UC Santa Cruz’s New Performance, Play & Design Department Redefines the Art of Storytelling for the Modern Era

A year ago, a seemingly unlikely merger took place within UC Santa Cruz’s arts division, merging the theater arts department and the Art & Design: Games + Playable Media (AGPM) program. Renamed Department of Performance, Gaming and Design (PLR), it is the only university department in the world to break down the traditional silos of theatre, dance and games.

For his teachers and students, the fit seems natural. “Many of the questions that performance scholars and artists ask are the same questions that play scholars and artists ask,” says Michael Chemers, PPD President and Professor of Theater Arts. “Concretely, how do you tell stories through the unfolding of the action? How do you do this in a way that gets your audience to identify with your characters or engage with the action that’s happening on a stage or on a screen? These art forms are all about dramatic storytelling and therefore there are some very similar questions that you are trained to ask when you are an artist in these areas.

Micha Cárdenas, PPD Associate President and Associate Professor of AGPM and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, agrees. “Game design is a deep and ancient way of telling stories by designing their rules. A game is a series of instructions that creates a series of emotions. In playable media, much of this emotional response is generated by voice, movement and facial actors, stage design, lighting, narration. The skills that people learn by creating a play or a dance are extremely important for game design.

Chemers notes that many faculty were already collaborating across disciplines before the merger, as interest in multimedia and cross-platform performances, interactive installations, and interactive narrative design increasingly blurred traditional categorization. Professor Marianne Weems, artistic director and founder of the award-winning performance and media ensemble The Builders Association, is emblematic of this trend. Weems came to UCSC in 2017 to create Future Stages, a pioneering two-year Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) research group that looks at tools and techniques for exploring how crossmedia practice can extend basic theatrical relationships into new and culturally relevant contexts. manners. “She is the granddaddy of the whole genre of integrating digital technology into live performance, and in many ways leads the way for us,” says Chemers.

Expanding these types of opportunities for students to work at the intersection of disciplines is a top priority for PPD faculty and staff. Current plans include the development of a Maker Lab and a virtual reality (VR) studio where students can collaborate on new areas of research and artistic research. “The possibilities are endless,” says Cárdenas. “Especially during the pandemic, we have seen an explosion of interesting ideas. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company staged Dream of a summer night in VR – virtual actors, virtual sets, magic effects. One of Oculus’ biggest VR games, “The Under Presents,” is essentially a live performance in VR. Our students are going to have so many opportunities to collaborate to tell stories together that have yet to be told. »

cárdenas insists on this last point. The new department boldly engages in practice, research, and teaching that speaks to the current moment, disrupting oppressive narratives of race and gender and refocusing historically marginalized communities. “Culture change is a critical part of all of our survival,” she says. “Our approach is to view our work as both art and activism.”

“We help shape the creators of tomorrow’s shows,” says Dean of the Arts Division, Celine Parreñas Shimizu. “Through our commitment to experimentation and diversity, equity and inclusion, we help our PPD students bring activism, artistry and agency to their work on campus, online and at home. -of the. Additionally, PPD connects with the industry – both Bay Area independent dance and theater companies and Silicon Valley game companies. Such local, regional and global collaborations are emblematic of PPD and a hallmark of UCSC.”

Hear President Michael Chemers discuss the genesis and vision of PPD on a recent episode of The Art Division’s The art of change video podcast.

And catch his latest project, “The show where they talk about monsters,” a podcast produced by UC Santa Cruz Online Education that features Chemers and co-host Mike Halekakis in a lively and hilarious discussion about the things that scare us the most. Chemers’ work on monsters includes The Monster of Theater History: This Thing of Darkness (London, UK: Routledge 2018). He is the founding director of The Center for Monster Studies at UCSC. Halekakis, entrepreneur, business owner, internet marketer, software engineer, writer, musician, and podcaster, is the co-founder of What We Learned, a company specializing in compassionate training courses on complex adult topics.

Professor Cárdenas’ works are currently exhibited in Toronto at the Tangled Arts + Handicapwhich offers virtual gallery tours, and will open in New York as part of the exhibition Fluid materials, anchored bodies: decolonizing ecological encounters July 22, 2022.

Recent notable projects by PPD faculty include the recent production of Professor Marianne Weems, I accept the conditionsand Assistant Professor AM Darke’s Afro hair open source library.