Issue: Such Tweet Sorrow - how can we stop it from ever happening again? (Or, what can we learn from it) Session 3, 4.30-6pm at the 'Craig' space.
Convener(s): Hannah Nicklin
Participants: Dan Bye, Jake Orr, Pat Ashe, Dan Baker, Aliki Chapple, Jenifer Tan, Miriam Zendle, Timothy Bird, Simon Bedford, Paul Whitlock and others.
Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:
The session began with an attempt to isolate what, if anything, people found problematic about Such Tweet Sorrow (STS). It was suggested that the dialogue wasn't open enough for the medium it was in - that it paid lip service to Twitter as a form. Pat Ashe highlighted the problems with using Twitter solely as a base and ignoring the wider potential storytelling value of new media - and in fact the reality of how real people use this media, they don't broadcast, the inhabit a universe built of fragments shared of their lives/data. A link was drawn to Jake's previous session about 'cool' and theatre, and that STS seemed a facile attempt to make Shakespeare palatable for a younger audience; fundamentally missing the fact that the average age of a twitter user is mid 30s - facebook being a much younger audience*. Dan Baker wondered what was left in STS of Shakespeare, after the removal of the language.
It was also considered by Hannah Nicklin that there was something deeply troubling about not just product placement, but active product endorsement as part of the drama - insidious and manipulative at worst, story-universe-maligning at best. It was agreed by the group that there was a key problem in the casting of traditional actors - not actors with devising experience, or, indeed writers - in the roles, considering how the majority of the input was the writing of a character, not the performance (in a traditional sense**) of it.
Hannah asked whether, though, considering the small but vociferously defensive fan base, it could be suggested that there was potential snobbery on our part in the way we received the piece, but it was dismissed as formally fundamentally flawed - a devaluation of the twitter form.
Jake Orr highlighted the glimmers of interest that the rare forays onto other platforms - videos of a fight, and images - evoked suggested how it could have evolved into a more fulfilled and realistic experience.
On the question of the work's actual accessibility to young people it was suggested that STS seemed poorly researched in how people use twitter, the kind of people who use twitter, and young people themselves. There wasn't enough reciprocity and the characters were parodic.
Dan Bye suggested that despite this, it was interesting that such a large established company should recognise the importance of something like twitter, but that the problem came in not letting go of their old perceptions of how an artistic process or performance should be affected by those not 'in control'.
The conversation then sashayed into discussion on institutions and their use of Twitter, and how they work best when control (from old ideas about brand control) is relinquished, Jake talked about Little Angel's feed, and his work on that. Hannah wondered if their willingness to 'get' social media might have something to do with a being a children's theatre - are they less used to expecting to be always in control?
It was then emphasised that it's important to highlight that the idea of STS was laudable. Hannah then asked for 'solutions' to the potential problems presented by STS – more widely perhaps, of theatrical storytelling online.
Aliki's idea was the bringing of twitter text back into the live - a love improv of actors in front of an audience, tweeted directions by 'writers' from a screen***
Miriam put forward the expansion of other mediums' universes online - like the BBC Sherlock's blogs for Holmes and Watson. Hannah also pointed towards Hide and Seek's involvement with the recent Sherlock movie, and the ARG**** that they developed out of that across blogs and sites.
It was also suggested that more simply a story should spread into a universe - not create a single stream.
Dan Bye mentioned an interesting collaboration between himself and Dan Rebellato with Pilot Theatre coming up - R&Ding the potential of twitter theatre/writing/storytelling.
It was agreed that it's very easy to underestimate people's urge to find out more, of 'digital native' generation's tendency to play with things to see what they do, and that reward is what they need to get meaningful interaction, not guidance.
Aliki talked about Star Voyage - a SciFi twitter story over several characters which she discovered slowly after one character followed her (likely following a simple search for 'SciFi')
The discussion then tentatively moved toward the question of what is theatre. Aliki felt that it should be about bodies in space, whereas Hannah felt it should be more about story experienced or expressed thorough a body (navigated via instructions in a headset?). Dan Bye was less concerned with the question, than just making things. And talked about wanting online drama to leave real world residues - events that trickle into real life', and also the need that a piece needs to have not been possible in another genre/form/medium.
Hannah asked what successful cross-platform story-driven experiences the group could suggest, Tim Etchell's SMS performance, and Ivy from Blast theory were highlighted as two really successful examples, primarily because they pervaded your day-to-day life in meaningful ways. Ivy in particular because of the very powerful level of interaction. A piece by Unlimited was also mentioned, as well as the performance group who staged a hanging on Chatroulette (although massive ethical difficulties lie therein).
It was pointed to how easy it is to feel you know people online, as the conversation moved towards the ability of online performance to interrogate the gaps between 'real' and 'fake'. That the idea of 'authenticity' is a bit of a cultural obsession. Recently Catfish, and The Trip have skated this question or 'real'.
The discussion drew to a close with Jake's assertion that he was ready to praise STS, not for it's content, but for it's readiness to address the form. There is a fundamental question about how it was conceived - as audience development, as a youth project, or as an experiment - because if an experiment, it can be a success (indeed highly valuable) in relative failure.
Finally the remaining participants touched on how theatres themselves tweet - and about the problems encountered in larger or more traditional institutions/buildings by the need to control brand 'image', and the possible mistaking of conversation for marketing.
Thanks to all who participated!
And to you, for reading this far.
*for want of a better word?
**is a traditional sense the thing to apply here?
***Andy Field's Movey House is perhaps an interesting thing to look at further to this?
**** Alternate Reality Game, but did they call it this?
Really, the fact that we could have an almost 2 hour conversation about it is worth in itself.