“There is added value through the results that we derive from digitalisation” Interview with Christian Buschhoff and Fabian Schröter

Christian Buschhoff, who oversees the renovation efforts at Luisenburg festival, and Fabian Schröter, the technical director, talked to project leads Franziska Ritter and Pablo Dornhege about digital tools used to plan renovations and virtual construction rehearsals.

Can you give us an idea of how and why you are organising Luisenburg’s renovation process with digital methods?

Christian: In 2018, when we first assessed the requirements, we realised that construction measures in such a complex spatial context need to be complemented with digital site measurements and a digital process – especially with our very limited budget. Consequently, we requested a point cloud from our structural survey team. We were motivated by the potential cost savings and more detailed planning possibilities.

Fabian: When all stage data is digitised, you can work and plan at any time. Wintertime is a good example. Currently, we have 10 centimetres of snow. If we needed specific information to be able to discuss details that concern the theatre stage, we would have to wait four months for the stage to be free of snow. So, working with digital methods makes our everyday work easier and leads to quicker results.

By creating the point cloud, you set a certain standard right at the beginning. What were people’s reactions at the theatre and among your project partners? Was it difficult to establish this new way of working?

Fabian: I‘ll say yes, it was difficult because it was unknown. We noticed a lot of hesitation. Working with technology always requires time, interest and patience. If you have a knack for digital tools, you will enjoy this process. People began to see the value once we had the first results come in.

Christian: Here in Wunsiedel, we notice a clear transformation process and we see the value in the results that digitisation yields. The insights we have generated in our collaboration with you (digital.DTHG) are part of this. Too often, we still hear this response: „We have been doing things this way for years.“ If you try to establish something new and unknown, there will be resistance at first. But resistance here wasn‘t so strong that it prevented us from receiving funds for the measurements and creation of our point cloud.

Fabian Schröter tests the WebXR prototype at a workshop at Luisenburg Castle (c) digital.DTHG

Which role do new digital presentation methods like augmented reality play? For example in your communication with external actors and stakeholders.

Christian: Our 3D models and the new (augmented) ways of presenting have only played a minor role in our communication with political deciders so far. The augmented reality tool is, as an addition to excel sheets, models and sketches, an impressive means of communication. But the visual impression should not distract but rather help to display the complexity of what we do and support us in explaining the necessity of the cost.

In your opinion, what will the digital transformation process look like? What do you consider the right path and where should things be headed?

Christian: Right now, we need to repair our stage floor. It is so fragile that we can‘t wait until renovations begin. The current state was assessed using a drone that filmed a 360° panoramic view. You can see the value of this digital documentation because we can look at the stage during winter if there is snow or after it has been fixed. So, it is like a classic photo documentation, but it provides a 360° view and in this case it is not a 3D point cloud. This helps us tremendously in speeding up the renovation process.

Detail from the 360° panorama of the renovation of the stage floor (c) Luisenburg-Festspiele Wunsiedel

Fabian: Precise 3D models are essential, especially when it comes to the stage area and its basic structure. They are much easier to work with than oral descriptions or photos. The digital 3D data provides a shared basis for planning and the 3D models allow us to make sure we have a common ground in our discussions.

What does digital work look like in your team?

Fabian: In our daily operations, digital competence is not at 100%. Luisenburg is a seasonal business: There isn‘t just one big team that continually works on something like lighting, sound or stage technology. This makes it difficult to establish digital competence at a sensible scale, especially since there is not a lot of time for training in a seasonal business.

Digital competence is also a matter of generations: In our experience, it‘s more difficult to get started for our older colleagues while the younger ones have much less trouble. I have also notice this in theatre education, where we currently realise a lot of digital projects because of the pandemic. Our colleagues obviously enjoy the work. The generation that is growing up with digital competence will easily consider digital tools the standard.

Christian: I can still remember how difficult it was for me to let go of haptic experiences and to build trust in digital data. I had to learn to rely on the fact that my information can be stored for decades and that I will be able to find it anytime. I also think it is a matter of generations. We need to ask ourselves: “Where will we be when we retire?” I mean in 25, 30 years. By then, we should be at a point where the digital world has our focus. By then, we will look back on almost 60 years of digital data acquisition and we might be more reassured when it comes to storing data.

360° degree image of the rock landscape with auditorium (c) Luisenburg-Festspiele Wunsiedel

Do digital or virtual tools play a role when you‘re planning stage settings or designing sets?

Fabian: At this point in time, I can‘t use the 3D plans of our stage when planning stage scenery. The plans that I hand over to our scene designers are digital, but they are in 2D. This means that the overview plans, detail views and workshop drawings that are created while planning are also two dimensional. We can‘t yet work with three-dimensional construction drawings in our workshops, mainly because we don‘t have the necessary software yet.

Christian: The construction volume, meaning the budgets that we have for set construction, are not large enough to justify hiring a 3D design engineer, which is what we would need to do. The budgets we have available for the natural stage are limited. And this influences the complexity of the constructions. The stage area does not allow for large set constructions using suspended ceilings or similar constructions. And we should be honest with ourselves: The structures we can create don‘t really require a three-dimensional construction plan. Lighting, however, is a different story. This can be pre-produced in the virtual space, so we are not required to wait for sunset and the dusk to settle.

When we look at our renovation instead of set construction, things are different: Here, we rely heavily on a three-dimensional process. Only the abstract three-dimensional model allows us to evaluate and understand the real space. And even if the budget is limited, using digital tools and three-dimensional drawings is justified in this case.

Christian Buschhoff und digital.DTHG Team bei einem Vor-Ort Workshop erkunden historische Fotografien des Baumbestandes der Naturbühne


What features do digital tools need to have so they can be used in theatre?

Fabian: We need basic, purposeful tools that only offer exactly what we need. Software needs to be simple, so it is easy for people to get started – and we don‘t mind paying an appropriate price for this.

Christian: We also need programmes and ways of working that include everybody. We can‘t afford leaving people behind because they lack digital competence. Everybody should receive the type of tool that they like to work with. It will be our challenge to synchronise those tools and make sure they work together.

What is the best way to talk about digital competence in the theatre world?

Christian: I‘m thinking of a builder’s hut, meaning that theatre is essentially a manufactory. Ways of working are location-specific. But we can‘t let ourselves become so narrow-minded that we consider ourselves a melting pot of technology and implementation. I wish there were more of an exchange between festival locations and the different actors. If you look at how common this is in the construction of sacred buildings, you can see that there is professional exchange on a national and European level and digital competence is an integral part of this. There is a steep learning curve ahead for the world of theatre.

Point cloud with section of stairs and play zones of the natural stage