Friday, July 21, 2006

Digitization and Theatre

I have been following with interest the discussion about the Showcase Code over at Matthew Freeman's blog, "Why Use Equity Actors?," as well as the efforts by John Clancy over at "Scrappy Jack's World-Wide Theatricals and Dime Museum." The frustration with many aspects of the Showcase Code, especially the 16-performance limit, seems high. I applaud Matt for asking the unthinkable, and John for trying to create practical changes. I'd like to explore another avenue -- an avenue that is also controlled by AEA, and also could benefit these OOB showcases (and actors and producers everywhere, really): the internet.

As many of you know, I am very interested in the new technology available, and am wracking my brain to figure out how it can work to the benefit of the theatre. While I have no doubt that others are having, or have already had and put into practice, the ideas I am about to put out there, I wonder why there isn't more excitement. This sould be turning the theatre world upside down.

What I am talking about is the digitizing of performances. If what Ian says in Matt's comments box is correct, the chances of advancing one's career through a showcase is close to nil:

Another thing to consider is the fact that Showcases almost never work as showcases because industry people don't go to them. Those agents and casting folks I've known long enough to get a straight answer from all say the same thing - nothing, not an earthquake, not a fire, not an act of God, nothing will get them to give up an evening to see a showcase. They don't need to, and they don't want to. The incredibly rare exception is when an agent has a client in a showcase and goes to see said client so that they can honestly say to a casting director, "Yeah, I just saw her play *blankety blank* last week and she was great. You should see her". Otherwise, heads up, folks: NO ONE WHO CAN ADVANCE YOUR CAREER WILL SEE YOUR SHOWCASE. EVER.


OK, so agents and producers aren't in the audience -- that's understandable, there's a lot of theatre in NYC, most of it is painful, and there's not much time. But what if a digital version of the production was created -- and not just a one-camera knock-off, but something a little nicer -- how might it be used? Well, the artists involved in the production might edit that digital file to highlight their own work and make it available on their electronic resume; the playwrights might send clips to small theatres around the world with an offer to send the entire script if desired; agents could truly see their clients on stage on their own time and become acquainted with their actual acting talents; producers looking for transfers could see any play they wanted, even if it closed. As someone like me who doesn't live in NYC, perhaps there could be a subscription service like netflix that would allow me to watch these performances on my computer. As an educator, this would be invaluable -- I could let my students see what is happening in the theatre right now instead of what happened 10 years ago that made it into the latest anthology. I wish I and my students could see the latest Richard Maxwell piece, but I live in NC and I can't come to NYC at the drop of a hat. But I could show a video in my classroom. And this could apply not only to NYC, but to theatres around the US -- around the world! Theatres could benefit financially from making these digitized productions available after a show closes, because they would receive payment for their products.

And let's talk about auditions. As Associate Artistic Director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, I've sat through my share of audition pieces. Usually, the artistic team would travel to four or five different places around the country, rent a space, pay for hotel rooms and meals, and shuttle actor after actor through the usual two contrasting monologues routine. Why? Why aren't directors asking actors to send two contrasting monologues in digitized form via the internet? Let's be honest: 90% of the actors who come through are not what the director is looking for, and the director knows that after 30 seconds of an audition. But out of politeness, they let the actor do their whole audition anyway, wasting everybody's time, including the actor's who had to take time off from work to schlep over to audition. But watching a digitized version, the director can move on anytime he feels he's seen enough.

OK, directors give up the ability to "work with" an actor that interests them during the audition: how can the director see if they respond to direction? Can you say video-conferencing? Want a new business? Set up places for actors to audition via a video-conferencing site (you could use it for job interviews when not in use by actors), so that directors can direct the actors, etc. via the connection. Want to do a cold reading? Send the actors the scene in advance and have them come in with a partner for the audition -- two for the price of one!

Suddenly, actors don't have to all live in NYC -- you can be part of the acting pool anywhere as long as you have a digital camera and an internet hookup. For the YouTube generation, this is a no-brainer.

Suddenly, productions can reach beyond the maximum 1584 people who can squeeze into a 99-seat OOB NYC theatre and be seen by thousands, millions.

But this would require everybody -- and I mean everybody -- to rethink what it means to do theatre in the 21st century, and what all these new possibilities for creative property rights. The music industry, television, and the film industry are all dealing with it right now. Anyone want to bet that they figure out a way to make it work for them? What about theatre? Are we going to continue to hunker down in the 19th century?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Space Between

An interesting post called "Hooverin' and the Space Between Notes" by Kathy Sierra at the "Creating Passionate Users" blog. In it, she describes the importance of the "space between the notes." She writes:

Some of the best musicians, I'm told, play fewer notes than you actually hear. They play in such a way--and leave enough space--that your mind fills in more. (Granted, it was a DeadHead that told me).

Artists know that negative space carries weight. It is not simply an absence of content. The "white space", as it's sometimes referred to by graphic designers, IS content. And it's not just the forgotten stepchild of a composition... it is a first-class citizen. A thing that deserves as much (if not more) focus as the apparent subject of the work.


Which leads me to wonder what the "negative space," the "space between the notes," is in theatre. Is it emotion? Pauses? Mise en scene? Are there playwrights who are particularly good at this kind of writing? Directors? Actors? Designers?

It has piqued my curiosity...
Tags:theatre audience