Revisiting Interactivity for the Future

Back in November I had an idea for making theatre performances more interactive by inviting people to send or bring in music in support of a show. (Follow the link for the details.) I received a lot of support for the concept via email and links from other sites.

Even without the expressions of support, I was determined to see it attempted one way or another. Since the whole concept is experimental, I didn’t think I had the audience or people with the right artistic alignment to implement the idea at my facility. I broached the subject with a director who possesses both at another venue. He was intrigued with the idea but needs time to ponder it and find a show and approach that would make the idea viable.

I wanted to toss the whole concept out to the ether again. New people have started reading this blog since I first proposed it. I would be interested in any suggestions or ideas people may have to execute it.

From the technology perspective one would need a high speed internet connection in order to receive submissions via email or some file sharing software and then a computer with enough processing power to manipulate the music and then burn it on to a CD or other medium from which it can be played during a performance. Obviously, one would also need a speaker and amp system in place connected to said medium.

On the personnel side, a person in the technology integrator position I mentioned in my earlier entry would need to be part of the artistic team and involved in making choices among what is submitted. I suspect that one might be faced with the artistic choice of whether to use some fantastic pieces that don’t fit with the mood of the rest of the show or using some really good pieces that do fit.

One of the reasons I am proposing a separate position from the director and even the musical director is that while an arts organization might start by having people submit music in advance for use in one spot during the show, if the organization refines their technique they may be integrating music brought to the performance on an iPod 20 minutes before the show starts into the whole performance.

The novelty of having their musical choices included in a show may be enough to inspire people to send in material days in advance of the show at first. As the practice becomes more prevalent, people will make the decision to attend closer to the performance time and will want the opportunity to have their contribution included in the show. The person in charge of processing these submissions will have to be more like a club DJ than the traditional music director and be able to make decisions on the fly about what music works well with the director’s vision of the show but also doesn’t clash stylistically with the other music he/she is using that night.

This sort of scenario really infuses a live performance with a sense of excitement and danger. The actors never know what music is going to be played that night and how it is going to change the atmosphere and dynamic of the performance. It will become abundantly clear if actors are just reciting their lines and slightly altering their approach so it is more appropriate to the energy the music has created.

Stage managers and the tech integrator need to work incredibly closely so that the stage manager knows when to call the next cue. The music may be fading out later one night than it did earlier due to the integrator’s desire to sustain a motif a little longer.

Performing arts venues often promote the unpredictability of live performance as a selling point. Attempting what I propose will make this energy palpable to audiences.

Speaking of promoting events. I can’t imagine that an arts organization would have too much success explaining what they were trying to do and appealing to audiences for musical submissions through newspaper stories. This type of thing is so far removed from the usual experience that I fear newspapers would report the project incorrectly and readers wouldn’t quite understand the process.

Emails and letters to ticket buyers might be better. I suspect an appeal to people over social networking sites like Myspace by those involved with the production might initially produce the greatest yields until audiences had a chance to experience a performance.

As much as I hate to imply that someone my age may be too obtuse to be an early participant as a contributor, young as I am, I think the younger set would have a quicker, more intuitive understanding of what was involved and would contribute far more interesting compositions.

There are hundred of consequences and implications I have already envisioned. As I have already implied, some are a matter of upsetting an established order and can be resolved with flexibility and good planning. Other problems will be unique to each performance and require sound artistic judgment.

But what am I missing? What other technological tools and personnel requirements have I overlooked? What suggestions would make this concept better and more practical to execute? Is there a technology out there that seems ready-made for this type of idea?

Email me or comment below!

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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