MOOV-ING ONLINE: A NEW VENUE FOR MAKING AND TEACHING THEATRE
The clusters and constellations of data that Gibson imaged as lines of light are organized for access and exchange in forms ranging from asynchronous email, listservs and bulletin boards to synchronous environments such as IRC chat rooms, gaming MUDs, and social or educational MOOs. For scholars, artists and students of the Western theatre, a medium still primarily anchored in the dramatic text, the MOO environment is uniquely appropriate, a place where users are called players, where speech and actions appear script-like on the computer screen, and where locations are as mimetic as stage sets. That MOO should be so friendly to the world of the theatre is a result of both its reliance on the imagination (the majority of MOOs are completely text-based) and its programming ancestry.
The educational MOOs that are the subject of this essay have a lineage that goes back to the first interactive disk-based games and early online environments of the sixties and seventies, progenitors that share, among other things, an action-based narrative structure. Interestingly, the first entry in Lauren Burka's carefully documented chronology, The MUDline , is for J.R.R. Tolkien's novel Lord of the Rings, published in 1937. A quick tour through highlights of the history of interactive computer environments illustrates the connection between today's educational MOOs and the early gaming programs. At MIT in 1962 Spacewar, the first computer game, was designed to run on a DEC PDP-1 ; at the Stanford AI Lab in 1975 James Woods developed the game ADVENT, running on a DEC PDP-10; and in 1979 at Essex University Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle wrote the first MUD (an acronym for Multi User Dungeon alluding to the popular dungeons and dragons game, or Multi User Dimension as is more popular in academic circles) using machine code of the DEC PDP-10, with a goal of making a multi-player adventure game.  In these games, players log in and navigate the fictional world with the purpose of gaining more power by defeating the demons therein and more status by solving the mysteries presented. These worlds are often referred to as hack and slash environments indicating the prominence of weapons and the violence inherent in defeating enemies in physical battle.
Over a long weekend in 1989, MIT student Jim Aspnes wrote TinyMUD in C for UNIX, adjusting the programming to focus activities around creative expansion of the fictional world rather than competition for power within it. In May of 1990 Steven White released MUD, Object Oriented, or MOO, naming it for its ancestor's programming language and adding object-oriented class and object creation. By October of that year Pavel Curtis had modified the program code further and opened LambdaMOO as a purely social rather than gaming environment. In so doing, he increased the opportunity for players to expand the fictional world, removing the emphasis on violence and the quest for power that are trademarks of the MUD environment. Then-MIT graduate student Amy Bruckman saw the potential for professional collaboration and experimentation and in 1993 built the first educational MOO, - MediaMOO - using the programming core that Curtis had developed . Each of these steps in the path to educational MOOs, and each development altered the design, code, and/or purposes of the environments, yet all of them retain elements of the dramatic context of the early games and their narrative quest structures. One element of the early gaming environment that has continued into the present MOO lexicon is that the top administrator of any given MOO is called the Archwizard, an unusual title for an academic resume. The Archwizard oversees a team of Wizards who handle the various programming and administrative needs of the MOO. Users are called players, some of whom have a Programmer's bit which allows them to expand the environment. Most MOOs also have guest characters for use by non-members and the names of these guests range from colors to gemstones to famous figures from world theatre history depending on the theme of the particular MOO.
I POTENTIAL OF MOO FOR TEACHING THEATRE
Current educational uses of ATHEMOO include undergraduate and graduate classes, monthly seminars on a variety of theatre topics, and meetings for theatre professors interested in learning to use the environment in their classes. As a global community, ATHEMOO has over 350 members and although the most are based in the continental US, players from Norway, Germany, Israel, Chile, Korea, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong use the space. Some members have instituted artistic collaborations since meeting in ATHEMOO: for example Oregon playwright Charles Deemer's early experiments with MOO performance and a style of non-cyber theatre he terms hyperdrama led him to collaborate with Andres Espejo in Chile, resulting in the October 1997 performance of his latest piece, The Last Song of Violeta Parra at the Prisma Art Gallery in Santiago.  Dan Zellner and Bryan Garey of StudioZ, a non-profit theatre organization based in Chicago, presented a seminar at ATHEMOO in April 1996 to discuss their Playwrights in Electronic Residency program (PIER) which enables writers to participate in productions of new scripts at distant university theatres. Other members use ATHEMOO to accommodate meetings of collaborative groups whose members cannot travel to gather, such as the Vienna based Oudeis group whose project includes Chilean composer Santiago Peres, Australian costume designer Ulli Noe, Canadian technical adviser James Terral, and American playwright L.H. Grant, among others. Thus, ATHEMOO offers players the opportunity to learn how to use this technology in their teaching and research, hold classes, save on telephone bills, schedule meetings without travel expense, and develop collaborations with artists they may not have otherwise met.
As a cyberspace place for class meetings, tutorials or office hours, the MOO environment holds great potential both for traditional groups of students in one institution and the emerging field of distance education. Although its value for distance education is obvious in that users in disparate physical locations can log on for synchronous exchange, uses of ATHEMOO for traditional class meetings are less familiar but no less powerful as pedagogical tools. Many scholars have written of the impact of the MOO environment on students , illustrating that one immediate impact is that online, a larger percentage of the class is willing to participate. The reason for this may be that when students have the ability to edit what they want to say as they type it, they feel more secure in contributing to the exchange of ideas. Beyond employing the MOO for class discussions, the site provides opportunities pertinent to many theatre classes, such as improvisation. Improvisation in the MOO environment works well for actors, playwrights or students of theatre history who can study and then impersonate figures from theatre history. Further, theatre students online can be assigned to develop spaces in the MOO that represent theatre architecture or present short scenes as a means to explore the nature of theatricality both on the physical and cyber stage.
As an educational MOO, ATHEMOO features several familiar tools within its classroom spaces such as blackboards and others that are specific to the online classroom. Members may choose to use the existing classrooms and meeting rooms or develop new ones specifically for their classes. Just like learning how to use the VCR or other technical equipment of the contemporary classroom, learning to use the online teaching tools is an easy task for the instructor. Recording devices that keep logs of the class, slide projectors for displaying quotations for discussion, and a lecture verb are a few examples of the ways ATHEMOO has been prepared for classroom use. And, because many of ATHEMOO's members are teachers or use these tools in other settings, there are many players who are available to help as you learn. It is critical to remember that we already use many forms of technology in the classroom to serve distinct educational goals and the content of the class can and should be enhanced by new technologies. To most effectively utilize MOO for instructional purposes, a critical starting point for the teacher (beyond learning the basic commands) is to obtain what is called a Telnet client. Because MOO technology provides for synchronous exchange in a literal sense, the Telnet programs of most institutions and service providers are extremely basic. Client programs are widely available without charge  and serve to slightly delay the synchronicity so that when players are entering a message, their text is not interrupted by the arrival of what someone else has just said.
Once the online classroom has been arranged to the instructor's satisfaction, preparing a group of students for online discussions and projects requires that a session or two be spent acclimating them to the environment.  Many students are already familiar with MOO and as future generations arrive who have had experience online in MOOs, the need to set aside time to teach them the basic commands will decrease. Typically, two class meetings suffice to introduce students to the MOO environment and direct them to the tools that will help them learn to communicate and navigate there. For instructors who wish to assign projects that require students to build and design spaces, further sessions will need to be arranged for students to acquire the additional basic skills of creating objects and rooms. Here again, the members of ATHEMOO and other educational MOOs provide a rich resource for assistance with technical issues and can be contacted either while logged into the MOO or by email as their addresses are readily available with the '@info' command.
The first day allocated for introducing students to the MOO environment should focus on how to understand a screen of MOO information and on the basic command structure. On entering a MOOspace, the typical screen succinctly displays information about the location. In the typical MOO room, the first line tells players which space they have entered. This is followed by a brief paragraph intended to communicate the decoration and atmosphere of the space. Since ATHEMOO's Courtyard is a central public space, the description includes basic information about how to communicate and examine objects, while the Rooftop Ruin includes information about how to use the space itself. For example, players may 'sit' on a bench or 'listen' to environmental sounds. After the description of the space itself, the MOO screen provides information about players in the room with a list of their character names, followed by the phrase is/are standing here. The next line of text indicates objects in the space which may be further investigated or manipulated, listed in the Courtyard as 'You see a Fountain, Snack Stand and Hot Pink Frisbee here.' The final line, beginning with 'Obvious Exits:' lists the spaces that are directly adjacent to the player's location. For example, in the Rooftop Ruin there is an exit to Sebastian Venable's Garden.  Inspired by Tennessee William's play Suddenly Last Summer, conversations in the garden are interspersed with lines from the play that are displayed randomly and make an interesting addition to the flow of discussion. These screens of information can be displayed at any time simply by typing 'look' and serve to orient the player to the space and its potential.
Communicating speech (the say command) and actions (the emote command) are generally the best place to start. Although MOO communication is greatly enhanced by the use of a client program, ATHEMOO has a feature  designed specifically for those who have not yet had the time to acquire or install it. The feature suspends incoming messages while the player types. Instead of typing 'say' and the message, those without Telnet client programs type 'say' and hit enter then type in their message at a computer prompt. Other useful basic commands include '@who' which displays all the characters logged in at the time of the command; '@go' and '@join' charactername as direct ways to navigate the MOO; and 'look objectname' to investigate aspects of each MOO space and character descriptions. A final critical command is '@quit' which logs the player out of the MOO.
During the initial days of class meetings in the MOO, instructors can expect that a certain amount of levity will mark student interactions as they become more familiar with the commands and begin to enjoy the unique opportunities of self-representation in MOOspace. On a second session in the MOO, a good way to focus attention is to work with the students to describe their characters, set their genders, and create a personal space in the ATHEMOO Office Wing. The initial gender setting in MOO code is a neutral one, named Spivak for its author, Michael Spivak. Since many aspects of MOO programming display messages that refer to a character using a personal pronoun, Spivak designed this option (e, em, eir, eirs, emself,) as a neutral set of pronouns useful before players have set their genders or for those who wish not to be identified by their physical attributes. To see a list of available gender categories and their pronouns, type '@gender', to set a character's gender the player selects the preferred set of pronouns and types '@gender selectionname'. To further describe their characters, students should be encouraged to set the descriptions other players will see if they type the look charactername command. This is easily done by typing '@describe me as the-student's-chosen-description' and both the gender and the description may be reset as often as is desired. By the third class session in the MOO, students will be ready to focus on the content of the course
II PRODUCTIONS AT ATHEMOO
Both the hyperdrama and Crosswaves performances at ATHEMOO focused on a single event at which the online audience passively watched the delivery of pre-scripted dialogue on their screens. Canadian composer, musician, and author Rick Sacks' ambitious ATHEMOO performance project, The MetaMOOphosis, is designed to initiate improvisation around the characters and situations of Kafka's famous novella. This project utilizes sophisticated programming within a series of rooms to maximize the theatrical potential of the MOO environment. After a grand opening demonstration in September 1996, The MetaMOOphosis space remains in ATHEMOO for players to visit at their leisure. Because this project will continue to develop, the exact details of the space, costumes, objects and programming may be different at the time this essay is read.
The performance space is defined by a series of eleven rooms and a sign in the lobby notifies players to use the command @go Kafka to visit the site. Each room represents an important location of action in Kafka's novella and they are joined not only by traditional MOO entrances and exits, but also by keyholes that can be looked or spoken through. The first room is the Samsa Front Yard:
You stand outside the home of Gregor Samsa. He woke up a few mornings ago to find that he had been transformed during the night into a giant insect. There is a hospital behind the house and it looks like rain. Type enter or 'in' to visit the house. Perhaps you can find a script and costume that will transform you as well. There is a closet in the foyer that may contain these items. 
In the house there are three rooms on the first floor: the foyer, the kitchen, and the living room. Upstairs one finds a hallway with doors to the bedrooms rooms of Gregor, Grete, the parents, and the three lodgers and of course, the stairs to Gregor's famous attic. The contents of each room include objects inspired by the novella for the players to manipulate. For example, there is an apple core in the kitchen that can be thrown. If the apple core is taken into Gregor's room and thrown at his character, it becomes lodged between his shoulders and alters the tone of the lines in his script. Since the rooms in the performance space were built on Chad Wilson's All-in-One room, they are also programmed with sounds and smells that appear randomly and work to establish the mood of the environment.
In order to participate in an improvisation, players must select and wear a costume from the closet in the foyer. Players may also opt to simply move around the performance space and listen to those who have chosen to participate actively. Costumes for the characters Gregor, Grete, Mr. Samsa, Mrs. Samsa, Herr Doctor and an observer are available in the closet and each one has a script in the pocket. By wearing a costume, players gain the ability to use the say command and speak either lines from the script or improvise lines of their own while those who don't wear a costume are limited to using the page command to communicate. Each script holds thirty to forty different lines either quoting directly from the novel, or written in the style of a Kafka work, complete with paranoia, sexual innuendo, and Freudian overtones,  and accessed randomly. When players do not choose to improvise lines or use the emote verb to establish physical action among themselves, activating lines of this scripted dialogue will create a performance.
A Place for Souls  illustrates a second, more traditional approach to theatrical production online. Twyla Mitchell crafted the script based on email exchanges with hundreds of people who responded to a questionnaire she posted to several lists, asking for opinions about relationships developed online. In the play, which she also produced in a staged reading on a physical stage at the University of California at Santa Barbara, several friends meet in a MOO space created by the central character, Trish. Their discussion, which constitutes the action of the play, focuses on their feelings about how tangible relationships developed online are for them. One of them, Mark, met his wife online, yet another, Nick, disputes the concept that online relationships and experiences can affect us. In response to Nick's insistence that relationships built online are neither real nor affective, Anne tells the story of Lisa, a friend she made through a discussion list during her pregnancy. Portions of their email messages to one another illustrate both their bond and the tragic ending to Lisa's life in the moments after the birth of her child. As the friends depart, each of them strongly affected by Lisa's story, the play has made its point, relationships developed online are a vital part of our lives.
Mitchell's play is set in The Atomic Atoll in ATHEMOO, a meta-moo space that she described this way:
You have reached an Atoll in the middle of a peaceful sea. On sunny days, the sky is a golden yellow with dollops of fluffy white clouds. You feel you have reached a place of true comfort here, and finally you can rest. Think of this place as a rest stop on the info-super-highway, or a calm island in the cyber-sea. There is a Tiki Hut off to the side from which is emanating the most tantalizing smells. You notice an assortment of places to sit -- beach chairs, beach blankets, and of course all this glorious, glorious sand. You can see sunlight twinkling on the waves of The Serene Lagoon. The darkness of night surrounds you. You can hear the crickets chirping and see fireflies in the air. You see Tiki Hut, Palm Tree, Coconut Recorder, sand, and A Place for Souls Program here. Obvious exits: east to Halcyon Atoll, south to Tranquil Atoll, in to Tiki Hut, lagoon to Serene Lagoon, and out to The Aphra Behn Theatre Complex 
All the action took place in the Atoll, although she linked other rooms for audience members to visit and enjoy. The objects listed in the line beginning, "You see" helped to set the mood as did event messages randomly produced by the Wilson room programming. The "@seats" command lists sand, beach chairs, and a beach blanket for performers and spectators alike to sit on, further enhancing the sense of location.
Unlike the Kafka House in The MetaMOOphosis, where direct speech is only possible after donning one of the costumes in the Foyer closet, audience members were not required to 'wear' costumes in order to interact with one another or the performers. Several factors contributed to the collaboration between actors and spectators that shaped the performance. Primary among them was the location of the play itself in an online environment. This allowed Mitchell to include a Conversational Robot character, Voce, who was performed by a live actor but is a recognizable object in MOO environments with which players are used to conversing. It also provided an ambiance of interaction familiar to players that invited their participation in the dialogue about the importance of online relationships in their lives and effectively broke the fourth wall between performer and spectator. At each of the three performances of this play, audience members joined the action enthusiastically, addressing the characters with comments on their own experiences, improvising action and dialogue appropriate to a warm, sunny, island, and interacting among themselves. But despite the extensive audience participation, after show discussions indicated that they were easily able to follow the action of the play and quite affected by it.
The seven performers were located around the globe, logging in from Vienna, Hawai'i, and several locations in California. Although the time differences made rehearsal difficult, those performing were able to meet and practice not only delivering their lines, but using the emote and other commands to establish their characters. One of the biggest challenges was to find ways to provide the performers with experience moving back and forth between scripted lines of the play and improvisation with spectators. As Charles Deemer noted about his early experiments with online theatre, "The hardest part was getting the actors technically proficient enough to RELAX and be able to improvise. This kind of theatre always has moments of improv when timing of the script goes off."  In order to facilitate the actors' comfort with interacting with audience members, Mitchell devised a code phrase that she or any of the performers could use to signal to the others that they felt is was time to move away from improvisation and back towards the script.
These two projects represent the broad range of production styles available to online theatre artists experimenting with cyberperformance in the MOO environment, illustrating differing relationships to the theatrical traditions arising from Aristotle's patriarchal power structure. Mitchell's presentation of A Place for Souls most closely imitates traditional presentations of material with a beginning, middle, and end that audiences view as a single body. The production differed from traditional theatrical production however, as space was created for the audience members to engage in the character's scripted conversations. Sacks' creation of an environment in which participants may take on a character to enact or simply watch as the action unfolds illustrates the greatest departure from traditional western theatre presentation while still maintaining links to aspects of it such as character, set, and dialogue. As illustrated in these theatrical productions on the cyberstage, there are MOO-dependent elements that represent new possibilities for theatre and create a new venue for making theatre.
The nature of MOO interaction extends the notion of communication between performer and audience, student and teacher. In MOO environments, a player's presence is made known by the action of typing to communicate. In the classroom, a students' presence is made known by the fact of their physical body in attendance. MOO spectators and students can log in and be completely passive during a performance or class there, simply reading what appears on their screens, or use the emote command to laugh or clap. This experience is analogous to that of attending a film or traditional theatre performance. But MOO provides a performance environment in which the separation of actors and audience is sharply reduced and a classroom environment where students reluctant to participate in discussion often come to life. Thus, in the traditional sense of an audience shaping each performance by their reactions, MOO creates a new venue for collaboration between actors and spectators, teachers and students that directly effects and often enhances the experience.
2. Lauren Burka. "MUDline." [http://www.utopia.com/talent/lpb/muddex/mudline.html]] 1995.
3. Brenda Laurel. 1993. Computers as Theatre. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. 1.
4. Richard Bartle. [Richard@tharr.UUCP]. "Early MUD History." 15 November 1990. Retrieved from [www.utopia.com/talent/lpb/muddex/mudline.html.]
5. MOO worlds operate on a two part system - the server and the database. The server contains the basic elements of the programming code that allow the MOO to function (called the core) while the database contains the information specific to the fictional world of the particular MOO.
6. The script for The Last Song of Violeta Parra is online both in English and Spanish at: http://www.teleport.com/~cdeemer/chile/chile-m.html.
7. For articles on student learning in MOOspace, see: Bump, Jerry. "Radical Changes in Class Discussion Using Networked Computers." Computers and the Humanities. 24 (1990): 49-65.; Daisley, Margaret. "The Game of Literacy: The Meaning of Play in Computer-Meidated-Communication." Computers and Composition 11.2 (1994): 107-119; Jessup, Emily. "Feminism and Computers in Composition Instruction." Evolving Perspectives on Computers and Composition Studies: Questions for the 1990s. Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe, eds. Urbana: NCTE, 1991; and Kolko, Beth. "We Are Not Just (Electronic) Words: Learning and Literacies of Culture, Body, in Dialogic Space: Electronic Frontiers and Critical Literacy. Irene Ward and Todd Taylor, eds. NCTE Press, forthcoming Winter 1997.
8. Many client programs are available, but finding and testing them can take hours of labor. As means to assist ATHEMOO players, I generally recommend either MudWeller or MacMOOSE for Macintosh users and Pueblo for IBM users and have developed a set of simple directions for how to find and install these programs that I am happy to send on request.
9. According to the specific needs of the class, the frequency of meetings online, and the types of activities planned at the MOO, instructors may choose to use guest characters for their students or send a class list with full names and email addresses to Juli Burk in advance. Acquiring characters for the students in advance allows the instructor to easily identify the student as well as decreasing the potential for inappropriate behavior that anonymity sometimes encourages.
10. Sebastian Venable's Garden, a room object in ATHEMOO designed by Claudia Barnett.
11. This feature was developed by Gustavo Glusman of BioMOO housed at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. BioMOO's address is 188.8.131.52 8888.
12. Room description from The Samsa House, a room object in ATHEMOO designed by Rick Sacks.
13. Rick Sacks, "The MetaMOOphosis Project," [http://www.io.org/rikscafe/kafka.html].
14. The script of A Place for Souls, performance logs, and post-performance discussions are available at http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/2190/aplaceforsouls.html.
15. Room description from The Atomic Atoll, a room object in ATHEMOO designed by Twyla Mitchell.
16. Personal interview with Charles Deemer, August 1, 1996, ATHEMOO.
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