Maybe It’s Not The Performance That Should Be Streamed

Covid forced a lot of conversations about the value of streaming content from performing arts venues and visual arts galleries.  As we emerge into more optimistic times, some groups are already planning to make streaming part of their programming mix while others are happy for the opportunity to jettison the practice.

I was reading an article in FastCompany today which discussed how video games were driving tourism to places like Ireland and Italy based on fictional depictions of the terrain, buildings and other features of those places. And the games were doing it with the encouragement and cooperation of the official tourism organizations of those places.

That called to mind the fact that movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings have inspired people to travel to places in Ireland and New Zealand which served as settings in those movies. Organized tours of Game of Thrones locations will take you across multiple countries.

Then there is also the issue of the quest to visit Instagrammable places by thousands threatening the natural surroundings.

This made me reflect upon the idea that it isn’t the realistic depiction of a location, but rather the idealized or creative concept overlaid on the reality which is drawing people. Yes, that is sort of central to the description of television, movies and video games and that isn’t what live arts experiences are all about.

I will admit this isn’t a fully formed idea, but it occurred to me that maybe a focus on the performance experience isn’t the way to do. I can tell you from experience that trying to stream a live event without much of the equipment used in television and movie making present yields a disappointing product.  Not to mention, even if you remember the buffering issues YouTube frequently had, they have largely ironed those out. As a result, people expect the same smooth delivery experience from an image being delivered as it is being created as they receive from a video available in its entirety before you think to ask for it.

So instead of the performances which can’t meet the quality of movie and television production without a lot of money or removing the elements that make live experiences distinct from recorded experiences, are there other things that can be centered in live streamed content to encourage people to become engaged? Is there something about the exterior of the building? The surrounding town? The buzz and bustle of the audience in the lobby or in the neighborhood prior to a show? Does that activity orient around a unique feature of the lobby?

Basically, if someone wandered in accidentally, would they have a sense they were missing out on something great and can you stream that?

Likewise, is there some element of the experience that will fire the imagination even if it is overlaid with CGI  for a movie or rendered in a video game? Is there a way to make these things come to pass? While you don’t want to misrepresent what you are all about and have people feel you oversold or did a bait and switch, people are clearly interested in viewing the reality behind the fiction.

The term “Internet famous” is used to imply a certain niche appeal, but sometimes that is enough.

Every location and organization is going to be different in terms of what is available to be leveraged. As I mentioned, this is definitely throw it on the wall to see what sticks type of suggestion. I toss it out in the hopes of shifting thinking away from the idea that the live performance is the central thing that draws people to conceptualizing what else may be perceived as valuable.

This is highly unlikely to generate long lasting engagement and shouldn’t be viewed as a way to build future audiences and donor bases. (Unless there is a connection with an existing affinity group like Lord of the Rings fans.) Knowing there will be guaranteed churn, you don’t want to sink a ton of resources into this unless you discover it results in increased local/regional resonance that leads to return visits. But emerging from Covid, a surge of buzz and activity around you might be what is needed to jump start things again.

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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3 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Not The Performance That Should Be Streamed”

  1. Something that worked well for Santa Cruz Shakespeare last summer (with a cancelled season) and this summer (with a very reduced season having only 5 actors) was having Zoom readings of lesser known Shakespeare plays combined with analysis of the plays .

    Last year they had a NEH grant for their production, which took several weeks (https://santacruzshakespeare.org/undiscovered-shakespeare-the-wars-of-the-roses/). This year they had smaller funders to get 10 actors, 2 directors, and a few scholars together on Zoom for Troilus and Cressida (https://thi.ucsc.edu/event/undiscovered-shakespeare-troilus-and-cressida-pt-1/).

    The Zoom readings coupled with scholarly analysis appeal to the hard-core theater fans, without being in any way a replacement for full productions. By concentrating on Shakespeare plays that are not popular enough to be able to afford to put into full production, they offer enrichment without taking anything away from the usual business of the company.

    Reply
    • That is an interesting approach, especially with the 40-50 minute blocks. Do you know what the attendance was like?

      What was the experience like? If it was comparable to attending a university class, only with better actors reading the text aloud, I am not sure how valuable that might be. But if it was lively and engaged the imagination that would be worth continuing.

      Reply
      • The performances were quite good (within the constraints of Zoom). My wife attended just for the performance and did not watch the scholarly part. The scholarly part was like attending a university class, but without having to do any reading or preparation ahead of time (so more like the lectures given at alumni reunions than a regular class). The scholars they picked had interesting things to say, and they followed that with more free-ranging talk-back from the actors, directors, and dramaturgs (responding to questions from the audience via Zoom’s Q&A webinar tool).

        I don’t know what the attendance figures were—Mike Ryan from Santa Cruz Shakespeare or Sean Keilin from the Humanities Institute at UCSC may be able to give you that info.

        Reply

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