The New Years Resolution to blog more regularly failed to make it even into April. Luckily not many people have noticed.
My excuse – no, my *reason* - for not blogging is the usual one: a whole load of proper work came along and sucked up all of my time. In general, I now take regular blogging to be a sign of unemployment - or at least lack of full employment. So please take note potential commissioners and employers, if I start posting more than once a month, it means I am available for hire.
I thought I better, though, explain what some of the proper work was that kept me fully busy in April, May and June. Largely it revolved around two digital theatre projects, both of which were highly experimental, involved working with a range of very talented people from varied backgrounds & with multiple skills, and both of which forced all of us to be at the mercy of new and – let’s be honest – quite flakey technology.
The first project is Longitude, a 3-part online drama produced by elastic future for LIFT, performed live in Google Hangouts with actors working simultaneously in three different cities – Barcelona, Lagos and London.
I came on board as a writer and helped to develop the characters and storyline – and also to dream up some external ‘transmedia’ elements such as the website copy for the mysterious Academy of Water and Spiritual Health (#AWaSH) and the Twitter account of a lonely container captain chugging his way from Greenland to Lagos with a valuable cargo.
Rehearsing and performing live within a Hangout in up to five different locations around the world, often with actors filming themselves out on the streets or on a boat with mobile phones rather than in nice cosy web-friendly performance spaces with expensively specced webcams & mics, was something of a technical challenge, but also *extremely* exciting.
The interplay between the Spanish, Nigerian and British actors was so interesting in terms of their different performance styles and quite varied approaches to storymaking, improvisation - and even towards what constitutes a viable and engaging story. Add an American director and producer to the mix and we had an amazing cultural soup. You can check out the results on the Youtube channel and there are some good posts about the project too:
The second project is Better Than Life, a NESTA R&D project, led by Coney, and co-developed with Goldsmiths and Showcaster. It's an experiment in multicam streaming of a live theatre piece, and seeing what kinds of additional 'agency' might attract a web audience.
In the shows that we put on in June, our web audience could choose from several different camera views into the performance space, could chat to each other, and - to some extent – could take control of the space in terms of manipulating lights, leaving messages and instructions for performers, as well as gently shaping some aspects of the narrative.
We also experimented with different ways the two audiences - one online, the other in the performance space - might communicate and possibly influence each other.
Like Longitude, this was a highly complex attempt at seeing how live theatre might develop in the future in order to take advantage of new technologies and attract significant online audiences - without losing the immediacy, energy and flow of the original live experience.
In the case of Better Than Life, Coney made the bold decision to tech up a completely blank space – a Victorian orangery in the grounds of Goldsmiths - and also to pimp up Showcaster’s streaming platform with a bespoke interactive performance application that offers various levels of audience interaction and choice, as well as tracking and logging audience behaviours & reactions.
As digital producer/project manager of this setup, it was my job to try and co-ordinate the Olympian efforts of the whole team to:
- rig up the Orangery with a 7-camera live streaming system with associated lighting controls, sound systems and audience feedback loops;
- build a complex set for a brand new & original 45-minute performance and participation piece;
- build, launch and run a website to attract and support an online audience;
- stream and run a show 8 times over three weeks, all the time competing for bandwidth and audience attention with the World Cup and very fine weather.
There were lots of glitches and system collapses, but there were also lovely glimpses of something new and potentially very exciting - a way for online audiences to become part of the experience, not just as passive lean-back viewers but as an active presence with things to do and say - things that might influence how a performance plays out, how actors 'act', how the audience in the space itself gets to 'play', how the two audiences may end up meeting, conversing, exchanging ideas, buying each other drinks...
I learned a LOT along the way about live streaming and the kind of hardware/middleware/software setup and the range of highly skilled people you need to make something like this happen. It’s not easy, but I do believe that in the near future this kind of work is going to find its place in the world. I can’t wait to read the final NESTA R & D report that’s going to come out of this project. You can keep track of developments at the Coney site and at Nesta's NATIVE magazine site.
As with Longitude there are some thoughtful responses to the work here:
Big love and respect to all the people I worked with on these two projects. The whole experience was very exhilarating.