Digital publishing…

More than filming a show or publishing a traditional playscript ever could, we want to offer people a beautiful take-home experience – to create a sort of digital bottle that includes the sound, lighting, atmosphere that we handcraft (using technology) that people can then open at home. A gift.

We’re very excited to be one of the first projects to be supported by the Digital R&D fund for the Arts. The scheme is part funded by the National Lottery to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers. The full list of supported projects can be viewed/downloaded here.

We’ll be working with outstanding partners Storythings (led by our long term collaborator Matt Locke) and Jon Rogers of the Product Research Studio at the University of Dundee, primarily with his Small Society Lab hat on.

Unlimited is the lead organisation for the project through which we’ll test how emerging behaviours around mobile reading devices and technologies can help the performing/live arts to create new forms of digital storytelling based on the live experience, that will (we hope) simultaneously develop and broaden  audiences for our work and facilitate artists and organisations to produce desirable, commercial products.

STARTING POINTS

There were several starting points for this project:

• an ongoing excitement around the possibilities that digital technologies can offer the arts sector – and particularly theatre as a live medium – to find new ways of telling and sharing our stories/work
• a long term ambition to work with new technologies and emerging audience behaviours to find new ways of distributing our stories more widely and (potentially) significantly develop audiences for our work
• and in the particular case of this research project, a dissatisfaction with the existing form of published playscripts as one of the main ways of sharing the theatre we make and write, beyond the moment of live performance.

PUBLISHING NEW THEATRE

There is a fascinating and long established relationship between theatre as a live form and a literary form. My bookshelf is lined with playscripts by writers living and dead but, for the most part, I’ve only ever read them for work, not pleasure. I’ve turned to them as a set of instructions for how to stage a performance or as the only archive resource available to me – rather than as a way of experiencing the story. I also find the formatting of traditional script publishing (e.g. character names appearing at the start of each “line”, jargon heavy “stage directions”) make them difficult to read for pleasure.

<As a related side note, Chris Goode wrote a very beautiful (and resonant, for me) critique of the limitations of live streaming  a few years ago. If interested, you can read that here.>

So we want to explore and reimagine this relationship between the live performance and reading experiences, and how we might combine them to offer audiences another (new) experience of the worlds we create as artists. I’m excited by the potential to allow existing audiences to deepen their understanding of the work we make and also, importantly, to increase access and open our and our sector’s work up to a much wider range of people.

So this project is a sincere, rigorous wondering about how we can better transpose the stories we’re telling as theatre makers to (an)other medium(s). We’ll be creating a test ‘product’ to be launched alongside the show we’re co-producing with Northern Stage and Warwick Arts Centre in autumn 2013 The Noise. But that will only be a result of the process and, as always for us, the process is key to this project’s success and outcomes…

PROCESS

We’ll be adopting an “open innovation” co-design process – a series of connected hack events working with our project partners, the sound/lighting/stage designers for the show and a group of up to 20 people recruited from the community that we work in, in Leeds, to develop a product that really does reflect the needs and desires of its end users.  The process will be documented adopting an ethnographic approach to tell the human stories and insight journalism to hold the project activity and processes to account.

The resulting prototype, digital iteration of The Noise will test audiences response to the product and gather hard data on its success against clearly set goals.

Further to that prototype testing we will then launch the ‘tool’ – a customisable template for other artists and organisations to use and develop in order to create their own products. That tool will be free to use, with any code resulting being open source and free to use or develop.

OUTCOMES…

The result of this process will, we hope, be of significant benefit to others in our sector producing:

• an open source, customisable ‘drag and drop’ platform for interactive, digital ‘playscripts’
• new formats for publishing plays/performance
• new products for audience engagement/merchandising for the performing arts
• new tracking/metrics tools for performing arts venues

All that said, we’re right at the start of a journey with this project and there is always the potential for transformation. So watch this space…

If you’re based in Leeds or West Yorkshire and are interested in joining the Community Research Lab, then we’d love to hear from you. Please email our administrator Alison and we’ll be in touch soon.

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