Feed the ‘Unlabelled Awesome’

07.09.10 | 3 Comments

CATEGORIES audiences, conversation starter, ideas, marketing, rabble rousing, social media, theatrical ecosystem

I’m currently working my way through the fantastic book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky, the author of Here Comes Everybody, and boy does it ever make me think of our very own #2amt efforts. Not only does it make me consider #2amt with a better honed sociological context, but it also gives new ammo to my fairly undefined ideas on Social Media and Theatre (and other live performance as well) as excellent bedfellows.

See, here’s the basic idea:

There’s Theatre. A medium for which audience presence, and interaction (even if only that of approval vs. not) is essential. It’s a form of what we’d now call ‘Participatory Culture’

The Industrial Revolution and the reactions to it eventually give birth to the 40 hour work week.

Now we have “8 Hours for Work, 8 Hours for Sleep, and 8 Hours for What I Will”

The newly liberated free time is filled primarily with ‘Participatory Culture’ as it’s the only kind of culture. This is not only theatre, dance, music etc, but also games, and other gatherings.

Post WWII; the advent of television in conjunction with suburbanization begin to isolate people.

Television begins consuming more and more of the world’s free time capital.

One way communication in media/entertainment takes place of participatory culture as primary past-time. The assumption that all people really WANT is to passively consume after a long day of work takes root.

Computers then the Internet and then Social Media appear.

The barriers to access for connection lower significantly. We no longer have to leave home to ‘hang out’ with real human beings.

With the advent of YouTube etc. we come up with a word to describe what used to be the norm ‘Participatory Culture’.

See where I’m going with this?

A sort of ‘full-circle’ emerges when looking at the (a)symmetry of communication in media, and we’re emerging out of the middle section between the past Participatory Culture by Default and the emerging Participatory Culture by Definition (by definition because we have now coined a phrase and define it as such). Participatory Culture is symmetrical, at least to some extent, it is fueled by a back and forth between the creator/performer and the audience. The electric, the energy between the performer and audience in a theatre performance, or the more overt shouting, and direct input from the audience at an improv show are in many ways similar to the comments on a Youtube video, or the more direct video response that might crop up.

Active Engagement

So I argue that the work we can say that both media get their life-force from this same source of ‘Active Engagement.’ This leads me to believe more strongly than ever that the experiments we are doing on Social Media channels right now are founded on a really solid foundation.

Feed the ‘Unlabelled Awesome’

We are taking our work in theatre, which has an incredibly rich and long history and moving it past the passive consumption era using the tools of a new era just beginning to truly take form. If we can use the tools we have cultivated to create passionate engagement in our performance spaces to create a similar level of engagement on Social Media platforms, we can then capitalize on that online engagement to fuel the irreplaceable ‘unlabelled awesome’ with already engaged, energized, Awesome audiences.

What do you think?

How can be best piggyback the two?

How can we create multi-dimentional (cyber and fleshspace) experiences to promote AND enhance our art?

Who wants to experiment with me?

Let me know in your comments.

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Bora "Max" Koknar

Artistic Director of Bindlepunks in the Bay Area.

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  • I've been meaning to read this book for a long time… and now you've piqued my interest even further…

  • Two lines of thought on this, Max.

    First, I don't think that people made the choice to leave the “participatory culture” with the advent of TV and film, nor do I think that the choice was made for them. Instead, we made the choice to do what was easy — have our entertainment packaged and delivered — and Big Art made the choice to go for profit and the ability to reach an audience of millions. The act of audience-ing became passive, but the audience still wanted to be engaged. Look at the national fervor over who shot J.R., or the shared experience of the final episodes of MASH or Seinfeld. While the medium itself was global, the act of participation had to remain local due to the limits of technology. The only way for an audience to share the experience is in the living room or at the water cooler. Then the internet happened.

    Even before the world wide web, audiences were using the internet to communicate with each other and with the creators. The Simpsons newsgroup was active in 1990, and the NYT has said that the X-Files was “the first show to find its audience growth directly tied to the growth of the internet.”

    The point that I'm making is that people ALWAYS wanted the active engagement. As soon as it became as easy to become an active part of their preferred method of entertainment as it was to be a passive watcher, people jumped at the chance.

    (By the way, this started as a post about the similarities between theatre audience-ing and being a sports fan. Whoa, tangent.)

  • maxepunk

    Hey. Thanks for the reply. You are, of course, absolutely correct, though until recently, this was not something the TV medium really made a conscious effort to harness for their audience development and retention purposes. I would argue that phenomenon is a conscious effort cropping up from the public attention a show like Lost was getting for its crowd sourced online content.
    Of course, there are many other experiments from musicians running ARGs (Alternate Reality Game) or ford focus throwing 'flash mob' concerts to take advantage of online phenomenon/memes for publicity.
    So now the question is, how do we as theatre artists bridle our medium which is shares so much with the core elements of these new expressions of 'Participatory Culture' to take the most advantage of both to draw new audiences, keep them, and bring our work to the popular consciousness?