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Making the good stuff happen – for free… @stratfordeast Tommy livestream

18 Jun

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On Saturday June 17th we ran a four camera livestream of the Tommy production – live from Theatre Royal Stratford East. In fact we ran two livestreams that day. One had an incorporated audio described feed, and both had integrated live captions. These were both HD streams with full stereo sound that we relayed live into Adult Social Care Homes across the country to the cities where the Ramps on the Moon production had played on the national tour.

This was a free to view screening for the residents in the selected locations, and this project is part of my work as an Associate Artist at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

I was present at one of the locations – an East Thames housing scheme in Newham, and Kate Lovell, who is the Ramps ‘agent for change’ at Stratford East was at an Anchor care home in Tower Hamlets. We had spent the previous weeks setting up the working relationships for this to happen, meeting the residents, and also working with some of the Tommy Cast who visited the Home last week.

The feed was encoded and sent live to our Stratford East website, which has a password protected page for the Homes to view the livestream. This was fed into the large HD TV screens around the facilities and were able to invite family and friends of the residents to join the afternoon matinee screening.

The feed, captions, audio description were all tested and working. With the livestream team back at the theatre we were able to capture the LED caption screen and place this as a picture in picture at the top of the screen for our viewers too.

In the room I was in the residents came and joined the party atmosphere. Cups of tea were handed round and the printed programmes made brilliant fans for all of us to keep cool in the sweltering 30 degree London heat!

One of the residents next to me, and for this blog I will call her Celeste, was in her 80’s and had lost the ability to speak. Her smile was infectious though and I watched her as she began to focus on the screen and listen to the music. The moment the Pinball Wizard track came on – she sat bolt upright in her wheelchair and focused hard on the screen, she began to nod her head and then her fingers started tapping the side of her chair, not in rhythm to the music, but it took me a while to realise. She clearly was tapping the side of her wheelchair like the flippers of a pinball machine. She turned and smiled at me, then she reached back, took her hair band off, threw it to the floor and then swirled her grey hair back and forth in time to the rock track. Celeste was rocking out.

At the end of the track, which was the interval, she retrieved her head band and tied her hair back. She caught my eye as I was the one now beaming back at her. I realised of course that when the Tommy Album came out in 1969, Celeste would have been 33 years old. She was glued to the screen for the whole of act 2 and her feet were tapping to ”I’m Free’ ‘I’m a Sensation’ and right through to the finale.

When the show had finished it was time for tea, so I packed away my laptop, hdmi cables and stuff and headed out, stopping to shake Celeste’s hand and to thank her for sharing the show with me that afternoon. She smiled back in a way that made a connection, a communication point that recognised that we were both rockers.

So – in a time where it is more evident than ever, we need to make more connections, make more difference with people outside our social bubbles.  So for me, this is a real way that the technology can create and empower, as well as connect and effectively communicate. After all, people like Celeste have spent their lives paying their taxes and inputting into their communities. It is only right that they have full and proper access to the work on offer from our cultural institutions. Here at Theatre Royal Stratford East we are developing the concept of what ‘A People’s Theatre’ means in a digital context.

A big thank you to the cast and production team, the technical team, at the theatre, the staff at the care homes, and we acknowledge and are grateful for the support of Telford Homes and NuLiving.co.uk that made this livestream possible.

Taking livestreamed theatre into Adult Social Care Homes with @stratfordeast

23 May

I really enjoy working as an associate artist at Theatre Royal Stratford East. As part of our work as A People’s Theatre, we are continuing  to explore how this can extend the reach and engagement for audiences using existing and emerging platforms and networks.

I have previously described the real human connection that was discovered when our livestream went into children’s hospitals and a children’s hospice earlier this year. As you may know I have been a real advocate in my work for developing new projects that have an extended element of digital engagement for audiences for over a decade now.

So this new initiative is no different. Tommy, is the great new touring production of the classic 1969 album and subsequent movie by The Who. Ramps on the Moon have produced an extraordinary show, directed by Stratford East’s Artistic Director, Kerry Michael, the piece has access running through all aspects of the production.

So as part of our discussions with Kerry, we will be developing the HD livestream, which will be broadcast to adult social care homes across east London, as well as across care homes in some of the venue cities that the production has toured to.

This will be a fully captioned, with an audio description feed too. The show has integrated signing as part of the action and a full live band.

Some of the homes and schemes we are working with are dementia care homes, and we are really keen to see how the piece works in these venues for the audience and their families. Clearly there are references both visually and musically from over 40 years ago which may allow recognition and connections.

We are inviting families to come and participate and watch alongside their family members who may be resident in the schemes and spaces we are working with. We know the technology can work. we have done it before many times. In a way that’s the easy bit. But what is really clear to me, is that the people here, living in the Borough and near the theatre have for many years paid their Council Tax, their income Tax, and contributed to the community in which they now live. They gave a right to be able to access the work that they have contributed towards, for free. To me that is what A People’s Theatre can and should deliver.

My question is, why are all theatres and arts organisations not pushing the boundaries in the same way and using the digital opportunities that are now clearly in our grasp to make those same connections?

 

Digital livestream stuff and what it can now mean for audiences… @stratfordeast

21 Feb

 

trse6I wanted to put something down in a blog about the last digital livestream I ran from Stratford East. It was between Christmas and New Year on the 29th of December. For this we took the live feed from the Christmas show, Sinbad the Sailor into the Children’s wards of Bart’s Health Trust and also to Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton.

The team in the theatre had been well prepared and all the actors and the creative team were all on board for the livestream. Using four cameras we were able to deliver an ultra HD feed to the locations where we had our audiences. The Hospice were amazing they had invited families, siblings and carers of the children who were resident, and set up a big party in their meeting room which was equipped with an HD projector, full screen and surround sound. They provided cakes, drinks and costumes for all the guests and there were 30 families and friends who were able to attend and watch the show.

I was with them in the hospice, and experienced the live feed into the room first hand. I was also in contact with the tech team in the theatre, and the other Stratford East team who were at Newham University Hospital Children’s ward.

The tech held up for the whole two and half hours without a glitch, and the sound and picture was pin sharp and clear. But the most important aspect was the interaction and engagement with the audience in the remote venues. In our room in the hospice when the actors looked down the lens and waved at the staff and residents and called out their names the cheer back from us was almost deafening!

But it was when the actors, and the whole audience in the theatre sang happy birthday to a little girl called Hope who was four that day. She had been attending the Hospice for some months and she was with her family in the room, and her face lit up when she heard her name called and she called back to the big cinema screen with unalloyed joy, and when everyone in the room joined in and she turned and smiled at us all. Everyone was singing Happy Birthday to her – and that was over 600 people. During this I caught her grandfather’s eye as he wiped away a tear and he saw me and nodded back to acknowledge that we had both just shared a moment of what it means to be human.

So after working on this digital stuff for many year now, and helped to talk and write about and try and convince people of the value of this work and how it can connect with audiences. This event has clarified for me the nature of what we do, and how we have a duty to utilise the technology available to share our work much more widely.

So when people continue to try and tell me that well ‘of course it is not the same as being there’, and how digital ‘dilutes the experience’ etc etc…I will remind myself of this true event and redouble my effort to continue to explore and find new ways of reaching people in the places and places that they make and live their lives.

I will be presenting a ‘how to get started’ in live to digital work at UK Theatre’s Touring Symposium on March 23rd, and I will be delivering a keynote at the European Theatre Convention in Karlsruhe, Germany on April 7th.

 

 

Livestream from @Stratfordeast to East London Hospitals and Richard House Children’s Hospice

28 Dec

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Today I am preparing the final details for the Theatre Royal Stratford East Pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor that will be streamed live to children and their families in wards and units in Bart’s Health Trust Hospitals and Richard House Children’s Hospice on the afternoon of December 29th.

Thursday will be an early start with the livestream camera team heading to the theatre to set up their multi-camera set up – with 5 cameras and microphones places around the auditorium and two operators in the left and right stalls boxes. It will be mixed live by the team who are also in one of the upper circle boxes, this live feed will go straight into the broadband connection at the Theatre and will be encoded and placed onto a player that can be then watched online via the password protected page on the website.

Away from the theatre in the streaming locations at both Newham University Hospital and Richard House Hospice, I will be working with the Stratford East teams to prepare the projectors and to to set the rooms out for the families and children to come along. This is something that not only allows families, and siblings of children who are receiving care to share in the experience, but also for the staff as well.

The live feed will also be available to young patients across the Hospital network who are also receiving treatment, so they can watch it on their iPads or smartphones whilst having dialysis for example.

This is part of the work of the Theatre Royal, to engage as widely as possible with a diverse range of audiences, and artists to deliver and share the work we make. This is now possible across a range of digital platforms. I am really delighted to be part of this journey with Stratford East.

It is clear that this is the direction of travel for work to be made more available, and the more opportunities Arts and Cultural organisations can find to engage with the widest possible communities for which they are there to serve, the greater the opportunity for connection and understanding of each other, and to help us find our common humanity.

This livestream has been made possible with support from Galliard Homes

Quality Metrics? Arts Organisations need to wake up and smell the coffee… #artsfunding

27 Sep

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There have been lots of opinions flying around on the internet over the last week about the forthcoming Quality Metrics that Arts Council England will be adopting as part of their assessment criteria for Arts Organisations.

One was a collection of tweets that had been aggregated into a Storify by Arts Professional. If you follow the list down to the bottom you will see that I was the very last tweet, and I spoke out in favour against an overwhelming tide of those who were anti the whole idea.

I am in favour of this for a number of reasons, firstly it allows our audiences, as well as our peers and creative teams to input into what we thought about the work. For example, the writing and the story might have been brilliant, but the lighting, and sound were poor, and the venue experience was cold and uncomfortable. These are all different aspects about an Audiences’s experience of a piece of work – An ‘AX ‘ if you like.  The metrics allow us to put together a whole array of responses and create data that can be used for future planning, development and to share with other organisations, about how we might improve and develop the work we make, and for whom.

This is the world in which we now live. I am pretty sure that all the people who are being negative about this use online data all the time to make assessments and judgements. Who has never used TripAdvisor before booking somewhere? Who has never looked at an Amazon or ImDB rating before watching or purchasing a film? You can’t even buy a toaster from Tesco online without reading the reviews.

So let’s take a step back, and have a think. The Arts Council already have assessments on our work, made by a small group of assessors. In their brief, the venue, the front of House, the Programme, the Audience, as well as the work in terms of presentation and production are all asked to be assessed. So are we saying that a handful of reports are a better judgement on Artistic work then a range of responses and data from audiences across the whole tour, or lifespan of a piece of work.

What does this say about the accusation of ‘behind doors and potentially elitist judgements’ versus a range of public responses that can be combined with peer and professional assessments?

I am a director, I have used the Quality Metrics scheme, and I think the range of responses and reactions are really useful. After all, my work has been judged for years by professional critics who decide how many stars they think a show is worth. So how about now extending that for companies who don’t get reviewed in that way, and to allow those people who have actually paid for a ticket to be able to give feedback to a company.

So my questions are these, do we not think that work made by artists and companies that have received public money should not be judged by the public too? Are we not interested in the data and responses from our audiences? Do we think a behind closed doors assessment is the only true way to assess a company and their work?

The time really is to wake up and smell the coffee, and to work with this concept and to help it to develop. We are not going to go back into the analogue box, digital is here and it is up to us how we can use it and to help us to make the case for public support.

But we can only do that with support from the public…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who do we now trust to tell us the truth?

10 Jul

This last two weeks have been quite extraordinary. I have read a quote allegedly by Lenin from almost 100 years ago

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” – Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

This is what it feels like has happened in the last fortnight. Where not only has something seismic happened that will alter the course of our historical trajectory, but the mainstream parties have all but seemed to implode.

Watching the unfurling of behaviour of so called allies and party colleagues on both sides has been truly staggering. Backstabbing, double crossing, in fighting, one-upmanship and all of it seemingly self serving and careerist.

In the meantime we have a political vacuum, which is being filled with a rise in noisy hate speech and crimes and terms like ‘suck it up sad losers’

So who do we trust now? some newspapers and media outlets? After some truly shocking partisan antics and fuelling of hate speech?

I think not.

The politicians? who are now squabbling over internal fights for leadership – whilst the pound plummets to a lower point than 1985, and the rest of the world looks on in disbelief.

I don’t think so.

So who will hold the mirror up and speak rationally about where we are and what this means? Who do we trust to tell us the truth?

I have spent the last week with artists, and theatremakers from across the country, and this has echoed out from all sides. We all need to listen to those who have not been heard. Those whose voices have been lost, and those who have felt ignored and left out.

As the Westminster bubble focuses inwardly on itself, we need to look outwards, across the country, and to work collectively. Maybe this does need artists to help us to listen, to reflect and to rebuild.

We need to not keep spouting the half truths from newspapers, rhetoric, and division, but to tell our own truths and to listen to people’s own truths too.

It is what makes us human, and we all know there is more that connects us than divides us. The future story of this country is in all of our hands. It is our turn to shape that story and to build our future that is not about division, but about tolerance, acceptance and understanding.

It is about being truthful…

 

Let’s talk about the rights and wrongs of IP for creative and cultural projects

2 May

I know this is going to ruffle some feathers, get some people’s backs up and that kind of thing. But it really is time we addressed the issue of rights in terms of creative work that has been made and produced using public money.

At some point in the journey of a piece of work that has been made using funding that is essentially public money, should, at some point, become feely available for all to see, and benefit from. This point should be arrived at after the piece of work has had chance to recoup costings and profits, and to use the word ‘monetise’ its potential.

I am talking about the capture of theatre work and live performances, and the ever growing  archive and body of work that we are now creating and producing. I am also talking about the archive and body of work that exists from days before the internet that is stored and hidden away. Lets be creative about the licensing for its use…

Why can’t we have some of the recorded work captured by leading theatres and organisations made available for people to revisit, study, share or enjoy? As long as they are not being traded further for monetary gain, they are then in a Creative Commons bank of ideas and inspiration for all to see and learn from. A digital public space for creative endeavour and understanding. A free library of visual, audio and performing arts.

I take my thinking from the talk I saw at TED way back in 2007 – yes 9 years ago – by Larry Lessig, who was then introducing the whole concept of Creative Commons Licences. Let’s reconsider these now. After all, where did the money come from in the first place to make the work? From either public subsidy, or people buying tickets. So actually, we are also stakeholders in each project, so at some point it must be OK to ask for a return?

As Professor Lessig says ‘let common sense prevail’