BRIGHTON, ENGLAND & SILICON VALLEY – IS THERE A COMMONALITY?

Imagine the scene; you’re all set and as soon as a text comes in, it’ll show up on the screen of the lap-top balanced precariously on your knees and you can respond accordingly. It’s immediately after a theatre performance and you’re taking part in a post-show talk. Having just come off stage you can wear what you like of course, these are texts….

The first text from an audience member comes in: “Fascinating production. I’ve never seen multiple actors play […] in the same show. Was it challenging working with other actors who had different interpretations of the role?”

Post-show talks are not new of course. Yours truly ran them after our latest production “FREAK”. Almost everyone would stay behind to “experience” the actors in the flesh. The above scenario however, is taking place in America on a lap-top; a post-show talk unlike any the theatre company concerned had ever put on. And that was the point.

Using a grant from Silicon Valley Creates, City Lights Theatre Company in San Jose, California has recently experimented with new ways of delivering post-show talks. According to Ron Evans, a strategic arts advisor working in the US, it’s widely agreed that these I.T. opportunities to discuss a show in more detail bring many benefits. They help people make meaning of the performance they’ve just experienced. They create a space to ask questions. And they offer the pleasure of exploring a work with like-minded theatre-goers.

According to Evans the traditional talk (as per FREAK which was recently at the Brighton Fringe Festival) presents challenges. Many people he says can’t stay after a performance as they need to get home for babysitters or they have a bus or train to catch. And the obvious: people have been sitting in their theatre seats for two hours, and now they are being asked to sit longer. Evans used a service called Pinger.com; he set up a texting account to hide the mobile number of the lead actor and distributed the invitation to audience members.

Once the texting discussion began it was, apparently, hard to keep up with the questions. In all, 14 participants asked 18 questions about the production, motivations of the characters and meaning of plot points. Other actors gathered around the screen and ended up breaking into sub-conversations themselves. In the end, both audience members and actors reported enjoying the fresh approach to the post-show talk, from the personal connection of their own phone.

Again, according to Evans, these experiments also made the content more accessible as audiences who have attended any performance can participate in a conference call or text talk. Talks can be recorded and shared with audiences attending later in the run. A recorded talk is archived proof of audiences deeply engaging with the arts organisation. That’s certainly something funders absolutely adore whether here or in the USA. And, says Evans, in the end, it’s clear that audiences continue to be hungry for new and interesting ways of engaging with the arts. Even the simple act of inviting audiences to be part of trying something new seems to encourage participation. But, and there is a but, how does this compare to meeting actors in the flesh? Indeed, is there a comparison? And that’s the topic for the next blog….

 

Actresses pictured – (L – R) Katie Bottoms and Hetty Elliott – FREAK” 

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