limited in time, and reach the houses and institutions in order to sustainably change structures, to simplify processes, to be able to react more quickly, to create more space for culture with agile administrative structures in the background that work.
The Involved Audience or: The People Formerly Known as the Audience
The Involved Audience or: The People Formerly Known as the Audience
A guest contribution by Katja Grawinkel-Claassen, FFT Düsseldorf


What comes after the pandemic? - What was before?

There is no audience any more! The theatres were shocked to discover this in the spring of 2020. And they have had to deal with this fact since the beginning of the Corona pandemic. Coming together in large halls or small studios, discussing in foyers, the shared attention of a group for each other and for a performance - all this has not been possible for so long. The theatre quickly found formats to enable encounters in purely digital ways: Live streams with chat function, video chat productions, messenger games, virtual stage spaces and apps that make stage and performance digitally mobile. Neither these possibilities of media liveness nor the digital remote communities in which we keep ourselves socially afloat make up for the loss of public coming together. It goes far beyond theatre and the events industry. It becomes a historical task to re-practice being together in public. That's why I don't want to talk about genuinely pandemic, digital theatre forms here. I want to think about a changed togetherness as a basic condition of contemporary performing arts.

A digital audience will exist after the pandemic because it existed before the pandemic. It may be that the isolation of the pandemic has made it even more difficult to ignore this audience. The fact is that many theatre-makers have had it firmly in their sights for a long time, also because they themselves belong to it. This audience can and should serve as a starting point for a future understanding of theatre (just as it is a good idea to think of theatre from the audience anyway). Theatres do not necessarily have to found digital stages. Rather, the places where theatre is made and experienced must be living places within a digitalised world. When we talk about the activity of the audience in these places in the following, we are talking about changed narratives, shared spaces and dramaturgies of shared responsibility. It is about nothing less than new ways of coming together.

"Internet state of mind"

In 2019, eight out of ten people aged 14 and over in Germany used a smartphone. This means that digitalisation enters the theatre quite automatically. An "internet state of mind" (Carson Chan) is increasingly shaping the perception of the people who meet here. The term digital natives, coined by John Perry Barlow in 1996, sums up this way of being in the world. Piotr Czerski described it in 2012 as follows: "The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it... We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it." Of course, there are still moments when we consciously go online, but numerous everyday activities from listening to music to navigating through traffic are already based on being online without thinking about it. Friendships, work, travel - long unimaginable without the net. The knowledge of our own media visibility and the digital traces we leave behind has seeped deep into our actions.

These digital everyday practices have also arrived in theatre and determine the perception and design of the spaces of art. I am explicitly not only talking about theatre for children and young people here. When I described the "theatre of the digital natives" with Kathrin Tiedemann and Irina-Simona Bârcă, I meant the perspective on a younger generation that is perhaps still conspicuous by its absence in some theatres. But we are not excluding anyone because we assume that the "internet state of mind" has long since shaped large sections of society in one way or another and is stimulating a new generational relationship. It is therefore suitable for the kind of discussion and negotiation that I would like to see in a contemporary theatre that participates in the digital transformation of society through discourse and technology.
The art of togetherness

There is no longer an audience - and no actors. For some decades now, this separation and distribution of roles has been replaced in theatre and the visual arts by an invitation to encounter and the sharing of responsibility. Florian Malzacher writes in his book "Gesellschaftsspiele. Political Theatre Today": "Participation in the arts can serve to investigate or develop models with which power and responsibility can be shared differently - and in this way to explore new forms of participation for larger social contexts. On the contrary, it can also be about consciously problematising participation, playing with the abuse of power in order to enable or force insights through discomfort". In theatre, this artistic development went hand in hand with spatial changes: From the light in the auditorium during the performance, to the removal of the "fourth wall" and the democratisation of the gaze, to site-specific works that leave the theatre with its architectures of separation altogether. The use of technical media also has a long tradition in such participatory or relational forms of theatre. Groups and artists such as She She Pop, Rimini Protokoll, Lukas Matthaei, Schauplatz International and many others used the possibilities of digitalisation in their works early on. These often complicate the spatial arrangement and at the same time reflect digital discourses of acceleration, globalisation or control.

One development that has strongly influenced theatre in the last ten years is oriented towards computer games. Here, the amalgamation of materials, technologies and participation, which lead to a new activity of the audience, can be seen particularly vividly. Numerous groups are developing game formats for small and larger groups, for theatre spaces and site-specific performances. The games are often designed to resemble digital games, which is why digital natives can often "operate" them intuitively. This is not a form of theatre explicitly aimed at children and young people, because the games that artist groups such as machina eX, Anna Kpokoder Prinzip Gonzo model themselves on are rather stored in the memory of an older generation of "digital natives". Nevertheless, they turn the generational relationship and the distribution of knowledge in theatre on its head in a productive way.

In the successful examples, digitisation is not only the subject or only the technology of the performance. Rather, it offers a holistic breeding ground on which narration, technology and the type of encounter complement each other in a new way in order to do justice to pressing social issues. Participatory elements play a crucial role in this. Not only because the use of digital media abolishes the separation between actor and recipient, as early net utopias promised. Precisely because the current development of the digital sphere favours powerful players and platforms and limits the agency of individuals, theatre can also offer a space to practise the distinction between pseudo participation and real involvement.

What do we do when we are not watching?

There is no audience any more. But the people who love theatre are still there. We noticed that again and again during the pandemic: They still exist, the people who watch performances on screen, chat and control artistic avatars in virtual spaces. Just as there are people who go on walks with individual artists or go on audio walks alone in a Lockdown-like manner. These are perhaps the same people who, even before the pandemic, were prepared not to know exactly what the evening would bring before buying their tickets. Who were willing to sit in circles of chairs with us, look for clues on stage for the story to progress or listen to each other when there was a group decision to be made. I don't think it makes much sense to speculate about whether their attention span is getting shorter or how many parallel tabs they have open on their screen. On the other hand, it is great fun to look for new descriptions for the activity of those we once called "spectators": Players, users, avatars, multitaskers...

As early as 2006, journalist Jay Rosen spoke of "People Formerly Known as the Audience", alluding not only to a change in media use that turns consumers into producers. In this view, the audience is conceived as a networked one that is always already active, already involved. It does not ask itself whether it is involved in an activity, but it certainly registers the way in which its involvement is demanded. When the "People Formerly Known as the Audience" visit the theatre - be it digitally or on site - it is up to us to make the forms of participation artistically sophisticated. It is not about participation for participation's sake. Our audiences have never been passive and they have a fine sensor for how we meet them and whether we are willing to truly share responsibility with them.

The public sphere between agency and manipulation

Realising participatory theatre during and after the pandemic is a special challenge. After all, it requires and favours a special closeness and connection between those involved. "A theatre does not simply move", writes Ulrike Haß in reference to the upcoming move of the FFT Düsseldorf to a new house. She is alluding to the special relationship between theatre and city. The statement is of course transferable to the move of a digital, pandemic theatre "back" to the deserted city centres. Particularly interesting in order to shape this "move" - or shall we call it a new beginning? - I find the playful formats of digitally savvy artists with an eye for current events particularly interesting.

PATROL" by machina eX is a hybrid theatre game in urban space that sends each player on a mission via her own smartphone. As agents of a security company, we monitor the public space and, similar to the courier cyclists of supply chains, are repeatedly provided with new orders and evaluated after completion. A suspenseful game of fictional story and real observations, agency and manipulation quickly unfolds. In the pandemic-proof single-player mode, the participants bring themselves back into play publicly. Both the required activity and the hybrid character of perception oscillate between fun and discomfort, visibility, power and abuse. Hybrid, future theatre in urban space - without an audience at all.

Published in Das Magazin von Kultur Management Network – Ausgabe Mai/Juni 2021


Where is it, this digital foyer?

In December 2019, it was announced that we would be funded in the Fonds Digital of the Federal Cultural Foundation with our project "The Digital Foyer". There was brief attention from the press, questions about the digital foyer - about when? Where? How? What? - were asked, and we couldn't answer them a year ago. The concept for the funding application had been written, but the concrete implementation was still to take a little while.

Colleagues, artists and interested people continue to ask: Where is this digital foyer? When can I visit it? One year after receiving the funding and finally having arrived at the project, we can say that the digital foyer is in the works and we are already in the middle of it! There are first visible processes such as our kick-off event in October 2020, which dealt with digital spaces for the performing arts:

We invited the makers of eˉlektron from Tallinn, a transdisciplinary platform for performing arts where artists and scientists work together. is the stage of eˉlektron - a virtual space that can be adapted to different needs. The input from elektron was exciting, as it reimagined a truly digital space and gave us a lot of inspiration and some discussion points for our project, on collaborative work, community building, rituals. The production community nota from Berlin was also a guest. nota is an assembly software developed jointly by artists and programmers. It offers special digital spaces for rehearsal processes or as a virtual archive. As part of the Alliance of International Production Houses, a hands-on workshop with nota also followed in October, in which the possibilities of this virtual space will continue to be tested through their own projects.

Tina Lorenz, Project Manager for Digital Development at the Staatstheater Augsburg, also gave further impetus to the digital world of theatres during the launch event - watch the livestream of the launch event from 5 October 2020 here:

This was followed in November by a discourse on live streaming vs. live on-site experience, as part of the Opera Europa autumn conference. Opera Europa, the association of European opera houses and opera festivals with over 200 members from 43 countries, invited participants to discuss "The survival of the fittest". At the Düsseldorf Opera House, the panel discussed: "The relationship between live and online performances" using the example of Viktor Ullmann's opera "The Emperor of Atlantis", which celebrated its premiere at the Düsseldorf Opera House in September and is currently available free of charge as a "stream on demand" on operavision. eu, the Executive Director of Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Alexandra Stampler-Brown with director Ilaria Lanzino, opera singer Kimberley Boettger-Soller, filmmaker Oliver Becker, who directed the recording for streaming, and Luke O'Shaughnessy from the streaming portal Operavision. The discussion broadened the horizon of streaming a lot, as the focus was not only on the comparison between the on-site experience and streaming at home, but also on the demands made on the director, the performers and the technology. The user side was also considered - how and where do people stream cultural input, what equipment do they have, what qualitative standards are important.

Behind the scenes, i.e. on the non-public level, we are in constant exchange with each other, between the FFT and the opera, in schedules and zoom meetings, in website developments and research, in thoughts about augmented reality and digital furniture, but also in the network with colleagues and experts. The project is accompanied scientifically by the MIREVI working group at the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences. At the beginning of the new year 2021, we would also like to exchange ideas with you here on THE DIGITAL FOYER BLOG.

The digital possibilities are great and many - that's why we want to temporarily open a first "Digital Foyer" here, together with you, in the form of a blog to discuss exciting starting points with each other, to offer a platform for exchange, to overview the digital world with its manifold offers, to sort them and to make them a little more tangible. Feel invited to comment, to network, to exchange ideas. Guest contributions are also welcome.
First Digital Lab of the Cultural Foundation

The Federal Cultural Foundation supports 15 projects in the Digital Fund, including "The Digital Foyer" of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein and the FFT Düsseldorf. On the website of the Kulturstiftung it reads as follows: "The Digital Fund enables alliances of at least two cultural institutions to expand on processes of change that have already begun, to experiment with new digital aesthetics and forms of expression and to further advance the digital profile of their institutions. ... Funding is provided for the development and implementation of digital projects in the areas of digital curating, digital artistic production, digital mediation and communication".

At the beginning of December 2020, almost a year after the funding was approved, all project leaders and staff from 36 cultural institutions will meet for the first Digital Lab - to get to know each other, to exchange ideas, for short keynote speeches on collaborative work, digital transformation and interdisciplinary cooperation. In 2020, the event will of course take place online. The Cultural Foundation has created an exciting website architecture for this purpose, from which you can go to different digital spaces. There will be lectures on the Main Stage, of course. Much more interesting is the digital foyer, built on Here, the real foyers and meeting rooms are imitated. The participants, represented as small dots with their own photo, can move freely in the room.

If you get closer, a common "bubble" opens up in which you can talk via video chat, whether it's just the two of you or the ten of you. This is where a real exchange takes place: about project ideas and the current state of development, about problems in project management or the "reconciliation" of two or more institutions in a joint project. It's about contracts and awarding as well as co-curating and cultural mediation. And despite the digital foyer, similar feelings arise as in the analogue world - can I just join in and have my say? Do I know someone here on the ground? The social practices also come into play in the digital world. And after the first day, you already see a few more faces that you now "know", albeit digitally for now.

At the end of this first Digital Lab, after three days of exchange and short presentations of the projects, input on systemic organisational development and digital media technologies, some ideas were taken away. Above all, however, contacts were made with other projects in the Fonds Digital that work in similar structures, have the same digital partner, are at the same point of development or are pursuing similar ideas. For example, the "Spielräume" project of the Komische Oper Berlin together with the Berliner Ensemble. The idea: to create new worlds of experience and meeting spaces through play. Or the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf in cooperation with the Museum Ulm - here the platform is being set up for co-curation and co-creation, for more participation in the development of exhibitions. In addition to the website, the two project leaders have also launched various digital formats such as Tech-Time, Community Pingpong and a Telegram group that now has more than 400 interested participants.

The "Training the Archive" project of the Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV) from Dortmund together with the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Aachen also presents itself as exciting: artificial intelligence is to imitate the human research process through pattern recognition technology in order to support curatorial work. It remains exciting to see what happens next on all these digital fronts. The Cultural Foundation naturally invites you to exchange ideas next year as well, hopefully live on site and with a good feeling of having already met some people and projects.
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