Bringing ballet to the YouTube generation

The New York Times, 6/19/11

The idea was to bring the ballet to the masses, so it was perhaps inevitable that the masses would bring nachos, beer and hot dogs to the ballet.  "It feels like you're in a pop concert," said Sheila Kiss, 53, describing the atmosphere at the Royal Ballet's performance of "Romeo and Juliet" at the massive O2 arena in East London on Friday. She was right. The stands were filled with some 10,000 people, including the young, the old and the casually dressed, and in between watching the dancing they were also doing a fair amount of munching, gulping and milling around at unconventional moments.  But in a way that was the point. The performance, and three more over the weekend, were meant to be a grand experiment in democracy, a way for ballet to break free from its rarefied, elitist image. The idea was to attract younger and larger audiences by offering a crowd-pleasing classic with charismatic stars at favorable prices (about $16 to $97). To solve the problem of how to make Kenneth MacMillan's choreography visible to people in the far-away seats, the company transmitted the ballet live on three giant screens above the stage. "I love the close-ups," said Mrs. Kiss's husband, John, who said that this was only the second ballet he had ever been to, the first being "Swan Lake." (He is more of a soccer fan.) But the exquisite images created a dilemma for him, he said, because he was drawn more to the screens than to the live dancers.  Along with all the ballet novices, including numerous children, there were a fair number of ballet admirers who seemed curious about how this performance would compare to those at Covent Garden. Claire Brewer, 29, said she had been drawn in by advertisements portraying the O2 "Romeo and Juliet" as the sort of sexy, vital and action-packed spectacle even attention-challenged people raised on YouTube could relate to. 


First live 'social theater concert experience' on Facebook

[On June 14th and 15th, Widespread Panic performed live from the Moody Theatre in Austin, Texas.]  Why is this concert different from any other?  For starters, all of you on Facebook [could] enjoy it from the comfort of your couch!  Powered by our partner Milyoni, [the] show [was] the first live "Social Theater concert experience" in the U.S. via the Facebook platform. Granted, "Social Theater" may sound a little jargon-y, but it's actually a very cool way to describe a shared viewing experience for fans that goes well beyond traditional concert live-streams. Rather than just passively watching the event, music fans [were] able to comment, chat and share the live concert experience with friends and family across the nation from within the concert's Facebook page.  Both nights [were] viewable in HD for just 50 Facebook Credits (equivalent of $5, payable with PayPal).  At PayPal we continue to be energized by the constantly evolving social networking experience. Livestream concerts are nothing new, but the Social Theater's the opportunity to interact with friends and family that you can't physically be with, to engage with like-minded fans outside of your inner circle and to watch a great jam band knock it out of the park from a city you may never have been to.


New opera about the complexities of relationships on- and off-line

The Guardian, 6/10/11

ENO's viral video advertising Nico Muhly's new opera is a kick-ass three minutes of social networking lampooning. However, it's got zippity-squat to do with the work itself. Far from questioning "how odd your online life is", Two Boys is a human drama of obsession, love, fantasy, identity and detective work. It's also not really about "what could go wrong" online.  The point is, the drama of Two Boys will be, or should be, profound and tragic, rather than merely critiquing the trivialities of friend-inculcation on Facebook, as the viral video makes out. At least that's how it seemed to me watching rehearsals for the piece, looking at the score, and talking to the composer himself.  Two Boys will not be "Facebook - the Opera." In fact, the director and designers are keen to do anything but try for a Tron-style representation of the internet age, and Muhly has avoided at all costs the temptation to make his music sound crassly digital. There isn't so much as a keyboard or a sampler in the purely acoustic instrumentation, and Muhly's model is far more Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream than The Matrix.  If the wit of the [promo video] gets people to turn up to ENO for the show, so much the better, but anyone who buys their ticket based on [that] is in for a shock. If Two Boys lives up to the potential of its music and its story, it will be a searing night at the theatre that will do more than make you delete a few friends on Facebook. It should force you to think about the complexities of human identity and relationships, on- and offline.


New play to integrate audience response via social media

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6/1/11

A new play that will integrate social online media into the theater has been commissioned by HotCity Theatre for production in December 2012.  The show, which is being written by Lia Romeo, will engage audiences with the characters before, during and after the show. It doesn't yet have a title.  Marty Stanberry, artistic director, said that for several years HotCity has focused on new play development. This project is funded by a $20,000 grant from a PNC Bank's Arts Alive program.  Romeo is the author of a number of plays that have been produced around the U.S. and internationally: "To me, one of the most interesting things about the rise of social the way it has turned the communication of information from a one-way into a multi-way conversation.  It struck me as interesting that most theater is still a one-way conversation, and I started thinking about ways to get the audience actively involved in commenting on or even shaping the direction of a piece of theater in real time, as it was going on."


Julie Taymor: "Twitter and Facebook and blogging make it hard to create", 6/19/11

Had Shakespeare been around to see the producers of Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" use focus groups to re-work their production, he would have been "appalled."  So said Julie Taymor, creator of "Turn Off the Dark," making her first public comments about the $70 million production since exiting it in March.  Speaking at a conference for theater leaders, Taymor was critical at how her replacements used audience feedback to get there.  "It's very scary if people are going more towards that, to have audiences tell you how to make a show," she said. "Shakespeare would have been appalled. It would be impossible to have these works come out because there's always something that people don't like.  Twitter and Facebook and blogging just trump you," she said. "It's very hard to create; it's incredibly difficult to be under...a microscope like that.  When you're trying to create new work and you're trying to break new ground and experiment, which seems an incredibly crazy thing to do in a Broadway environment, the immediate answers that audiences give are never going to be good," Taymor added. 

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