A Virtually New Stage of Life: One Theatre student's trip abroad to Prague

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Jessica Bertrand wearing VR goggles in a stand of treesWhat makes a performance and design compelling? In recent years there has been an exploratory focus on the opportunities virtual and mixed realities present to the entertainment world, and theatre is no exception. What do platforms such as VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) offer us in expanding our understanding of performance and design as artistic mediums?

These are some of the questions Jessica (Jess) Bertrand has been exploring the last four months, volunteering her time as a Creative Assistant to Paul Cegys as they prepare to set up and attend Czech Republic’s Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space 2019 (PQ19) in June - an international festival of theatre and design hosting artists from around the world.

Jess is a fourth year student finishing up her Honours Bachelor degree in Theatre and Performance . She has explored various roles within her program, from Assistant Stage Manager, to Actor, Dramaturg, and Collaborative Creator. With more of her focus centered on performance, she felt like it was time to delve deeper into her curiosity about design and the potentials virtual reality platforms lend to performance. She has taken the Drama 379: Virtual Theatre course, and worked at a Waterloo VR entertainment startup Mirage VR as a Game Master. Both of these experiences were catalysts that helped her appreciate VR and MR storytelling, sparking the interest in exploring these realms further within her educational practice.

Jessica Bertrand holding a light for a VR experiment with Jennifer Roberts-SmithHer professor Paul Cegys currently serves as the Digital Curator for the Canadian Student and Emerging Artists Exhibit for PQ19 and is the Co-Curator and Workgroup Leader for the 36Qº installation project. When he put out a Call for Participants, looking for a Creative Assistant for the abroad theatre exhibition PQ2019, this was an opportunity Jess met with open arms and an eager application. This was her chance to learn, grow and meet artists from around the world. Though the call did not receive initial funding, upon interest and volunteering her time regardless of funding, she will be sponsored through UWaterloo’s non-credit research initiative, Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity (REAP), which wants to supports opportunities for student education, research and development, which will aid Jess in her journey to learn and assist at PQ19. But what has she been assisting in?

Every four years the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space is held in the Czech Republic, attracting artists and creators from around the world. The festival runs from June 6th to 16th, this June 2019. The aim is to bring the best of design for performance, scenography, and theatre architecture to the forefront of culture for any level of artist. The event can be seen as a global catalyst of creative progresses by encouraging experimentation, networking, innovation, and future collaborations. Jess’s role as Creative Assistant is to support Paul within the Professional National Canadian Exhibit, 36Q° Blue Hour, and the 36Q° VR Gallery projects. She has done dramaturgical research on poetry focusing on light, narrative and the senses, as well as various arts administration work for Gallery applicants, spreadsheets, timestamping interviews and more. She will be helping set up once in Prague, provide feedback, and help with a variety of administration, facilitation and potentially performative opportunities.

Jessica Bertrand wearing VR gogglesThe core of her contribution though, is through the open and constructive conversations about the projects themes, goals and mechanics with Paul. Discussing concepts and ideas is a key part of any creative process, a part Jess has found extremely valuable in grasping and expanding upon theoretical and practical applications of performance and virtual reality experiences.

The core of any collaborative process is the relationship between collaborators, following the natural flow of experimentation and evolving ideas. Jess has valued this opportunity to gain insight into large scale projects, observing the process collaborative creation projects. As a theatre student about to graduate, Jess finds these insights to be invaluable into situating herself within the greater theatre world, nationally and internationally. Getting the opportunity to go abroad, assist, meet and learn from artists around the world is something that does not happen very often, and she is taking the chance by stride. Jess values her contributions to the various projects as opportunities to learn from and to practice skills she has gained from her program. She is looking forward to learning from and observing the amazing collaborators that PQ attracts, and discover new venues for performance and design that she has yet to be exposed to.  

On June 2nd Jess headed to Prague to help set up the main virtual reality installations within PQ’s 36Q°, and be a helping hand in the other installations throughout the two weeks. She is grateful to be getting the chance to lend her skills to the festival, and sees PQ as a wonderful opportunity that more theatre students should get the chance to work on and attend. It is important for students to have the opportunities to learn and grow their skills in various settings outside of the University while still getting their education, and international festivals promoting the arts is a wonderful way of representing UWaterloo and its tight knit Faculty of Arts. Jess is thrilled to be representing the Theatre and Performance Department on an international level, and is excited to culminate all she has learned in her degree so far to a place where the arts thrive and are celebrated. This is the theatre student opportunity of a lifetime which has and will offer invaluable opportunities to learn and create alongside artistic professionals and is a chance to spread her wings as future theatre collaborator.