Commentary: The future of theater: Let the audience control content?

Actor/writer/director/producer Colin Mitchell,, 9/22/11

I applaud Jon Lawrence Rivera for his passion, creativity and all around chutzpah in coming up with the idea of Flash Theatre LA, highlighted in today's LA Stage Times article. It's a dynamic response to the Social Media Generation, it's energetic and it has flair. But here's my question: should the future of theatre be guided by what the "audience" thinks they want or what the artist thinks they need? Now personally, I think the answer lies somewhere in-between. If left solely to the artist you're probably going to get a bunch of esoteric crap that has no basis in what's actually happening in the world and more likely happening in the artist's lonely and twisted mind. On the other hand, if you leave it up to the audience, you're probably going to get Reality TV, live-tweeting and re-hashed spectacle that appeal only to the senses. Or a game show. Which is basically what Rivera is describing here:

"At some point, we're going to come up to [the] theater [and] it's [going to be] just like how people decide on who's the winner for America's Got Talent. We're going to have keypads in each theater and we're all going to decide how the play's going to end. At intermission, you press [a button]. There is something about the culture where they want to have control over what happens and I feel like at some point there's going to probably be some lever that people decide - does [this character] die or live? They're going to decide, so that they have a say in what happens."

Now Flash Theatre is basically just Street Theatre for the "I Want it Now" Generation. And heck, it looks like fun. Then again, like most ideas that cater to "what the people want right now"....rarely will they be what that same audience wants five years from now. To this, Rivera said:

"...What I hope will happen is that the young kids will really get excited about the form, about theater, about the onset of ritual, music, and text. That they get excited about it enough that they will be invested at least to see the next few flash theater. What happens is that these kids who are 16, 17, 24, 25 - at some point they will transition into moving into the theater."

Only thing, I'll probably miss it, cuz my life is too damn short to be watching the Twitter feed for the next Flash Theatre Extravaganza.


Ohio's BalletMet opens season with programming picked by its audience

Ballet Alert blog, 8/19/11

The polls have closed, the final votes tallied, and BalletMet audiences and fans have selected some of their very favorite works to kick off the 2011-2012 season with "BalletMet OnDemand" - a dance-lover's sampler featuring ten works that showcase the strength, agility and interpretive prowess of the company's exceptional corps of dancers, and which highlight the deep relationships Artistic Director Gerard Charles has established with many of today's leading dance makers. "When voting began I was fascinated to find out how close my thoughts were to those of our audiences," said Charles, who in 2011-2012 marks his 10th year as BalletMet's Artistic Director. "It was amazing to see the solid support that the top vote getters received from our audiences, and also to see the good programming choices they made. The result is a great cross section of classical and contemporary works."


Commentary: The future of film & TV: Enable the viewer to guide the experience?

Jana Branch,, 10/3/11

L.A. production house Halo-8 Entertainment has seen the future of films and TV, and they call it EtherFilms. The HTML5 delivery platform is meant to disrupt linear narrative in film and online books, enabling the viewer to guide the watching experience. That turns passive consumption into a mode of narrative discovery. Think of any combo of book, game, film and DVD extras on steroids. Or A.D.D. With no boundaries. The ability to jump from film to actor interview to character backstory, back to the film, out to the game, etc., may be too much for all but the most devoted fans. But tamer versions enabled by EtherFilms will give the struggling film industry new ways to grab audience hearts and eyes. Halo-8 announced EtherFilms at Comic Com 2011 and already has four projects in the works to demonstrate its capabilities. People who dismiss transmedia as cross-platform marketing with a fancier name are missing the point. This is nothing less than an evolutionary shift in narrative possibilities.  Linear storytelling will never die, but today it's only the beginning. And for younger gens, linear storytelling is literally so last century. Branding mavens know it already, but we'll say it again: In an era when content is king, story is gold. The term "transmedia" may currently evoke more "huh?" than "aha!," but consumers have already spoken: They want more ways to dig deeper into storyworlds, franchises and characters they love.


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Commentary: The audience's role in the artistic process

Composer Steve Clark on his blog, 10/11/11 [hat tip to Ian David Moss]

We tend to let great artists do whatever they want, whenever possible, in the belief that they will produce things that speak to people, move them, and improve their lives. In part that's because brilliant artists are, in fact, special. But I think that in part it's also a matter of habit. We didn't bring other people into the process because we didn't know how, because we really just couldn't do it. Some artists have always sought feedback from friends, collaborators, teachers, and even workshop audiences. Then there are the critics, the purchasing audience members, financial supporters and other groups and individuals with firmly established rules for how much they get to influence what it is you're actually doing with your art. The explosion of communications technology in the last few decades has changed that completely. We're used to hearing about how much more the artist has to be visible to the public -- behind-the-scenes, making-of, interviews, meet-and-greets, blog posts, podcasts, etc. But we're not used to talking about how much more visible the audience is to the artist. We need to figure out how to use new forms of communication, how to use other people's brains, basically, to refine our artistic decisions. We need people who know how to do similar things in other contexts. A lot of smart people work at Apple and Facebook. They're figuring out how to support complex decisions with a lot of interrelated dimensions, including how other people feel about the thing you're making. Sound familiar? We should learn as much as we can from [them]. They're way ahead on this, and all we need to do is ask. It might sound like I'm saying we should have focus groups to decide every little thing. Or artists need to stop being creative and start being market researchers. I think nothing of the kind. This stuff is useful to the extent that it's faster than the old way and helps us make better decisions when we ask for help. We've still got to write just as hard, and we still keep the responsibility for being brilliant and creative. It's not about focus groups and surveys; it's about making your next work of art as seemingly magical as an iPhone.

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