Rooftop Productions • Presence |  | Rooftop Productions • Hong Kong Theatre Company

PresencePhase 2

Explore the potential of telepresence techniques in a real-time live performance

Shuttling between the real and virtual worlds with tiny robotic vehicles, Presence is a real-time adventure that offers the audience the chance to participate in a live performance via an online platform. Through an interdisciplinary combination of live performance, installation, game control programming and first-person game play, the work-in-progress piece examines the potential of telepresence techniques in online performance. 

The performance offers two levels of participation: Drivers extend their physical presence by remotely operating robotic video vehicles to interact with the performers and objects on-site to unlock hidden plots and stories; and Observers, able to choose an overview or Drivers' viewpoint, to explore several unnamed locations, viewing them from unfamiliar perspectives. 

Presence is presented as part of Freespace’s Future of Performance series.

ProgrammerIvor Houlker
ProducerMichelle Li
MechatronicsKenny Wong Chi-chuen
Assistant ProducerTiffany Wong
PerformersMak Ho-tin, Sung Boon Ho, Alfie Leung, Yang Zhi-yan, Abigail So
Mechatronics Production CoordinatorKaka Leung Ka-yan
Host for ObserverssArisa Yasaratne, Yoyo Fung
User Interface DesignPang Ho-jing
3D Model ArtCheng Suet-gei
Broadcast SystemPolygon Lab
  • This online event requires audience participation
  • Within 3 working days of purchasing a ticket, you will receive an email from Rooftop Productions with the website link and your login details for the performance.
  • Participants should  prepare a desktop computer or laptop with headphones (or speakers), mouse, microphone and webcam, and ensure that the device has a stable internet connection.
  • Participants should prepare a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date web browser (e.g. chrome, firefox, safari). Phones and tablets are
  • For the best experience, we encourage you to wear headphones and have a microphone available (it can be the built-in mic on your laptop).
  • For the best real-time experience, we suggest you use your wifi or ethernet to connect to the internet. Cellular connections may experience slower reaction times.
  • Please use headphones for the best experience. Advance with your mouse/touchpad and keyboard commands
  • The organiser reserves the right to make changes to the programme without prior notice.
Presence Phase 2 Online Sharing

Venue: Online

Artistic Statement

We came up with the idea for Presence during the peak of the pandemic. In October 2020, performance venues were still closed, and the whole performing arts industry was put on hold. With no places open for live performances, artists around the world started streaming their stage performances online. But something was missing.

In a live theatre performance, the audience and the performers are co-present: they exist in the same time and space. Online streaming might get close to existing at the same time, but there isn’t the same sense of shared space. On the other hand, there is already an existing art form with a sense of spatial co-presence, in the genre of online computer games. Our research led us to explore how we could create this same sense of a shared remote space… but in the real world, with live performers.

At that time, Freespace introduced Rooftop Productions to Kenny Wong, a media artist working with mechatronics. Together, we began experimenting with robots and programming, to see what kind of ‘avatar’ we could create that would give a remote audience free and independent movement in a real space.

In March 2021, the first stage was launched. We had 14 internal test performances and presented an open seminar based on our research. These performances took place in a warehouse building, using the warehouse company’s wifi, with the audience operating remotely controlled cars over the internet using our custom-built platform. They could explore the space freely, and talk to a live performer via text-to-speech, asking questions or choosing what they wanted the performer to talk to them about.

Based on our test audience’s responses, we were keen to increase the flexibility and immediacy of the robot avatars. Technically, this meant finding a way to let them visit outdoor spaces and eventually other parts of the world away from wifi networks by using 5G, allowing them to speak directly rather than only type messages, and finding new ways to detect and interact with objects in the real world with RFID scanning. For the performances, this meant leaning more into the structures and dramaturgy of open world computer games, to find a form that fits this hybrid mode of interaction.

Since Presence began, three years have passed, and the pandemic is over. We can gather in real spaces again… so now, as artists, the challenge has been to find what is special and unique about this form, which cannot be done better in the theatre. In a time when computer games are starting to be taken seriously as an artistic medium, what can we learn from them about the potential futures of performance?