[Science Solitaire] Avatars and the performing arts

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] Avatars and the performing arts
'What if your favorite performing artist showed up in your house through some abracadabra of digital technology? How will that change the quality of your day?'

Maria Isabel Garcia

If an audible and visual Sting showed up in my bedroom, singing the classic My One and Only Love, I think I will forget or drop all my videocon appointments and daydream for at least a whole day and come back to my working life with inspired vengeance.  My sister who has loved Martin Nievera for 3 decades am sure will lock up in her bedroom if he would show up visually and audibly there as well. What if your favorite performing artist showed up in your house through some abracadabra of digital technology? How will that change the quality of your day?

When we say or hear the word “entertainment,” unless you are performing artists who consider it at the core of their identities, we think of it as some kind of “dessert” – like ice cream on a pie that is already good even without it. As such, it is mostly relegated only “to amuse” – like a superfluous add-on. But to see it that way eats away at not just what drives a performing artist, but what you are capable of as the recipient of a work of art. How do we save ourselves then? Like with many things, we can save ourselves if we go back to basics – what does “entertainment” really mean?  

“Entertainment” comes from two Latin words “inter” (among) and “tenere” (to hold). Those are very deliberate words and joining them is an even more deliberate act. It homes in on the effect of performing artists on our souls and does not single them out as an economic or taxable classification (“amusement tax”). An entertainer holds you, the individual, in the shattered moving pieces you have at any time so you could affirm that you are capable of recognizing and appreciating the beauty, complexity, and genius of life in song, dance, drama, or play.  An entertainer also holds us all – the collective – in an invisible embrace – locking us all in the performance, all of us interlinked in that moment of time to affirm that while our experiences widely vary, we are joyfully melded by the indescribable human spirit at our core. (READ: Social dis-dance: clubbing goes online as virus shuts nightspots)

Performing artists have that formidable, irrevocable, powerful role in our lives: to hold us together. And hands down, they have done so, as art in various forms did a remarkable job in rescuing a planet full of quarantined souls. But how will they continue to do that in times like these if they themselves cannot work together in one set to deliver to us what they do best – the spirited rendition of bits and pieces of our lives in song, dance, or play? 

The entertainment industry is one of those industries that need to reinvent themselves fast not only because there is no vaccine yet for COVID-19 but because it is likely that pandemics will happen again because of what we have been doing to nature for a very long time. Entertainment now needs to plan, operate and deliver in two worlds – in-person and virtually. 

They can do this creatively and distinctively by collaborating with the AI and gaming industry as investors are doing now. With the technology used in many animated movies and gaming where the movements of humans are so lifelike, I could really see it happening. As a performer, you could hook yourself up to those sensors while you perform in your private space and your performance is translated into your avatar, who can then perform with other avatars of your co-performers. There are very good game programmers in the Philippines who will probably be so excited to work with performing artists to reinvent the delivery of what holds us together. (READ: In lockdown, the streets are silent – but Filipino musicians have not stopped playing)

But why will we even trust that the virtual versions of artistic performances will work? 

Because the human brain, while it reacts to real world settings, is also a vicarious brain. This is why shows, movies, and video games work. The storytelling happening there affect the stories you tell yourself as well. Studies have shown the activated brain regions when you experience something yourself overlap with those regions that are alive when we process someone else’s action, reaction, feelings, or even sensations. You can be on a flying carpet, wield a shiny laser sword, walk with a lion, or feel the heartache of lost love without ever having to physically go through all that because you have a vicarious brain. The power of entertainers to hold you together in their emotions is made possible because you have a brain that can see through emphatic lenses. You cannot help it and if everything aligns, that experience will make you a memory that not only will last but also shape that way you look at and live your life.

The human brain is so complex and creative that it will find a way to connect in any circumstance it finds itself in. These pandemic times is no exception. Our brains are able to co-create countless worlds with other people – many of whom we will never meet in person, because we have vicarious brains. Each kind of experience will have its set of unique strengths and weaknesses, but each will also distinctly contribute to continually define what it means to be alive. 

So maybe this is also the time when we can redeem some of the misgivings we have about the virtual. If avatars of performing artists are genuine products of their own voices, movements, and intentions, then maybe we will trust virtual versions more. If artists could use their avatars to expand how they can collaborate with other performing artists and not just within their own groups, then entertainment will even be richer because of it. Then, “entertainment” will not just hold the audience together but the performing artists themselves. And further, we all hold up “entertainment” beyond “amusement” but as an irreplaceable and defining genius of what it means to be human. – Rappler.com

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at sciencesolitaire@gmail.com.

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