CdnStudio: Digital rehearsal hall demonstrates how technology can bridge creation across distance

CdnStudio is an online 'room' that uses Internet technology to bring collaborators from across Canada together.

In Canada we have so much space to enjoy with varying landscapes, cultures, climates and histories. We're living in the second largest country in the world by total area. Yet the distance can pose a challenge from time to time. Have you had to help your son or daughter move to attend a school in another province? How many kilometers have you put on your vehicle driving to visit relatives in another city? It’s s not a mystery why Canadians measure distance in hours.

This challenge of distance resonated with Sarah Garton Stanley, from SpiderWebShow – Canada’s first digitally-engaged, nationally-driven performing arts company– when she found herself in discussion about rehearsals one day. Sarah was speaking with an Aboriginal artist who lived in Northern Canada, who explained that the expense of travel and relative isolation meant many rehearsals could only take place on the day of a performance. It was this conversation that led to the genesis of CdnStudio.

CdnStudio: Canada’s first digital rehearsal hall

CdnStudio is an online 'room' that uses Internet technology to bring collaborators from across Canada together. This digital tool takes separate video streams and blends them together in real time, allowing users to see and hear each other in the same digital space, reducing costs to rehearse which can be prohibitive. The solution, developed with the help of multimedia designer and technician Joel Adria, is specifically designed to be used with non-proprietary technology so that it may be accessible to all artists with minimal set-up. CdnStudio is an initiative funded by CIRA’s Community Investment Program and was launched on May 15th at the Theatre Centre in Toronto.   

CdnStudio brings the rehearsal hall to you. Rehearse in real-time with your collaborators from anywhere in the world.

CdnStudio can play a role solving the issue of travel and cost for creators looking to work in different locations. It also creates new opportunities for work that wouldn't even be considered due to the limitations of time and space. In particular, it has potential to empower and expand the capacity of Northern and Aboriginal communities to collaborate more and in new ways by giving artists the opportunity to participate for weeks or even months before they meet up physically.

Exploring opportunities

As with the development of any technology, the creation of CdnStudio has not been without a few bumps and bruises.

“Even though we deliberately designed CdnStudio to be low-tech, we didn't anticipate how big a step it is for people to order a green screen for themselves, or even just go to a Dollar Store to get a green shower curtain. This is our biggest barrier to adoption,” says Michael Wheeler, artistic director at SpiderWebShow.

The team has seen some hesitation in the theatre community. “Some creators already hate the alienation of Skype-like technologies and worry this is going to increase that effect in a creative process.”

A few skeptics aside, for the most part, the launch of CdnStudio has been positively received.

“Other creators are excited by the fact this effectively blows apart one of the core tenets of live theatre: that people occupy the same physical space as performers to experience a show. Certainly the response has been passionate on both sides of the issue,” Wheeler explains.

Sarah Garton Stanley in beta testing for CdnStudio with Queen's University at The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

The technology continues to improve and the team is working on a to-do list of features such as layering controls to determine which feed appears on top of others.

After launching in May, SpiderWebShow presented the technology to directors and projection designers that they thought would be likely candidates as early adopters. “We've had some really exciting conversations and can't wait to see what other artists decide to do with our creation,” says Wheeler.

There’s also been interest in expanding the capability of the technology and applying it to other sectors.

“News programs on T.V.  for instance often bring in guests who each have their own box on the screen. Why not bring all of your guests in one virtual space?”

Coming soon to a festival near you: Catch the CdnStudio in action

Spiderwebshow is currently working with artists to try new ideas creating work at The SummerWorks Festival in Toronto this August. They are also presenting a show called The Revolutions at The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, Ontario in September that will have remote performers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. 

CdnStudio – a technology that brings people together

While Canada’s large geographic area can at times make it difficult to accomplish certain things, the entrepreneurial spirit we’ve seen across the country and adaptability to new technologies has led to the development of some incredible solutions. CdnStudio, among many projects supported through the Community Investment Program, uses technology and the Internet to overcome distance and bring people together in an inclusive online space.

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