“There are subtle and profound ways that the internet will impact the theatre in the 21st Century. A new generation is being raised with a supremely intimate and agency-fueled relationship with narrative…It’s something eminently democratic, where ideally anyone can share an experience and anyone has the ability to watch and respond to it. Theatre has to increasingly contend with this new relationship to narrative and audience agency…theatre fundamentally tells stories and engages audiences differently in the information age. We’ve been conditioned to understand how plays are meant to be – an Aristotelian narrative unfolding over two hours with a fifteen minute intermission in between – but the internet is reconditioning us to experience narrative in increasingly new ways." - Theatre of the Unimpressed, Jordan Tannahill, Coach House (2015)
Social Design is the strategy and implementation of online tools to deepen or broaden the nature of a live performance. There are three types of social design that mobilize digital tools like social media, live-streaming, green-screen technology, online forums, teleconferencing software, etc. They are Social Design About the Work, Integrated in the Work and Is the Work.
What is Social Media?
Social media includes the various forms of user-generated content and the collection of websites and applications that enable people to interact and share information online and immediately, regardless of physical geography.
- Blogs/Online Magazine
- Social networking sites
- Video sharing sites
- Photo sharing platforms
- User reviews
- Online forums
- Comments in Intermission - Spotlight on Jon Kaplan. Mourning through social media, an online community eulogy
- Live Streaming
The key takeaway here is that all these elements are interactive. One of the things interactivity implies is that there is someone who is responding to and interacting with people. In the old print media ‘monologue’ paradigm messages are crafted then broadcast through print television and radio.
In the new dialogue-driven communications, broadcasting the message is just the first step to creating engaging ways for audiences to engage with this content and responding to those engagements are new jobs.
Often marketing departments manage the blogs and websites of a theatre, update Facebook and Twitter accounts, monitor Wikipedia entries, comment on reviews, create YouTube Videos, and generally control the social media imprint of a theatre company. This, for the most part is not included in a definition of social design, which should be artist-driven and connected directly to the work. For info about marketing, visit HERE.
- ABOUT THE WORK - This is social design that complements the work, but exists outside of the performance. As mentioned above, this is not marketing, but digital artist-driven interaction with the work.
- INTEGRATED WITH THE WORK - This is social design that is integrated live during the moment of performance. Any performance that utilizes live-tweeting to compliment stage action would qualify as this kind of social design.
- IS THE WORK - This is social design that uses digital technology as the work. Anything that uses technology to fully deliver the work to an audience (Tupac hologram, Revolutions, Landline) would qualify as this kind of social design. It’s the same principle as site specific theatre. If you were to take the play out of the site, it wouldn’t make sense. If you unplug this kind of social design, the performance shouldn’t exist.
This is social design that complements the work, but exists outside of the performance. As mentioned above, this is not marketing, but digital artist-driven interaction with the work.
*It’s not about you
It’s important to remember that this kind of social design is not marketing - it is artist driven and speaks to content and form of performance, not a push to sell tickets. Don’t make it about you. Use digital tools to connect the work to a wider online audience.
Although we are used to digital tools being used in an immediate way, context is also king in social design. Because successful social design relies upon interactivity, sometimes uptake is a slow burn.
*It’s cool to scrap something that fails
Sometimes digital endeavours don’t work the way we imagine them - try something, delete it if it doesn’t work!
Examples of Social Design About the Work:
- Tarragon Theatre Q&A Sessions
- Expect Theatre’s PlayMe podcast - Podcasts that consist of readings of New Canadian plays or interviews with prominent Canadian theatremakers.
- Howlround - A knowledge commons by and for the International Theatre Community.
- Intermission - “Where all great theatre discussions happen”
- 10 Questions: 2007-2011: Tara Beagan, Christine Horne, Michael Rubenfeld
- First question is always the same: What The Fuck Is Going On? The rest of the questions are artist-specific and most of the content generation done by artists. Simple crowd-sourcing format.
- Variations on Theatre
- Create a Piece of Theatre on The Internet: Text, Image, Sound and then promo underneath. 66 Variations have been done so far with actors, directors, artistic directors, academics, etc. Simple, replicable format that can be uniquely personalized by each artist so there is something in it for everyone involved. They get promo and Praxis gets artistic content.
- Senora Carrar’s Rifles
- A play about The Spanish Civil War by Bertolt Brecht, where Brecht wanted the play to be staged with a film about the war “or some other sort of Propaganda”. Substituted blog posts that explored and gave context that Brecht wanted. Not marketing, but used to solve an artistic dilemma.
This is social design that is integrated live during the moment of performance. Any performance that utilizes live-tweeting to compliment stage action would qualify as this kind of social design - and one time events are great for live-tweeting.
With live interaction, dialogue, and feedback loop, be wary if you ask for feedback, you should provide clear parameters and feedback.
Examples of Social Design Integrated with the Work:
- #legacy at Hatch Harbourfront 2014 - A collective creation with three 60+ women contemplating legacy by interacting with twitter live in performance. It was also complimented by Social Design #1, as playwright Rob Kempson documented process of collective creation on Storify.
- Out The Window by Liza Balkan/Trailer - Began as a project about the work. Their website was not about selling tickets but creating discussion (before & after), but could lead to where to buy tickets (Theatre Centre website). The video designer loved the look of The Brain in animation form and eventually worked it into the design of the show in a pivotal moment in which “Liza” is bombarded with too much information.
- Daschund UN - Tweeting was encouraged; It became a communal experience with the entire audience tweeting to each other about what they saw.
- Tim Buck 2; a living newspaper and show ending with a live debate. The audience votes with who they agreed with by which door they exited. The audience could only find out who won the debate by returning to the website. Sometimes the debate continued in the comments of the post where the results were announced.
- Section 98 - the show was taken to the Harbourfront Centre where they decides to open up and document the entire process, called Open Source Theatre. Comments made were digitized into a voice that played through transitions of the show. Since there were no smartphones at the time, live feedback was given by the assistant director who would cut and paste into comments of a blog post.
- The Wrecking Ball - a political cabaret that occurs in a ‘time of need’. Playwrights have 1 week to write and actors and directors have 1 week to rehearse. Creates theatre that is “Ripped From The Headlines’. During the last three Federal Elections ‘Wrecking Balls’ have occurred independently across the country and have been on Idle No More, Stephen Harper Election, etc. This led to a search for a way to connect them. In 2008, they passed off performance through phone calls. In 2011, they instituted a Hashtag so that anyone could live-tweet.
Social Design that IS the work, includes live performances where the social design is integral to the performance. Distinct from the Integrated category because these works can not exist without online elements, they aren’t just complementary, but essential Much of the innovation in live online performance is occurring in works that use technology this way.
Examples of Social Design Is the Work:
- Jordan Tannahill’s RhiannaBoy95 - a livestream Youtube performance of Jordan Tannahill script about Vlogger.
- iShow - Brought the outside world into the performance through ChatRoulette.
- Situation Rooms - Rimini Protocol uses handheld iPads thatdirect you to interact with installation; it is immersive theatre
- SpiderWebShow’s the Revolutions - A performance that takes place in 4 cities at once through the use of CdnStudio, a green-screen/chroma-key technology
- Zuppa Theatre Co’s Archive of Missing Things - Archive of Missing Things is an undercover show that takes place in public libraries. Audience members, equipped with iPads, headsets and notebooks, attempt to decode an online mystery in 90 minutes.
- Laurence Dauphanais’ Siri - With a performer on stage and iPhone’s personal assistant, Siri, her only partner, director Maxime Carbonneau and performer Laurence Dauphinais invent a theatre where chance reigns. Through a precise game of question and answer, Dauphinais exposes the bizarre metaphysical dimension of the machine, while blurring the limitations that separate them.
- Secret Theatre’s Landline - Landline uses texting and audio guide to collapse the space between strangers and to create a parallel connection in two different cities.
- Radix Theatre’s TBD - With TBD we ask our audience to imagine they have died and that we are now guiding them through the afterlife. Much of the content is delivered via smartphones, however we also visit audience members at home, deliver packages to their door, put posters up in their neighbourhood, ask them to visit site-specific performance installations, and send them mail. We also locate them in public through a free app they download to their phone.
- Weetube by Theatre Replacement (Maiko Bae Yamamoto & James Long) - Performed YouTube Video Comments. A virtual world where niceties and amiability do not seem to apply. Publicly posted comments performed in familiar dramatic settings.