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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.

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’