The Plaintext Players
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Demotic 2004/2006
The Roman Forum Project 2003
Virtual Live 2002
The Roman Forum 2000
Birth of the Christ Child 1999
Still Lies Quiet Truth 1998
Silent Orpheus 1997
Orpheus 1997
The White Whale 1997
The Candide Campaign 1996
Gutter City 1995
LittleHamlet 1995
The Cake of the Desert 1996
I Object 1995
Christmas 1994

FAQ

Who are the Plaintext Players?
Where can the Plaintext Players be seen?
How do cyberperformances work?
What are some Plaintext Players projects?
Are any Plaintext Players transcripts available?
Do you work in other media?
Is there any place to read about this work?
Why call it performance if it's really text?
Can I become a Player?


updated: september 2010

 
Who are the Plaintext Players?
We're an online performance group forging a unique hybrid of performance, narrative, poetry, and role-play, using network technology. We started out in the Internet's role-playing worlds known as MOOs, and we've since worked in some of the newer virtual spaces such as UpStage and Second Life. We've also collaborated with performance artists to create mixed-reality and telematic works.

In textual environments like MOOs, the cyberformances take shape as text written by the performers in real time, making it a profoundly collaborative enterprise. In UpStage and Second Life, these verbal improvisations are integrated with visual and audio elements. In the mixed-reality pieces, the texts improvised online are transmitted to physical spaces through projections, text-to-speech synthesis, and other methods enabling two-way communication.

Individually, we're writers, playwrights, performers, musicians, artists, geeks— anyone inspired by the idea of language as performance and vice versa.

For details on who's who in the Players, check out our list of players.

For more about the history of cyberformance and information about other groups doing similar work, see the cyberformance entry in Wikipedia.

 
Where can the Plaintext Players be seen?
We perform online, but our performances are also seen and heard offline via live projection and text-to-speech synthesis. Very often the virtual performers are working with "real-world" actors, creating a shared "mixed reality" where the online world and the traditional stage meet.

We have presented our shows at venues in the United States and Europe, including the Beall Gallery at the University of California, Irvine; documenta X; the Venice Biennale; LocationOne Gallery (New York); Postmasters Gallery (New York); the Sandra Gering Gallery (New York); the Xavier Lopez Gallery (London); the 1995 Digital Salon (New York); and the 1995 European Media Arts Festival (EMAF).

In addition, we have adapted our work to other media, including a book and a radio play (see below).

For more information, check out our list of performances.

 
How do cybererformances work?
The performers log into their shared virtual world from anywhere in the real world. Under the guidance of a "digital director," the performers improvise complex dramas based on prepared but fairly loose scenarios. The director's goal is to provide the combination of elements—a workable structure, a space of mutual trust, clear direction, compelling storylines—that will set the performers free to improvise at a high level of inventiveness.

Although the director usually sets the themes and creates the scenarios, responsibility for the development of specific characters rests largely with the individual performers. It is the performers who really make this medium work. The resulting transcripts or performance texts defy any simple classification and are artistically rich both as literature and as performance.

 
What are some Plaintext Players projects?
Since we were founded in 1994, the original series of performances we've developed include:

"Demotic" (2004/2006): This project features American Memory, a single character with many voices. It is an improvisation among different kinds of performers and different modes of reality, involving sound artists and a theater actor as well as the Plaintext Players.

"The Roman Forum Project" (2003): The Roman cast returns to consider the rocky road from the disastrous U.S. presidential election of 2000 to the opening of war in Iraq in March 2003.

"The Roman Forum" (2000): Imagine meeting half a dozen of the more colorful figures from the Rome of 2000 years ago-- some benign, some ill-tempered, some prudish, some decadent, but all politically savvy. They may have been dead for centuries, but they still know how to campaign, and the year 2000 was an election year.

"Birth of the Christ Child"(1999): This work celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Christ Child through a re-performance of the divine comedy in a new medium. The theological and dramatological issues of the reconciliation of good and evil, and the issue of time itself, seemed pressing on the eve of the new millenium. We were artistically curious about how these issues would play out in a comedy.

"Orpheus" and "Silent Orpheus"(1997): In this version of the classical legend, many details are different. But the basic story remains the same: Orpheus, the legendary singer and poet, must go down to Hell to bring his love, Eurydice, back from the dead. He fails in this task, and on his return to Earth, he is ripped to pieces by Maenads.

"The White Whale" (1997): This series began with a report of a white whale washed up dead in Venice. Some thought it must be Moby Dick; others argued that it must be a collective hallucination, for there are no whales in the Mediterranean. Herman Melville's Ishmael (the only person alive who has ever seen Moby Dick) and other characters gathered in Venice to see if it was really true that Moby Dick was finally dead.

"The Candide Campaign" (1996): In this four-part election-year series, the naive and sentimental young Candide pitted his Majority Party against Baron.Samedi's Death Party. Assisted by his running mate, howweird the horse, and his political advisor, the malevolent she-demon Monkey-General, Candide aimed for the Highest Office in the Land. For winners and losers alike, it was a fast-moving, unpredictable, and sometimes chaotic free-for-all in the best tradition of American politics.

"Gutter City" (1995-96): Set both in the present and the Civil War, this serial drama followed the adventures of Ishmael after his rescue from the shipwreck at the end of Moby Dick. Haunted by the ghost of the white whale, Ishmael strove to make sense of life on land in the midst of our most terrible war and, more immediately, to avoid becoming cannon fodder at the hands of the Monkey-General.

"LittleHamlet" (1995): In this reworking of the Hamlet story, all of the characters' formerly unspoken needs, fears, and desires came to the fore. Between Gertrude's naked lust for her son, Polonius's drivel, and Claudius's constant denials of guilt, it became clear that Hamlet's tragedy is the very stuff of farce.

"Christmas" (1994-95): The longest series so far was also our first. Our experiments with the then-new medium of online performance featured the ongoing adventures of an archetypal trio: Big Man, Little Man, and Bloody Zelda. Little Man's efforts to control Big Man and keep him away from the violent Bloody Zelda took them from the desert to the Werewolf Woods, from the courtroom to the DownUnderWorld.

 
Are any Plaintext Players transcripts available?
See our 'readings' page under the main menu for full transcripts of online performances as well as adaptations like a radio play and a poem. You'll also find brief quotations from many of the performances sprinkled throughout the site.
See next question for details about our spin-off projects.

 
Do you work in other media?
Antoinette LaFarge and various collaborators have created a number of related projects based on the Plaintext Players work, several of which are online. These include:

Still Lies Quiet Truth (1998): A theater work based on the Candide Campaign transcripts. It premiered in the New York International Fringe Festival.

SLQT (1996): An epic poem drawn from the Candide Campaign transcripts.

The Cake of the Desert (1996): A radio play intended as a monologue for male or female voice. It had its premiere performance on PseudoRadio's "Art Dirt" show in August 1996.

The Cake of the Desert (1995): A 30-page graphic novel based on the transcript of the ninth performance in the "Christmas" series. It was originally published in a limited edition by Haifisch Press (Germany).

I Object (1994-95): A series of text artworks created for the web. All the texts of I Object are excerpted from an episode in the Christmas series entitled "Guilty as Lambs, Innocent as Sin." This episode, featuring a trial, offers a highly condensed review of our legal system, in all its aggression, good will, hypocrisy, compassion, absurdity, and desire.

 
Is there any place to read about this work?
Yes, there are a number of articles about online performance in general and the Plaintext Players in particular. Check out our 'readings' page for a list, with links to those that are online.

 
Why call it performance if it's really text?
Mainly because we still think of text as something written, but Plaintext Players texts are genuinely performed— a unique hybrid of drama, fiction, poetry, confession, and oral storytelling— a kind of media commedia or virtual vaudeville. In a word: cyberformance.

This work tends toward absurdity, extravagance, humor, and surprise. Under cover of a Rabelaisian surface, the performers explore unsettling psychic terrain: gender and identity shifts; the attractions of violence and cruelty; the boundaries between truth, lies, and stories.

Cyberformance exploits a number of the most idiosyncratic aspects of the Internet: the sense of being immersed in a virtual world; the ability of people anywhere in the real world to be virtually present in the same time-space; the collective preference for pseudonymous interaction; and the beauty of lag as a disrupter of normal communications.

Moreover, it takes advantage of the fact that what is perceived as the lowest of low tech in the computer world (text) is paradoxically an enormously high-bandwidth medium for ideas, for adventure, for imaginal experience generally.

 
Can I become a Player?
As of this writing (Sept. 2010) the Plaintext Players are dormant. However, this shouldn't stop you from exploring cyberformance for yourself. As a first step, we recommend investigating UpStage, which has an annual festival of cyberformance (this year it will be on 10/10/2010) and is generally willing to host artists interested in breaking new ground in online and telematic performance. And there's also a good deal going on in Second Life these days...