Exploring new ways of developing live audience participation in commercial theatre through the use of online media.
This project trialled innovative ways of using digital media as a tool for increasing audience interaction. This was tested through a series of workshops developed between King's College London and Magic Lantern Productions, in collaboration with the Donmar Warehouse. It was supported by the university's Culture team.
The workshops focused on investigating ways of developing audience interaction for a play titled Privacy, which was staged at the Donmar between April-May 2014. The narrative of Privacy interrogated some of major topics currently being asked in the media, surrounding the nature of big data, metadata and the ways in which information shared online is used by companies and governments.
One of the key questions that the play asks is 'do internet users really understand the implications of sharing data publicly?' Might this data be used in ways users don't fully understand, and in ways that users might find uncomfortable? Audience interaction and participation was an integral part of the play's narrative.
The major challenge for the workshops was to discuss suitable ways of developing audience interaction using information audience members had freely shared online, predominantly through social media, in a way that would educate and entertain whilst never risking alienation or exploitation.
The project set up four workshops each lasting between 1-2 hours and involving a total of ten KCL students, ranging from second year undergraduates through to doctoral students. These participants worked closely with Anthony Lilley, CEO of Magic Lantern productions to trial and test the ethical and technical challenges of using an audience's data for participation purposes. The four workshops had an important role in testing ideas for audience participation given that the students involved were of a similar age range and demographic to the Barclays Front Row audience.
The play established a variety of different ways to use information gained from social media profiles as a way to interact with the audience during a live performance in an entertaining and responsible way. A large proportion of the workshops therefore consisted of ruling out ways of using information that could be deemed as unsuccessful or invasive by a live audience. Another output was to assist in the technical challenge of ensuring that this interaction would work in a convincing and consistent way during a live theatre setting.
The legacy film below gives a good overview of the process and outcomes of this project.
Workshop One, with 8 King’s student participants
Friday 7 February 2014, 13.30-15.30, The Donmar Warehouse
The workshop considered the following questions:
1) What data do the participants produce and therefore what might they be willing to share with the project team? (Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, photo apps, location data from phones, purchasing data)
- Split into 3 groups of 3 to discuss details of participants’ engagement with phones & devices, social media & other sites producing online footprints
2) How would the students feel about sharing data and what would be the best way to do it if they were happy to do so?
- Group discussion – asking about the limits of data sharing – the line between “creepy” & comfortable
3) What stories might the data tell about the students – or others - and how does that relate to privacy?
4) How might theatrical techniques be best used to bring these issues to the attention of an audience?
Workshop Two, with 6 King’s student participants
Friday 21 February 2014, 13.30-14.30, The Donmar Warehouse
This session revolved around discussing what data a volunteer would be happy to share in a theatre auditorium, helping to explore what types of information would or would not be appropriate to share in a live theatre context, and thinking through how it might be possible to theatricalize this data. These workshops were particularly useful for examining how the project team can communicate with volunteers involved in the play through their online data.
Workshop Three, with 3 King’s student participants
Friday 28 February 2014, 13.00-15.00, The Donmar Warehouse
Using data from the participants’ social media profiles and other data sources such as loyalty cards and online shopping as part of working through the technical challenges of audience interaction. Part of the workshop centred on seeing how accurately the data from social media networks profiled participants’ real life interests and personalities and how the participants reacted to this.
Workshop Four, with 1 King’s student participant
Wednesday 5 March 2014, 12.00-13.00, The Donmar Warehouse
The participant in this workshop gave access to a wide range of their social media accounts and online shopping log-ins in order for the team to experiment with the sorts of information they could get from a volunteer and to then apply this to the rehearsal process to formulate questions an actor might ask the volunteer. Another aspect of this workshop was gauging the reactions the participant had to the sorts of information that were being shown, which raised the topic of the tension around how in control internet users may or may not be of data they put online. For instance, in some cases the student had been unaware of the information which also led to an interesting question about personal fallible memories when compared to the perfect memory of information stored online: “The internet doesn’t forget”.
Anthony Lilley OBE is Chief Creative Officer and CEO of Magic Lantern Productions, an award-winning interactive media and multiplatform creative house and consultancy. Anthony is also the Industry Sector Associate (Arts & Digital) at King's College London, and a council member of the AHRC, amongst many other prestigious academic and industry associations.
Charlotte Fereday is a Knowledge Exchange Associate at King's College London and project managed the four workshops. She joined King's department of Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies in 2011 and is currently working on her thesis titled 'Theatre as a space of resistance in the plays of: Maria Lejarraga, Maria Teresa Leon and Concha Mendez'.