Is the use of digital technology by the theatre and cultural sector really declining? A (ranty) response to the 2015 Digital Culture 2015 Report

December 18, 2015 by

Nesta, AHRC & Arts Council England have just released the findings from this year’s survey into Digital Culture.

Download it here:
http://artsdigitalrnd.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Digital-Culture-2015-Final.pdf

The Stage (https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2015/digital-technology-in-decline-in-theatre-sector-claims-report/) have jumped straight in the claim that digital technology is in decline in the theatre sector. But what does this actually mean?

I’ve completed the previous two years of surveys on behalf of The Other Way Works, but this year the request languished in my inbox unopened. So much of the content is focused on ‘digital’ systems and marketing, with narrow and oddly specific questions on particular areas. I didn’t feel that the data I would be contributing would be reflecting our work and relationship with technology in the way I think is important or interesting.

The summary suggests that “digital technology has become seemingly less important to certain aspects of arts and cultural organisations’ work”. They may well have a point, but I wonder how much this is just a case of much of today’s administration and marketing work just being ‘digital’ by default and not considered to be in a special category anymore worthy of particular note?

Surely its no longer news to talk about the fact that your arts organisation has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Website, sends eflyers, e-newsletters, emails, uses Skype or Hangouts, cloud-based databases, uploads content to video & audio streaming sites. Isn’t that just the way that individuals and organisations operate these days? This isn’t ‘digital’ anymore, its just work. And its definitely not ‘digital innovation’. When there’s a free, consumer service, that as individuals we use on a daily basis for communication and leisure, just using it to help you run your arts organisation isn’t really worthy of note.

The Stage’s claim that Digital Technology is in decline in the theatre sector specifically highlights the stat that ‘only’ 8% of theatres live-stream their performances. So what? That’s just one (albeit one overly focused on by the funders, see The Space & Nesta R&D fund) use of digital technology. And a pretty dull one at that. I think its disappointing or maybe even embarrassing to judge a live artform’s engagement with digital technology with so much focus on this metric.

The report quotes representatives from some of the funders pointing fingers at the sector for ‘stepping back’ from investing in digital technologies. This seems a bit rich to me. The focus of investment in specific areas by organisations is surely heavily influenced by the funders own priorities and the funding streams they create. And it is these that are perhaps exacerbating the problem.

Nesta/AHRC/ACE’s Digital R&D fund decided to make large grants to a few to act as ‘examples’ for the rest of the sector to follow. The responsibility to succeed and the fact that larger more ‘reliable’ organisations were selected meant that the levels of possible ‘innovation’ within these restrictions were questionable. The money flowed to the few rather than the many. And to buildings more than to independent producing theatre companies, making the future even more unevenly distributed. And don’t get me started on The Space (in fact you can hear me making my points to the panel on the video of the 2nd Q&A session at their recent information seminar – https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLrRq4FeMUe-fYjtA7we1rI9ms-3ymR1EP&v=Pe1sCXHEGj0 at 11:50 in).

Their own metrics paint a picture of their pet funds’ failures to seed digital innovation in the wider cultural sector.
And on the bright side? Well maybe there is one…

The potential positive outcome of this report could be that it makes the case for the funders to be able to make more money available for digital experimentation, ideally with a focus on the independent sector and to creative exploration within the artform itself rather than in the marketing of it. And to make more, smaller grants to allow a much larger number of organisations to get involved, try things out, make more things, make better things, to engage experimentally with digital technologies as new tools with which to create their work – essentially to innovate in this area.

Creating a Kickstarter Campaign – by Seb Harding

September 1, 2015 by

It’s been just over a month since we made our crowdfunding target for the 2015 tour of Black Tonic and since then we’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the successes of the campaign and consider what we’d change if we could do it all again. Overall the process has been complex, but ultimately, very rewarding.

We thought we’d share our experience by creating a quick four step run down of the factors we found most important in creating our campaign.

Doing the Groundwork

Many of the companies and individuals we spoke to whilst researching the campaign warned of the perils of beginning a hastily planned fundraiser.

We began seriously planning our campaign in November therefore giving ourselves around four months in which to develop a series of rewards, create a quirky campaign video, plan a marketing campaign (with video and written content) and organise a low key launch event.

Regardless to say we were of course working on all of this right up until we launched the campaign. It’s definitely possible to produce a campaign in a much shorter amount of time, and our obsessive attention to detail probably doesn’t help, but we can’t stress enough how many hours go into creating a slick successful fundraiser.

Make sure you have budgeted for everything!

We’re pretty sure someone is reading this and thinking “Surely a Crowdfunder is about raising money, not losing it” but the reality can be quite a very different picture.

To begin with, lets consider the rewards. Admittedly you won’t have to physically create anything before you make your target but once you do you’re effectively tied down to deliver all you’ve promised. The reality of how much you may have to spend (don’t forget person hours) could take a large chunk from the amount you raise if you have failed to factor in all the costs.

As our production of Black Tonic has relatively small numbers of audience members we couldn’t just give tickets away in the lowest, and most popular, tiers. This meant we had to devise attractive rewards that linked to the show but could also stand alone as attractive offers to any indecisive backers.

If, on the other hand, most of your rewards are a direct result of the project you’re fundraising then you may think it’s a relatively simple affair. Though don’t forget if, for instance, you give away 50% of tickets to your show but are also relying on high ticket revenue you could end up losing money overall.

Don’t underestimate how much content you will create for Social Media 

Before you begin any plans for marketing your campaign it’s worth bearing in mind that your audience will possibly have to come into contact with your project at least three times before they actually part with their money. The sheer amount of Social Media content that successful campaigns have to create is pretty much uncontested but the route you take to present your message can be incredibly inventive. For our campaign we created content such as Video endorsements, behind the scenes videos plus an in depth blog on the research process behind the production we were trying to fund.

See it as a project in itself and enjoy it!

The process of creating a crowdfunding campaign is very similar to that of creating any small public facing project. Therefore it is important to see the campaign as an extension of your creative output and not separate to it. If you can think creatively about the project video, campaign visuals and backer rewards your audiences are far more likely to get on board. Try to invest as much personal interest in the campaign and the whole process will hopefully become both more attainable and enjoyable.

There’s so much we could write about concerning our crowdfunding experience but we’ll stop before we bore you! Hopefully these tips might come in use if you’re thinking about creating your own fundraiser, and if so, we’d love to hear from you. 

If you haven’t done so already why not follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook page.

An intern’s view – by Marie Woodhouse

December 20, 2013 by

My name is Marie Woodhouse and I am a 22 year old University student studying BA (Hons) Theatre at the University of Falmouth. As part of my education in my third year as well as conducting my own practice in context project I was asked to find a placement for the duration of my first semester. Always being interested in immersive theatre, I contacted Katie Day from The Other Way Works to ask if there was the opportunity for some work experience. Following an initial meeting in early September 2013 I began to shadow Katie and the company’s work for three months by attending meetings, workshops and working at the company’s head quarters in King’s Heath.

When I began my placement with Katie I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was excited and eager to see how a ‘real’ company operates and ready to learn new skills. The first meetings I attended involved the future projects of the company opportunities for funding. Working with freelance producer Thomas Wildish we planned out the next two years for The Other Way Works, including exciting new projects such as After Life and the future of Black Tonic and Avon Calling. During this time I had the pleasure of meeting co-founder Louise Platt, core artist for the company and drama therapist. I was surprised to learn there was a lot more paper work and funding applications than I had anticipated when creating your own theatre company.The reality of work is entirely dependent on the application of money. I realized that to succeed as an artist or a company they are a ‘necessary evil’ in order to produce the work you want to produce.

Following these meetings I was inspired to look at my own work as a student and artist, especially in the context of The Other Way Works’ future project, After Life. The company are basing their performance project on the 1998 Japanese film After Life, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. After Life is set in a derelict waystation, a place where dead souls are taken to be processed before they can move on. Each week a new group of souls arrive and check in, and with the help of the social workers have to replicate as accurately as possible their happiest memory. These memories are filmed and then showcased at the end of the week. As the person watches their memory relived on the screen they disappear and move on into the afterlife, a state in which the person lives in that single memory for eternity.

The Other Way Works want to invite audience members on a residency, bringing them to a boarding house or secluded location. The duration of the performance or experience will last roughly a weekend, in which the audience members will undergo a similar process to the dead souls in After Life. They will have a few days to select a memory, duplicate it and record it, the end of the performance resulting in a showcase similar to the film.

I was shocked, surprised and excited when I heard about this project. I was stunned at how similar After Life was to my own. For my practice in context project I have chosen to look at memories, in how we may recreate and reassign them, to resurrect them. I will be working autobiographically and on site to immerse myself back into the memories of my childhood, in particular those related to a dead relative. What is this allure of recreating memories and how can these be used as a cathartic release when mourning a loved one? Maybe it is the idea of being at peace within ourselves, to capture a beautiful moment and relive it. The moments or memoires within our lives are what bind us to being human. Imagine how it would be to have had no memories, no experiences. Memories are the meat on our bones, what flesh us out as human. Could it be that memories are the only thing that can define us as alive?

The workshops that I enjoyed the most were working with Alyson Fielding and John Sear on the CATH project for Black Tonic. Meeting at the University of Birmingham we had two full days of planning and expanding ideas, allowing the creative juices to flow instead of being stunted by funding applications. We researched new technologies to enhance the level of immersion during performances as well as video games and story ideas and formats, in particular an immersive computer game called Dear Esther. The story follows an unnamed protagonist as he travels through a lonely Scottish Island whilst trying to process the grief for his dead wife, Esther. The player is invited to explore the island as the narrator, gaining pieces of the story in a non-chronological order which you have to decipher yourself. The game features a lot of themes such as lonesomeness, the unreliable narrator and mourning. It reminded me of my practice in context project as the beautiful graphics and interactive play acted as a story-telling implement in regards to loss and memories. I am looking at how memories can be fickle as we only rely on the brain to retain them. If we forget our memories do we forget ourselves? How do we remember the people who have passed on, how do they live in our memories?

Katie introduced me to theatre maker and performance artist Francesca Millican-Slater. I met with Fran to have a discussion about my project as her degree show, Me Myself and Miss Gibbs shared similar messages and themes with my own work as we both investigate how you remember people who have passed on through memory.

As a student interested in immersive theatre my life ambition is to begin an immersive theatre company of my own that helps to educate young people by using exciting and immersive performance methods. I throughly enjoyed my time working with Katie and The Other Way Works and learnt in particular how a founded drama company operates, funds itself and creates work and ideas. Working with the company and seeing how it operates strengthen my future ambitions and gave me new aspirations, confirming my decision that if you want to work in theatre and performance it can be achieved if you are willing to work for it.

Marie Woodhouse, 20th December 2013

One Minute Manifesto

February 10, 2011 by

A One Minute Manifesto by Katie Day, Artistic Director of The Other Way Works, as delivered at Forest Fringe in Edinburgh, August 2010.

Thanks to Lucy Ellinson for initiating the One Minute Manifesto phenomenon.

Standing here in the Forest Fringe I can’t help feeling that I’ll be preaching to the converted tonight, but that said, here we go…

My manifesto is aimed at theatre makers.

Now is the time for us to take ourselves less seriously. Breathe out. Let it go. Laugh at ourselves.

I’m the worst offender.

I was once heard saying with no irony “I’m a very serious person”.

I fiercely defend my patch, my company, my work, my ‘practice’ – Its a learned response.

It started in earnest at university. The constant jibes at my silly course that must just be messing around – even though we clocked up 40 hour weeks compared to the 6 of my friend studying geology. I imagine the ‘clowning classes’ didn’t help me to make my case.

More recently the endless meetings with Business Link advisors and the like, wanting a sensible business plan, a viable (meaning financially viable) business, laughing in my face about the concept of performing to less people in a night than you have performers in the cast.

No wonder I feel the need to be serious about my work. Its hard work, its my life, and I believe in it.

But now is the time to stop trying to do things the right way. Let’s stop aping the big guys. As Andy Field said at Shift Happens about technology – as artists we shouldn’t follow the rules about how the new tools are used, we should find new ways, and if we can we should break the internet.

We’ve seen big business fail, banks fall, now’s the time for our brand of collaborative innovation. What’s so wrong about a Ministry of Fun? Let’s get ready to lead the way, but not because we’ve learned how to wear a business suit and deliver financial forecasts, but because we know how to work together well, to have fun, to think differently, and to make beautiful things with just ourselves and our voices.

One-to-One theatre: discuss

June 30, 2010 by

I felt moved to reply to Lyn Gardner’s recent Guardian blog on the subject.  Here’s the original article, and below is my comment:

“Interesting article Lyn.

I think its great that this type of work is proliferating to the extent that BAC is holding a high profile festival of one-to-one performance.

Making work for small audience numbers myself (with http://theotherwayworks.co.uk), I am frequently required to make the case not just for my own work but the form as a whole. I am often told that this work is not financially viable (which of course it isn’t in a traditional bums-on-seats model, but aren’t there other forms of value?), and people accuse us of pandering to the current obsession with individualised experience rather than critiquing it. So I’m excited to see a wider pool of theatre makers experimenting with this form, bringing their own styles to it.

But with this proliferation comes a large diversity in the types of work marketed under the banner of ‘one-on-one’. Not a bad thing per se, but is there a danger of everyone jumping on the bandwagon just because its the buzzword of the moment? We’ve seen this with ‘site-specific’ theatre – people using the term to add excitement to what is essentially a play staged traditionally just in a building that isn’t a theatre.

In terms of Lyn’s final points around the rules of engagement. Nailing these is the job of the theatre maker. Much like the crafting of a good story or the synthesis of design elements in a traditional production, thinking through the audience role, instructional styles and the rules of engagement are key parts of making a one-to-one theatre production. If the audience don’t understand how they are supposed to behave, then it is the responsibility of the artist to improve how they contextualise the experience for the audience (unless the artist’s express desire is to unsettle the audience for some particular reason).

We certainly haven’t perfected this ourselves, but we do strive to learn from our experiences with audiences. We’ve discovered that to get the playful, interactive audience that we desire, we need to set them free from embarrassment and fear by providing clear guidance and plenty of reassurance and encouragement. We’ve found that far from ruining the surprises as we feared, it allows the audience to engage on a deeper level with the experience, and to get beyond ‘am I doing this right?'”

Goodbye mac

April 8, 2008 by

On Sunday, mac (midlands arts centre) closed its doors for trade for the next 18 months or so.  A good many people had turned out to see the old girl off. Here at The Other Way Works, we’ll miss the mac while its gone.  We’ve developed and performed two of our shows there, and we’ve come to rely on the mac for ready rehearsal space, banter with the box office and cafe/bar staff, and massive jacket potatoes to fuel you through the long hours of get-ins and outs.  We look forward to a newer and better mac in the future, after the big refurb has done its job.