Cyberformance and
the creation of live online performances
using UpStage

An introductory workshop with
Helen Varley Jamieson


Cyberformance uses online chat technologies to bring together remote performers in live real-time theatrical performance. Helen Varley Jamieson coined the term cyberformance in 2000 to describe live performance in graphical chat rooms on the internet, and the use of the internet to bring remote performers into theatre performances.

UpStage (Website:
Launched in January 2004, UpStage is a web-based platform for cyberformance that means everything happens in a web browser. Online audiences can participate in live performances simply by following a link with their browser - no additional software is required. Performers also do not need any additional software (unless using web cams). Performances are created in real time by multiple players, who combine graphical backdrops, avatars and props, text, text-to-speech audio, pre-recorded MP3 audio files, live web cam streams and live drawing. The audience interacts via a text chat tool. UpStage is easy to use - children and adults can quickly learn the basics and discover a new form of creativity that is fun and engaging; and yet despite this simplicity, it is also possible to develop your skills to create sophisticated and imaginative performances.

Introductory Workshop will give participants:

  • an introduction to cyberformance, the historical context of the use of the internet in live performance, and examples of work by contemporary artists;
  • an introduction to UpStage and its functionality, including how to manipulate media on the virtual stage; how to make an avatar move and speak; how to use the drawing tools; and basic concepts for creating a live performance in UpStage;
  • tools and skills to continue exploring the medium beyond the workshop.

Extended Workshop begins with the introduction and then participants will:

  • learn how to create and upload their own media (graphic and audio);
  • reate short cyberformances (in groups of 2-4);
  • perform their cyberformance to the rest of the group
  • discuss this experience. Extended workshops can be tailored to a particular groups' needs or to topical themes.
Who should do the workshop?
The workshop will have particular appeal to theatre and visual artists, new media artists, digital story-tellers, students, and anyone with an interest in the social and cultural use of the internet. Participants do not need to have any specific skills, however a level of familiarity with computers and basic keyboard skills are desirable. Participants do not need any specific computer skills; some basic knowledge and typing skills are an advantage, but UpStage has been used successfully with young children who cannot type. For the extended workshop, it is helpful if some participants are familiar with graphics and audio media creation, so that groups can create their own media. Previous participants have described it as fun, inspiring, addictive and enjoyable.


  • introductory workshop: 3 hours;
  • extended workshop: 2-5 days with half-day sessions, depending on how much the group wants to achieve; it is good to have time off between sessions when participants can prepare graphics and research and develop their story ideas.

Content - 3 hour introductory workshop:

  • historical background to the use of the internet for performance;
  • introduction to the technologies and concepts behind cyberformance;
  • introduction to a number of artists and groups working in cyberformance;
  • hands-on introduction to the UpStage environment and its tools
  • how to use avatars, backdrops, props and audio; drawing; other functionality of the software;
  • how to create a cyberformance.

The extended workshop workshop begins with the introductory workshop outlined above, and continues with:

Once comfortable with the basic operations of the software, the participants will be divided into groups of two to four people, and each group will work on a separate stage within UpStage. Their task will be to devise a 5-10 minute cyberformance, to be presented at the end of the workshop. Depending on the situation, they may be given a specific theme to work to, such as the theme of a festival, a piece of text, common interest or local issue. The members of each group are not seated next to each other, so that as much as possible the work takes place online, in UpStage.

Research and development
Outside of the workshop hours, participants will be expected to spend some time working on their cyberformances; this could include researching an idea, creating graphics and audio files, or discussing ideas with others in their group. This is important time, as the workshop hours in front of the computer can be draining and the performance ideas need time to marinate and percolate.

Each group will perform their piece for the other participants, who will watch it on their computers and interact as audience members. The performances will also be projected on the screen, and - if participants are willing - advertised to an online audience. Following the presentations, there will be a discussion about the experience. Conclusion The workshop will finish with time for questions and answers, and participants will be given a list of URLs where they can learn more about UpStage and cyberformance.


Biography: Helen Varley Jamieson

Helen Varley Jamieson is a writer, theatre practitioner and digital artist. She has recently completed a Master of Arts (research) at Queensland University of Technology, investigating her practice of cyberformance.

A theatre practitioner since childhood, Helen has written, directed and produced many stage plays. During the mid-1990s she began to work professionally in the internet industry and this led to her exploration of live online performance. Helen coined the term "cyberformance" in 2000 to describe this form of networked performance that approaches the internet as a site for collaborative performance by remote performers. In 2001, she initiated the[abc]experiment - a research project that explored the interface of theatre and the internet and culminated in a live performance involving performers in New Zealand, the USA, UK and Europe. This project spawned the globally-dispersed cyberformance troupe Avatar Body Collision, of which Helen is a founding member.

Since then, Helen has given performances, presentations and workshops on cyberformance at festivals, universities and arts organisations internationally. With Avatar Body Collision she has devised and performed ten shows, and developed the purpose-built online performance software, UpStage. The launch of UpStage V2 in June 2007 included a two-week interactive exhibition at the New Zealand Film Archive and 070707, a one-day festival of live performance in UpStage featuring 13 performances created by artists from all over the world, which Helen curated and produced.

An active involvement with the Magdalena Project, an international network for women in contemporary theatre, since 1997 has brought Helen into direct contact with the work of many contemporary women theatre practitioners from diverse cultures. She has worked with director Jill Greenhalgh (founder of the Magdalena Project) on her series Water[war]s and is currently collaborating with a group of senior Magdalena artists on Women With Big Eyes.

As an arts writer, Helen covered the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for three years (1998- 2000) and is a regular contributor to print publications and online arts communities.