Thursday, January 05, 2012

Crowd-Sourcing Theatre

Every now and then disparate ideas otherwise remote from each other will hit me at the same time, forming a synergistic union that results in ... well, a blog post, I suppose.

FIRST: "Physicists Seek To Lose The Lecture As Teaching Tool" a story from NPR's All Things Considered:
HESTENES: The classes only seem to be really working for about 10 percent of the students. [...] And I maintain, I think all the evidence indicates, that these 10 percent are the students that would learn it even without the instructor. They essentially learn it on their own. [...] Students have to be active in developing their knowledge. They can't passively assimilate it.
It's a very interesting (and short) story.  Basically, these physics professors have found student involvement is more engaging than a professor standing at the head of the class droning on about Newton's law of gravity (or whatever they're teaching these days):
HANFORD: Eric Mazur's physics class is now completely different. Rather than lecturing, Mazur makes his students do most of the talking.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. So repeat what you said.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Well, so, like, basically, like, if you have the capacity to put up the battery...

HANFORD: The students in this class - there are nearly 100 of them - are in small groups discussing a question. Three possible answers to the question are projected on a screen. Before the students started talking with each another, they use a mobile device to vote for their answer. Only 29 percent got the question right. After talking for a few minutes, Professor Mazur tells them to answer the question again.

MAZUR: So wrap up your discussions and enter what you now believe to be the correct answer.

HANFORD: This time, 62 percent of the students get the question right. Next, Mazur leads a discussion about the reasoning behind the answer, and then the process begins again with a new question. This is a method Mazur calls peer instruction. He now teaches all of his classes this way.

MAZUR: And what we found over now close to 20 years of using this approach is that the learning gains at the end of the semester nearly triple.
Interesting, but what does it have to do with theatre?  Well, at this point in the blog post, I usually defer to Peter Brook, Seth Godin, or David Mamet.  So ...
When you come into the theatre, you have to be willing to say, "We're all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world." If you're not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.

-- David Mamet, 3 Uses of the Knife
The solutions for generating this feeling of communion seem to range from post-show Q&A's to encouraging the audience to "live Tweet."  But what if there was a way to significantly involve the audience in the action?  Okay, that exists.  It's called "Murder Mystery Dinner" or "Point Break Live".  But I'm aiming for a deeper involvement, a deeper connection.
"... [creating theatre] is not just a question of wooing an audience. It is an even harder matter of creating works that evoke in audiences an undeniable hunger and thirst."

-- Peter Brook, The Empty Space
Another physics professor, Joe Redish says "With modern technology, if all there is is lectures, we don't need faculty to do it. Get them to do it once, put it on the Web, and fire the faculty."  Likewise, why go to the great expense of time and money just to perform the same script over and over?  Get your cast to do it once, put it on the Web, and stop wasting money on venue rental.

(Dammit.  I'm back to asking "Why Theatre?" again.  I seem to write the same blog post at least once a month.)

SECOND: Theatrics Mass Participation TV. "Mass Participation TV allows anyone to join in an ongoing story. You can become an actor and create and play a character, or just watch and explore the story."

Visit the site to get the full experience.  The contest angle ("ULTIMATE ONLINE AUDITION CONTEST" with celebrity judge Jonathan Frakes) and the whole "You could be seen by a BIG HOLLYWOOD CASTING DIRECTOR!!!" thing seems kind of cheesy, but it's an interesting idea.  A crowd-sourced series.

Now, I have a low opinion of the creative faculties of Groupthink.

But I have to recognize the ability of a group of individuals charged with solving a problem.  Lost fandom is a perfect example.  Back before we knew how it would all end, the community at sites such as The Fuselage and Dark UFO generated mind-blowing analysis and theories about the show.  There was also that group of gamers who found a possible new treatment for HIV.  I'm willing to concede that a group of people working towards some identified goal, playing with expertly crafted tools (narrative or biochemical) can in fact generate good content.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN:  We live in a town of incredibly talented artists.  Writers, actors, musicians, craftspeople -- it's really insane.  I mean it, it's insane how much talent lives in this sprawling metropolis.  Why not let them sing for their dinner?  Let's say we have a short run of a play -- something steeped in mystery and mythology -- and then turn the whole thing over to the audience.  Provide them with a universe to play in, and let them build on it.  After a few months of letting the story grow, reconvene for a second play that builds on the crowd-sourced elements and pushes the story into new directions for the audience/collaborators to explore.
The facilitators/dramaturgs who manage the experiment and build the occasional live theatrical event will draw from the elements the audience/collaborators provide, perhaps even casting performers from the group.
There would have to be some system for the group to determine if group generated content should be considered "canon" or not.
The whole thing would have to be produced under a Creative Commons license of some sort.
And how to pay for the thing?  Crowd-sourced fundraising, of course!
IN CLOSING:  What do you think?  I'm just spitballing here, and the more spitballs the merrier.  Comment below or shoot me an email and let me know what you think.

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