Interactivity for the Future…

As I promised yesterday, I have a couple ideas about the direction things could go in terms of interactivity in the arts. As I had said, I think the format and perhaps physical environment in which new events might happen will have to change. I can see them happening in smaller theatres, but it is difficult to have a really interactive event in a huge hall seating 2400 people.

A couple years ago I did an entry where I imagined at one time we would be able to plug in and experience a performance from the point of view of the performer. Among the many alluring benefits might be experiencing the performance opposite an attractive romantic lead whereby you saw yourself being kissed by the person.

Since then I have come to see possibilities in other areas that are more immediately achievable. With the rise in iPod ownership these days as well as the ease of processing and projecting video on computers I don’t think it is beyond the realm of possibility that in the next few years we will see performances where people are encouraged to bring music, images and video to a show in the iPod in order to contribute to it.

It might start out simple and small with people encouraged to go online to read a single scene and then either send in music/images/video that are appropriate for that scene. At the performance the audience might see or hear the submitted material underscore the action.

In time, as technology improved and performance groups refined their technique for assessing and integrating donated material into the performance, we might see events where people enter the theatre, download their offerings at the door and see/hear material being added to the show on the fly throughout the performance.

A creative team for a theatrical work may not only include the director and choreographer but a new position of technology integrator-a person who chooses among multimedia materials within the director’s umbrella vision to support a performance with new music/images/video every night.

This is the sort of practice I think would get people deeply involved if they were excited by it. People might get enthusiastic enough to go online and read the script, check out the costume sketches, etc., in advance so they could review their iPod library and then submit something along with suggestions about where it might best be included in the show.

What would really be fabulous, given copyright restrictions which would necessitate having an ASCAP/BMI license to cover music, is if people started composing their own music or shooting photos and video to contribute to a performance. The way things are going the lines of intellectual property ownership are blurring. The idea of directors and designers owning their work is probably going to morph into a communal ownership. Might be better to tap into this energy and involve the community rather than to let them appropriate it for their own ends.

Yes, it would be labor intensive as all get out at first for all sides involved until the whole process essentially got invented. You can certainly see this type of thing coming out of the smaller experimental spaces and then going mainstream. But there is so much potential for really connecting back with audiences by giving them involvement and ownership that they may become highly interested in participating even if the final product is presented in the current passive viewing state. (Though I bet that situation evolves by itself as a by product of new efforts.)

One of the most exciting things about art of any kind is that different people see it from different perspectives. The problem we have run into of late is that the general message people get is that there is only way correct way to interpret the art you see. By involving the community you can acknowledge the validity of these different visions and even recognize that someone touched upon an option you had never considered. There are some visions you may never use like the suggestion of zombies in the graveyard scene of Hamlet.

Other things you will use and little by little people will feel they have the capacity to understand and participate in the arts. Initial contributions may contain more dross than gold but as people feel more comfortable and familiar with the way design concepts are generated they will chuckle about the zombie ideas and make suggestions with real promise. (Of course, same qualification as yesterday, those who feel motivated to improve will do so.)

Yesterday as I closing my entry and was thinking about my promise to talk about this idea for interactivity, I knew I wanted to talk about how the great thing about art is that different things jump out at people as significant/appealing about the work.

Imagine my delight then when I received an email this morning that illustrated just that. Michael Clark at which features internet reviews for Washington D.C. area read yesterday’s entry and latched on to the paragraph about “Blogging on the internet is opening up new opportunities. It is allowing educated people who have never been hired by a newspaper to speak.”

The general topic about that entry wasn’t really about internet reviews. I didn’t even know I was going to even reference internet reviews until shortly after I realized what the question “How do you remember all those lines?” was indicative of. When I did write about internet reviews I was actually imagining the reviews I have read that said the show sucked when it was pretty clear that the cause was a friend/significant other had dragged someone to a romance/action/foreign film/symphony/ballet… that the person didn’t want to see to begin with.

Right after giving me permission to quote his email, Michael wrote that I must be talking about his website among others. He then continued to write a fairly long email that I haven’t had time to fully digest yet. Later in the day he sent me a link from The Guardian Unlimited dealing with the issue of newspaper reviewers vs. internet reviewers. (Though mostly book reviewers.)

I am not saying Butts In The Seats is a work of art. But what I thought was a minor theme to support my larger argument appeared to be an important point for someone else. In the next few days I anticipate we will be interacting a bit more. See, it is working already! Just as I said!

Only downside is that by the very nature of this interaction, I don’t anticipate that it will lead to us getting away from the screens in our homes which was the ideal of yesterday’s entry. But you gotta start somewhere.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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