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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, July 22, 2011

"I'm Really Into Curation Lately."

I once heard this spoken by one of the members of the Women's Project labs (forgive me, I can't remember who). I was just out of college at that time, and happened to be lucky enough to briefly be in the same room with these people, these talented women on the rise within the profession, sharing some incredible ideas about theater. And when whoever it was that said, "I'm really into curation lately," I thought, Like a museum? What on earth does that have to do with theater? I don't get it. Hilariouly, five years later (I guess I have a slow learning curve), I am finding myself more and more compelled to say the exact same thing.

Not to belabor a play that I saw, at this point, almost a month ago, but I realized there's something else I wanted to say about The Shaggs. Something happened during the intermission which caught my attention: one of the women in the group seated in the row in front of me looked up The Shaggs on her iPhone, and managed to find a YouTube video which see then passed around to her friends. They all took turns listening to the band through her headphones saying, "Oh yes, they're pretty awful."

I actually tweeted about this when I saw it (YES, I tweeted at intermission, another phenomenon that's somewhat relevant within the context of this conversation); it struck me as interesting for a number of reasons.

The first is this: I was acutely aware of the lack of historical context provided by the theater about the band. No dramaturgical note, no time-line, nothing whatsoever printed about the family, the actual facts of their story, or any information about what happened before or after the events we saw on stage. There was such a dearth of contextual support, I HAD to assume it was a deliberate choice.

But was it a wise one? Or, more importantly, a feasible one? Look at me, for example: the only reason I was SEEING the show at all was because I had heard about the "true story" and my interest was piqued. And program note or no program note, nothing could stop me from returning home and Googling "The Shaggs" until my curiosity was sated. But, I'll grant you, there is a big difference between finding out the true story after you leave the theater and having the information while you watch. Happily for the creative team of The Shaggs (if this was indeed their desire), I don't own a smartphone. Unhappily for them, I'm in a dwindling minority. Now look at the group in front of me that night: you couldn't have stopped them from accessing that information, and what's more, these people were on the departing side of middle-age, not a particulary hip or cutting-edge demographic. Which is to say, you can't stop MOST of your audience from accessing information about your show, right in the middle of it. This is especially true for historical fiction and "based on a true-story"-style tales, but continues to be relevant for any kind of story. You audience can now be looking up information about the play, the playwright, the theater, previous productions, reviews, you name it, at any given moment. And if we can't stop our audience from accessing this information, shouldn't we embrace it? What if we tried to curate their experience and incorporate it into the larger experience of seeing the play?

That notion becomes Interesting Idea Number Two, and that's what really excites me. How fun would it be to sift through your program as you restlessly wait for the play to begin and instead of useless reviews of nearby restaurants, there were QR Codes or links to articles, pictures, videos or even music that relates to the show you're about to see?

And what if we could use this new technology to link the production to other related art? Paintings, songs, poems, short films, photographs, all somehow inspired by or related to the show itself, transforming it into a multidisciplinary experience.

I had a similar idea a few years back, although without the technological bent. I wanted to do a production of The Little Foxes and - well, I never quite worked out why and for whom I wanted to do the show, which is why it was never fully realized so I'll withhold the details, as they don't quite make sense. But, sufficed to say, I wanted to do The Little Foxes in a site-specific location, by and for members of a specific community. I wanted to involve the community in the show itself as actors, designers and collaborators, but I also wanted to extend beyond the play itself, encouraging the community to respond to the play through writing, pictures and other various multimedia which would be available for the audience to experience on-site both during the show, and on its own later.

And even though I couldn't figure out how to make it work for The Little Foxes, I'm still keen on this sort of curated community experience. Now I'm thinking of it in relationship to another, well, let's not call it an idea, but an inkling of an idea I'm excited to explore with another director I met in the LCT Lab this month. I'm very drawn to the possibility of using that kind of curated experience to bring a community together, and, through various disciplines, bring texture and dimension to an issue or idea that affects that community in a measurable way.

So that's what I'm thinking about right now. Is all of that cryptic enough for you? Unfortunately, I can't really elaborate, as beyond that the details are hazy even for myself. Anyway, after seeing The Shaggs, it makes me wonder if this idea that I've already been tossing around in my head could move to a whole new level with the inclusion of smartphone technology.

Or the technology it could totally detract from it, I don't know. What do you think?


  1. These all sound like great ideas, though as someone who puts together a lot of programs I have to say: ads have to be there. In fact, I'd say putting together an interactive audience experience would be a way to solicit even more commercial support (QR codes and such).

    I'd also say an interactive audience experience needs to take into account those who don't have mobile technology, maybe by providing stations for people to use. I'd love to see a show where these ideas were put into play.

  2. Thanks for the input, Michelle! As one of those you're talking about you doesn't have mobile technology, I completely get where you're coming from; I think my ideal "curation" dream would have a balance between real and virtual media, so that one's experience is enhanced by the technology, not defined by it.