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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Connectivity and Possibilities

I saw Better Left Unsaid this past weekend, right from the comfort of my own couch, and it got me thinking about a lot of things.

The live-streamed play was, to put it simply, just really cool. It was a totally unique way of seeing a performance, and it was executed extremely well. The streaming was smooth and high quality, and the use of the three cameras that shot the production was engaging and dynamic, but unobtrusive enough that I never lost the feeling that that I was watching a play as opposed to another filmed medium.

The interactive features were great touches; the Twitter comments worked well, and I loved getting a tour of backstage, and watching the chats with the actors and tech people.

And, I have to admit, it was really, really nice to be able to support my colleagues from the comfort of my own home.

Watching the production ignited some flames of ideas that had been kindling since taking part in the #newplay discussions: one of the things that excited me most about the discussions about collaboration and connectivity that came out of the convening was the possibility of using new connective technology to collaborate across geographical boundaries. I touched on this briefly in another #newplay post, but Better Left Unsaid has got me considering the actual, specific ways to use this technology to our advantage as artists.

Because as exciting as internet connectivity is to me, it leaves me with a sort of conundrum. What I love about theater, what sets it apart from every other art form, is the liveness of it. There is nothing quite like actually being in a room with the art as it's being created. There's an immediacy to it, and a sense of community that is inherently lost when you put someone miles away and behind a computer screen.

It's definitely an amazing thing to join in a nationwide, or even worldwide conversation about art. But what about actual making and experiencing of the art? The question of how to reconcile the possibility of connective technology with theater's need for immediacy intrigues me, so I started jotting down some ideas.

This is all really rough - nothing cohesive or fully formed about any of it yet. But I thought I'd start thinking and sharing nonetheless.

A couple of shows I remember hearing about that have connective possibilities:

The Lysistrata Project. Does anyone remember when the Iraq war first started and, in protest, schools all over the country participated in performing Lysistrata at the same time? I remember because both my old high school and my college participated.
  • What if you live-streamed all of the productions at the same time? Or had a website where you could access all of the productions at any time?
  • You could coordinate with other productions in other areas to realize same artistic vision in multiple places.
  • Or the opposite: connect w/ other creative teams in other places to make each production distinctly different. Or some combination of the two, e.g., certain ideas or design elements are agreed upon by all creative teams, but within the structure, a certain degree of creative autonomy? Or - each team charged assigned a different approach to design or given a different theme to explore within the same work.
  • Really like the idea in general of presenting the same show in tandem across the country for the purpose of making a particular point or reaching a goal.
  • Like! What if - if we were talking about Lysystrata, say - you could tweet to the White House or your representatives while you were watching it, or there were links shown (on the website, or even live too) about how to get involved. Or a hashtag, to create a dialogue, with a running account of the conversation?

The recent performance of Antigone that I read about, but didn't see where they used Facebook, Twitter and/or YouTube as the chorus.
  • Imagine it was all scripted and taped, but is there anyway to use that as a connecting point? A greek chorus, say, streamed in from 12 different parts of the world?
  • Relatedly, what about the possibility of exploring characters or story elements that that can be told/seen/experienced remotely?
  • Or! The same story, told from two different points of view, in two different places - in both places you see one angle live, and other live-streamed, and vice versa... does that make sense?

Some other ideas.
  • Two shows in repertory in two different places: the first one is live, the second, live-streamed.
  • The same show, but some scenes or acts shown live, some streamed from different places.
    • You could do it exquisite corpse style, where each creative team gets the script (or maybe just a portion of the script) w/ no communication and see what happens.
    • Or the opposite: extreme collaboration - skyping in to one another's rehearsals - online production meetings - maybe even live actors communicating with streamed actors on stage.
  • That last one - live actors communicating with streamed actors on stage - could also be applied to the idea of telling the same story from two points of view in two different places.
  • Live-streamed play readings or workshop forums via Twitter.

Oh man. I didn't expect it, but I'm actually really excited about a lot of these ideas. There is definitely a project in here somewhere.

If anybody has any stories of a collaboration over distance that worked out well, or other ideas to keep building on, I would absolutely love to hear them. Or, if anybody is interested in thinking more about/putting into motion any of the above ideas, I definitely want to talk to you.


  1. I love how you think! Exciting ideas.

    To some extent, technology adds splash, versus depth. You could have 10 schools in 10 states perform a play at the same time, and that in and of itself could be a powerful statement. But when you stream it all...then it has sizzle, and registers on more people's radars. And it doesn't sacrifice the substance of the experience.

    I also think a lot of your ideas are worth trying simply b/c of how much thought they provoke about what, exactly, theater is. Maybe the technical aspects of the experiments end up not being very compelling in a substantive way, but I bet they'd spark a fascinating discussion, and isn't that a large part of what great theater can be about?

  2. Thanks!

    I see what you mean sizzle vs. substance. Also, following that point a little farther down the road, I can see a place where the line between provocative experiment and total gimmick would start to be blurred - which is something I definitely don't want.

    Funnily enough, when I was thinking about these, I was mostly thinking about how theater artists could conceivably collaborate over distance - I was only thinking indirectly about giving an audience a new or exciting experience. Which is interesting, given only my last idea really directly deals with inter-geographical collaboration.

    But in my mind I was thinking: Say I move out of New York and I think to myself, I heard Amanda Hirsch was a really great improviser/comedienne. It's a shame I never got to work with her. Well - maybe I can. How can I get in the room with you without actually getting in the room with you? This is what came up. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  3. I love these ideas. Seriously, if you ever want somebody to test some of this stuff out with, hit me up. I'm an American playwright currently living in Berlin, but I'm still working on projects back in the States. So I currently use technology a LOT just to communicate with the companies I'm working with. Blogging and Skype meetings are the obvious things, and Skype meetings have been incredibly productive. But we are starting to work on other tech-enhanced elements.

    - As the play I'm writing for a group of farmers/farm workers in Maine gets closer to first public reading date, we are talking about Skyping me in to the reading or live-streaming it, since I can't be there in person. Especially important because this is a community-based project and I am building on relationships established in person last summer. Face time is important.

    - Partially inspired by our desire to create a Whatifesto for TCG and partially inspired by our realization that multiple users can edit a document at once on Google Docs, I'm working with two of my frequent partners-in-crime (in NYC) to put together a live co-creation of a Whatifesto, open to any interested parties across the world -- there are more specifics at our blog, http://yinzerspielen.wordpress.com/ -- it's a grand experiment and we have no idea if it'll take off or crash and burn, but I'm excited about the possibilities of dynamically brainstorming answers to big theatre questions with a myriad of voices. Hopefully there'll be a mix of Germans and Americans participating at the least, and possibly acquaintances as far removed as Seoul and New Zealand. You should join us if you have time!

    - Other cases I've heard of: I know there is a production going on at SXSW that involves actors being Skyped in; and a similar thing just happened at a festival a week or two ago in Berlin.