Online space: why, features, pros and cons
by Giolli

During CAaD project lifetime we have been leading various workshops to construct the tool-kit about theatre in anti-discrimination work.

Some of them were in presence but some online.

The experience was hard as theatre and virtuality seem to be opposite, one requires the body present, the other one requires the body at home behind a screen.

One is a community rite, the other is an individual approach.

One is based on senses, the other one mainly on technology.

One presumes closeness, the other distance…


After the first shock however, we tried to experiment this oxymoron, by doing theatre in the virtual space.

The starting question was for us:

<How to use theatre online as a lot of people have been obligated to?>.


Even if virtual theatre seems like an oxymoron and we thought it had no sense, we have discovered its positive side and explored some possibilities.


What are the discoveries in general?

– it is possible and meaningful to play theatre online

– it can keep a group alive, if already created in presence

– it connects people far from our venue

– the screen allows silence and embarrassment

– the screen protects people, giving more possibility to be passive and not seen by others

– one can leave easily the scene

– emotions can be strong as well as people being touched, like in presence.


We experimented with both games and Forum-Theatre online.


In this case we suggest as first step with a group, to literacy a bit about the media with simple actions:

  • turn off and on the video and microphone
  • explanations on how to use the chat
  • how to ask for speaking
  • how to have a better connection
  • how to listen to
  • how to use the screen in a creative way
  • etiquette and politeness rules are necessary for a good interaction: when to speak, turn off the microphone, ask to intervene, etc.


Creative use of virtuality.

We have to realise that this medium is particular and we cannot transfer what we do in person to the online environment. We have to discover the key features of this medium, and therefore the possibility to use the screen in a creative way, that is not only sitting down in front, but approaching and receding, moving a part of the body close to the camera, leaving the screen, entering from a side or from the bottom, using objects as metaphor, passing objects from a person to another one, using light, scenarios, music, etc.


Third consideration: if you want to use games you have to select the ones suitable to this particular media.

For instance exercises where each person acts individually have a clear floor, while the ones implying rhythm are quite impossible, due to the different synchronization and times.

Exercises where people touch each other are complicated, while creating images with one’s own body are more simple.

In a workshop online we could reach a strong intimacy in the silence, even if we are physically far.


Then the Forum-Theatre.

In Forum we ask to turn off the screen and use a mode “do not show the non video participants”; in this way who is speaking/acting is bigger and more visible and also the emotional impact it is. Like they were on stage under lights.

You must learn a new language, more visual, to impact: 

– the self zoom in, if you want to focus on a detail

– approaching the screen to generate impact

– exit from stage can be double (exit the screen or switch off the camera)

– need of better organisation (double roles in case of bad connection, someone to manage the entrances and technical problem, someone managing the chat).


Then, actors should take into account a possible shut-down in connection; for this reason we had 2 actors for the same character, to be able to replace the one in trouble. The same about the Joker leading the Forum: we planned to have 2 persons.

Actors should relate to each other in a symbolic way (A can look on right but on some screen there is none looking on the left against him/her…); you should talk in front usually. Also it can happen you do not know exactly when to speak without overlapping the colleague.

Proxemics is almost absent and non verbal communication is focused on the face as the body is too small on the screen.

If you want to create a common scenario you have to agree with the actors playing in the same space to use the same background (colour, objects, lights).

If the scene changes the environment, you have to change the background quickly.


Then it is necessary to ask the audience to switch off their video and microphone, to emphasize the scene.

During the intervention one person collected the name from who would have liked to intervene, helping the joker to manage the audience.

So the Forum-Theatre follows more or less the same process as in presence.


Why to do it online? What are the advantages?

– to get people far away or busy or not enough motivated to travel

– to facilitate shy people that hardly would come to participate in Forum-Theatre or theatre workshops.


More advantages:

– the actor sees him/herself and can correct immediately and also being more conscious about his/her communication

– double communication: screen and chat or Facebook too

– new exercises based on chains more than touching or acting in the same time (therefore more linear exercise)

– possibility to create rooms with a clear timing, set up by the system.



– need of literacy training and policy

– difficult to observe the public/participants as actors and as Joker

– difficult to feel the audience and their presence

– difficult to synchronize and then no rhythmic exercise

– voices distorted by the medium

– difficult to use music

– risk of break in communication for connection problem

– singing together impossible as touching

– difficult to feel when to intervene as spect-actor

– if more people act in the same time there is easily confusion

– the personal screen position in the whole screen, is not the same for all

– in case of emotional problem the Joker cannot easily repair, nor intervene warmly

– taking the speech is not spontaneous but based on rules.


Despite these difficulties we think that to use theatre in virtual space can work and has also some advantages if you can minimize the risk, as suggested.

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