“I’ve got toddlers,” she says. “So, the ability to do this important work in a different city and then come home to them — that’s critically important to me.”
Not the same old video-calling experience
Artists have always found ways to work together remotely — from musicians sending demos back and forth through the mail to writers working in real time in shared online docs. And VR today already lets people immerse themselves in shared virtual worlds. Still, it can be tricky to re-create the spark of having people in the same room.
“There’s nothing like being in the room with the performing artists,” Gunderson says. “And that’s why I need something that would act as a technological solution when I can’t be there.”
Gunderson tried laptops, tablets, and videoconferencing services, but nothing worked well for her. Problems included complicated software, underpowered webcams, poor sound, and the inability to zoom in on people or follow them in the shot.
“Literally, I’ve been trying everything,” Gunderson says. “The worst version was speakerphone on someone’s cell phone on the table.”
She even experimented with having interns walk around with a smartphone camera during rehearsals to try to film a scene. The process was distracting for the cast and crew and the results were disappointing. Recently, Gunderson came across Portal, which uses AI to help people connect with one another and feel like they’re actually in the same physical space.
Having tried everything she could get her hands on, she found Portal’s simplicity appealing. You can use the device to call friends without having to open apps or download updated drivers. The camera supports an ultrawide field of view, and the AI-powered Smart Camera follows the action and keeps the subjects in frame as they move — particularly important for Gunderson. And Portal’s microphones are optimized for conversations in which the person speaking isn’t necessarily right in front of the device.
A new, high-tech routine
Gunderson uses Portal+, which has a large, 15.6-inch screen that can rotate into landscape mode. She can call into a Portal that's set up at the rehearsal space in Massachusetts, watching the actors and giving feedback for two to three hours as they run through her script.
“I need to be able to see and hear an actor with such clarity to say, ‘Well, you know, she raises her eyebrow when she does that one punch line, and it takes all the humor out of it,’” she says.
The show features live banjo music, and Gunderson would watch the performers over video call and give feedback to the musicians. Afterward, she would talk to the director about the day’s progress while making edits to the script in a shared online doc.