Hello, I Am Thespis-App, I Will Be Narrating Your Play Tonight

Amid the whole debate about whether cell phones are appropriate in the theater are some indications that creative folks are going to be using the technology to drive narrative.

FastCompany came out with their 100 Most Creative People in Business list. Whenever something like that comes out, I always want to see if anyone from the arts and culture sector got included.

Indeed, there are some great stories about: Flocabulary which is using hip-hop to teach kids everything from history to math and science; Keir Winesmith who is using technology to deliver content of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, including to your cell phone anywhere in the world; Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for the apocalypse (Westworld and Handmaid’s Tale, among others); and Hannah Beachler, production designer for movies Black Panther, Moonlight and Creed.

But it is the work of playwright and filmmaker Rodrigo Bellott I am referencing when I talk about productions which use social media and cell phones to drive narrative.

Bellott is now revolutionizing theater. His 2015 play, Tu Me Manques, about the suicide of his closeted lover, includes a live hourlong Skype conversation, projected on multiple screens, and live Facebook messaging. He was told by Broadway producers that it couldn’t be done; the possibility of losing Wi-Fi connection made it too risky. So he produced it in Bolivia, a country with what he calls “the worst WiFi in the world.” The sensational result (the biggest box office in a decade) encouraged hundreds of young Bolivians to come out, in a country not known for its LGBTQ rights. Now, Tu Me Manques is not only moving to Broadway in early 2019, it is a film, debuting at numerous film festivals this summer and fall.

Bellott is currently producing a play, a murder mystery, that will use a cell phone app as narrator.

I found a video (below) of Tu Me Manques which illustrates the Skype call and Facebook messaging. One interesting thing about the Bolivia production which was mentioned on FastCompany’s summary of the 100 Creatives was that Bellott had to use cellphone jammers to keep their signals from interfering with his Wifi. I wondered if that would be the case for the Broadway show or if the standards and strength of Wifi and cell phones signals would be distinct enough to make it successful.

It will be worthwhile to observe how he pulls off the cellphone app as a narrator for his next show. The murder mystery format seems conducive to any number of approaches.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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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