“Eliminate the existing mental patterns!” – Interview Norbert Richter

Norbert Richter has been head of the workshops at the Chemnitz Theatre since 2007. For many years, he and his team have been the „digital engine“ at the theatre and are contributing their know-how to the upcoming renovation of the theatre and the move to the interim venue in the Alte Spinnerei. In the digital.DTHG‘s Workshop „How to go Virtual “, he and his team tested different ways of utilising immersive technologies at the theatre. Workshop leader Vincent Kaufmann talks to him about his experiences around virtual rehearsals and the digital transformation process at the theatre.

Where do you place your department and your house in terms of digital transformation? Where do you stand?

We have been going increasingly digital at the Chemnitz Theatre for several years now, especially when it comes to the preparation of paperwork and the production of stage sets. This concerns not only the preparation of the construction but also the documentation, so that we „chase“ almost 100% of our productions through the computer. We have even started to provide individual productions with digital construction instructions, which makes the actual craft activity more efficient, both in terms of fabrication and construction on stage.

What other advantages do you see in the digital way of working?

For us, this has a great advantage, especially in terms of work safety, for example when checking elements for collision. I really notice that things need less reworking and we avoid mistakes during production. Also, in dialogue with the artists, we can better sketch and discuss new solutions or variants in 3D. 

Can you give us a brief insight into your staff and technical resources? How are you positioned in the digital field?

There are currently three of us working in the team and we have three fully-fledged computer workstations. Since about 2000 we have been using the MegaCAD software. Unfortunately, we have a monopoly with the computer workstations here in our workshops. That‘s not nice, because of course we have to maintain and change all the data in-house, which is a big time factor, but on the other hand our plans are informative and consistent. Theoretically, we could work completely in 3D, so that the other departments could also work with our files, but there is a lack of staff and additional technical equipment in the rest of the building. We here in the workshops know about the power and possibilities of the new technologies. But we also need the departments in the process behind it to follow our vision and idea. 

You are already experienced in three-dimensional space with your productions. In the workshop „How to Go Virtual“, we worked out scenarios for a „Virtual Bauprobe“. How did you get on with it?

With the venues themselves, we‘ve actually been mostly in 2D drawings so far. We are currently in the process of rebuilding and moving, planning the new premieres virtually and adapting the previous plays that will be moving with them. In the preparations with set designer Stephan Morgenstern for the production of „Peter Pan“, we want to put a lot of energy into the topic of Virtual Bauprobe. For us it‘s not so important to get the atmosphere, but: „This is how it looks. This is how it‘s made. This is how it‘s built.“ That is the main focus, especially in the area of the Virtual Bauprobe. Thanks to the Virtual Bauprobe, I can now present changes that are necessary for our change of venues, at least virtually in a 3D model, without the venue being ready for occupation; we can have the actual discussion on site at the virtual object. Of course, this is much more elegant with the three-dimensionally available audience and stage space than with technical drawings. This currently saves us a lot of time and allows us to start the new season more quickly and hopefully more easily. 

So apart from the Virtual Bauprobe, you are already looking one step further in the direction of production and manufacturing?

Exactly. For three years we have been working with 3D scanners to scan models and then digitally „saw them apart“. We did this, for example, with a 13-metre deer on stage, which we broke up into many frames. For this we scanned a small model, scaled it in the software and cut it apart in CAD to provide the corresponding plans. And that worked well. That‘s when I saw what else is conceivable. Fortunately, from time to time we are faced with tasks that require us to think in new ways and try out unconventional approaches. 

Scenographers in the workshop “How to Go Virtual” at the Chemnitz Theatre explore the design possibilities of the software Gravity Sketch.

Do you see other application scenarios  in the course of a theatre production? 

Yes, the other day during a virtual tour of our outdoor venue, I made the connection to the safety briefing. Especially with the outdoor venue, it makes meetings easier. And here you can integrate the virtual rehearsal again: the stage set can also be built up and shear edges and danger spots are marked. 

What are our responsibilities as theatre-makers and what are the challenges? 

I don‘t think you can pinpoint the responsibility exactly. I see it as an attractive topic that has jumped onto our agenda over time because the inhibition thresholds have become pleasantly low. The real challenge is to fade out the existing structures in our heads and to free ourselves from the Newtonian view of the world that determines our everyday life. Of course, it becomes exciting when I no longer have any limitations, because the limitation is only my own imagination. That is where I think we are challenged the most. Theatre should be very open to learning from the gaming industry, to participate in digital experiments and to dare to take a step into these virtual worlds.


Titelfoto: Nasser Hashemi
Interim venues in the building of the former VEB Spinnereimaschinenbau Chemnitz – Spinnbau for short – on Altchemnitzer Straße.