Interview with Helen Varley Jamieson

August 12, 2010, Author: Lucie Navrátilová, Categories: Interview

Can you breafly introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m a writer, theatre-maker & digital artist from New Zealand, currently based in europe. I’ve been experimenting with what i call cyberformance for the last decade & more. Cyberformance uses the internet as the site for performance, enabling remote networked artists to create real-time events for audiences who could be online, or in a proximal space with one or more of the artists. I also do other stuff, see

How did you get introduced to open source?

In 2003, a group of us who had been using existing chat applications to create cyerformance, began to fantasise about a purpose-built cyberformance software. We wanted something that was designed by and for artists, something that we could be involved in the ongoing development of, & that met our needs as artists. We were frustrated by the limits of existing software & particularly by one particular application, The Palace, which we loved by which was no longer being developed. It was proprietary software, & so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t take it on & continue it. We managed to find a little bit of money & a programmer willing to make something for us, & from the beginning we were determined that it should be open source because we knew that this would help to ensure its longer term sustainability. The application, UpStage, is still going strong today.

I’ve been the project manager of UpStage since the beginning, & my knowledge about open source software development and the free software movement has almost entirely been learned “on-the-job” doing this. As I’ve learned, I’ve become more interested in the philosophy & in other open source developments, & am gradually using more & more open source software myself.

What do you do for living? Can you make a living out of open source?
Not me, not yet anyway. I do earn a little bit from giving lectures & UpStage workshops, but I am still trying to find out how we can generate income for/from UpStage that is independent from grants and funding bodies. We have only ever had 2 grants (NZ government funding) for the software; it’s very difficult to find funding. I earn my living from other theatre work and freelance writing.

What future do you predict to open source?

I hope it has a very strong future, as I believe that it is a much more sustainable way to work than proprietary profit-driven models. I believe that open source principles can be applied to more than software, and that this is a more humanitarian and environmentally friendly way to work. But I still don’t know how to fund it.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I get a lot of pleasure from seeing other people use UpStage in ways that I never imagined, & the sense of innovating at the edge of something new is very exciting & satisfying for me. I like it when other people get as enthusiastic about it as I am, & I enjoy meeting people in real-life after getting to know them through online collaborations.

Do you use photos for your work? Do you use images from microstock agencies?

We do use photos, but normally they are images we have taken ourselves. Sometimes we look for specific images that are under the public domain or creative commons licenses that we can use.

Do you follow your competitors? Who is worth following?

UpStage does not have a lot of direct competitors. We are in contact with other artists also working in live online performance, several of whom have made related platforms, such as Visitors Studio or Panoplie – but they are all different or complementary to UpStage rather than being direct competitors. I don’t know of anything that actually does the same thing as UpStage.

Do you have something that you want to tell to our readers?

If they are curious about what UpStage is, they should check out the 101010 UpStage Festival which takes place on 10-11 October this year. It’s the fourth annual festival & features 18 performances by artists from all over the world – some who have been working with UpStage for several years & others who are artists from different disciplines, trying out cyberformance for the first time. There is also one performance by school children. Further information about the festival & UpStage in general is available at

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