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Digital Training and Consultancy for Arts Organisations.

22 Jun

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In these shifting times we all have to rethink our approach to making work and how we can maintain and develop our connections with our audiences and communities.

Let me help you – I am an Arts and Digital specialist with over 25 years of leadership experience both in delivering and making work. I have pioneered Live to Digital delivery projects for the last ten years for a number of different organisations. I can work with you to help you deliver the right plan for you and your organisation.

I can help you to create an effective shift in your organisation’s thinking and enable you to make a new Digital Culture happen within your team. It can be about how to work more effectively using zoom or video conferencing with your team, right through to digital capture and distribution of your work.

I have been working across new delivery platforms on my recent projects and can share my learning and knowledge with you either on a one to one basis, or in consultation with your wider team.

I will assess your current digital capacity and create the right training and resources for you and your team. The key part of the programme will be to develop your Digital Strategy in terms of delivery, and in doing so your organisation will develop a strong and embedded Digital Culture which is the shift all organisations are looking to develop right now.

I am able to create bespoke solutions for you.

If you are interested in having an initial conversation where we can chat all these things through – just drop me an email marcus@artsbeacon.uk

My recent article for ArtsProfessional about the Pivot to Digital in the Arts Sector.

Marcus Romer was CEO and Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre from 1994 – 2016. He was interim Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds from July 2019 – June 2020. He is now a freelance Director, Writer and Filmmaker and Creative Director of Artsbeacon UK. He has been an Associate Artist for Theatre Royal Stratford East, Harrogate Theatre, National Theatre Wales, and Collusion. He has delivered Digital Consultancy work for SOLT and UK Theatre, Home, Manchester, Arts Council England, Creative England, The British Council, The European Theatre Convention, Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, Stephen Joseph Theatre, New Norske Theatre, Oslo, Innovation Norway, LIPA, Barclays UK, Norwich City Council, Cambridge City Council. He created Shift Happens Conferences, and helped to produce No Boundaries in 2014 and 2015 with Arts Council England.

Making and directing a piece of #ZoomTheatre across Norway during the #lockdown

8 Apr

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 14.19.36Welcome to Radio Harstad…

Harstad is a beautiful town in the Arctic Circle, and I have been visiting and working there every year since 2016. I first went when my film was screened at the Arctic Moving Image Film Festival. I was invited by my now friend and colleague Helene Hokland who is the festival director and who also runs the lovely 1930’s cinema in the town. To screen The Knife That Killed Me – and to do a director’s Q and A. Also to run a workshop for the FHS in Harstad and their drama and performing arts students.

It was here that I was taken to the school at the north of the town, which runs from an enormous building that houses the students and staff. It is a one or two year residential course and the students come from all over Norway. It is a tertiary college and students range in age from 18 – 23. It has a drama and film black box studio, a recording studio as well as making spaces, large communal rooms and the most amazing view across the Fjords.

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The Theatre Director is a wonderfully creative powerhouse and inspiring woman called Hege Fjeld who runs the course and leads the students. She has invited me back every year to work with her and her students and it is an immense privilege to do so. I normally spend a week working and making something with Hege and her students. This year of course is different. All the students are at home under lockdown across Norway from Alta in the very North to South of Oslo – a distance of over 1200 miles and 24 ours of driving. Norway is huge…So over the last week, Hege and I have been working remotely in Harstad and Cambridge and making and directing this piece together.

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So we have spent last week for two hours a day meeting on Zoom and working through a script version of War of the Worlds that Hege has translated. Here you can see one of the students, Embla, presenting as the weather reporter for North Norway where you can see Harstad at 8 degrees on the West Coast.

We rehearsed the students together and individually on the Zoom platform. We used the additional backgrounds tool and were able to add in all the locations we needed for this first part of the project. You can see the Radio Harstad insert via green screen on the picture at the top too.

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We chose the backgrounds carefully to allow the students to be placed in the locations for their direct to camera address. Part of the online rehearsal and work was about getting the light right, and also the capture device at eye level for the actors to rehearse straight down the lens. All too often the image on the screen is who speakers tend to talk to and this is too low for eyelines.

So after rehearsal we were able to then mute and take off screen all the other students and focus on the main speaker. We then used the capture and record button to shoot a take. This was done a few times then the files were then transferred to Hege and the edit suite and studio back in Harstad.

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Some characters were supposed to be in the same location. So again with careful use of a correctly angled background image we were able to give that illusion between the interviewer Karoline Phillips and Professor Pedersen in our shot above.

The files were then edited together and additional foley sound and score were added from the recording studio at the school. We have completed the first part of the project and we have 18 minutes of captured, edited and scored material. We will meet for a couple of hours a day from the middle of next week and complete this piece of work.

It is incredibly rewarding to spend creative time with such talented students, and the learning for all of us has been a rapid curve over the 5 days we spent working.

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The Zoom platform is great for recording – and the sound quality is very good indeed. The image quality depends on bandwidth at each end, and this can vary when the platform is in heavy usage.

The excitement of going for a take is the same as any form of filmmaking or theatre production. It involves focus and concentration and this is undoubtedly a really good training opportunity for the students. This level of focus and discipline from within their own home environments during this time – is the same for all of us.

I have always been excited to explore the possibilities of how we can harness the power of emergent technologies to make connections and creative work happen. From early livestreaming work back in 2008 – through to multiple camera livestreams and making feature films in Green Screen studios. This exploration with Zoom Theatre is part of that journey.

If anyone would like to know more about the process please drop me a line on here or find me as @marcusromer on social platforms.

I am going to leave you with another view of the Arctic Circle with its amazing light and clarity. IMG_5787

A new creative phase #shifthappens

17 Feb

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Shift Happens – funnily enough, I know all about that, and also I know that it is a good thing that it does. I have some exciting news, and I am really looking forward to the next creative phase of my work and life. I have just pressed ‘send’ on the final delivery of Graeae’s ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ edit of the Live to Digital Capture that I produced for The Space whilst at Theatre Royal Stratford East. This will be going into cinemas  via the Cinegi distribution network later this year, and I am delighted to have been able to deliver this as part of my last project at Stratford East.

I am stepping down after nearly two years as Stratford East’s Digital Associate Artist to take up a new position as one of the directors of a new National Theatre Wales piece for their #NHS70 celebration project in July this year. I have already started on this and I am really looking forward to working with all the team in Cardiff and on the project in Newport. More info on this will follow in due course on the next stage of their launch for this project. As someone who used to work in the NHS many moons ago it seems like my creative paths have aligned for this project and I am really looking forward to it.

I will be sorry to leave TRSE, it has been an amazing family of creative practitioners over the time I was there, and the building and the people will always hold special memories for me as a director. The fact that I directed Antigone there as my last show before leaving Pilot as Artistic Director was a really great experience, and this led to the opportunities to develop my live to digital practice with the livestreams of shows into hospitals, hospices and Adult social care homes. Speaking about these initiatives across conferences in Europe led me to develop this work for Ramps on the Moon with their production of ‘Tommy’ and also for the more recent Graeae production of ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’

Since making  ‘The Knife That Killed Me’ – the feature film for Universal Pictures –  I have continued to develop this practice into working across the theatre, film and digital distribution space for audiences, and I know this is where my passion lies. So I am delighted to be able to be working on a new project, not only for National Theatre Wales, but also to be developing two new projects with Collusion, the Cambridge based company that works on the interface between Arts and Technology.

With Collusion I am working with new teams of artists across to develop two new public facing arts/tech engagement projects. These build on an R&D project that I was the lead artist on in King’s Lynn during last year. Again there will be more to let you know about these projects in the coming months. But in the meantime a lot of creative preparation is underway to deliver some new performance projects that will be totally brand new in every respect!

Also my work in Yorkshire was clearly not finished, as I will also be picking up on some work I did at the end of last year and as a result of this I will be returning to Harrogate Theatre as an Associate Artist, where we will be building some new large scale project ideas together, as well as developing some new live to digital opportunities for audiences across Yorkshire. I am looking forward to this too immensely. I have really enjoyed being back up North again, catching up with old mates and colleagues, and generally keeping in creative mischief.

So new doors and new opportunities are always exciting and positive, and I look forward  to being able to keep you posted about how the new creative projects are shaping up and developing.

The photo? I took it in Madrid this January when I was visiting my son who now lives there. It reminds me that wherever you are in the world – you have to keep moving the trash out of the way to make shift happen…

 

Making Digital Strategies come to life in Arts Organisations

28 Jan

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‘Making the good stuff happen’ has been at the top of my work schedule over the past year or so. It builds on my work with live streaming theatre since 2008 – and I realise that this has been a 10 year journey to help deliver work to new audiences in new spaces.

This has most recently been seen in the ‘live to digital’ work I have been doing at Theatre Royal Stratford East, and something that I have been leading on over the 18 months for the organisation. We have livestreamed work into hospitals, hospices and adult social care homes.

This year we took the livestream of the Rapunzel panto into Bart’s Health Trust, and we included Newham University Hospital (pictured above), St Francis’ Hospice in Romford, and Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton. It was made available online on a closed channel that broadcast the performance in HD with full stereo sound. This was picked up online and shared onto smart TV’s, laptops, projectors, iPads and smartphones. It worked across all devices.

We have been supported by Galliard Homes for the pantomime and the livestream was also supported too, with The Space helping us to to deliver this.

We shot the matinee on 29th December with 4 HD cameras that also shoot 4k. They are BlackmagicDesign units and they are tiny, so there is no audience disruption, to any need to take any seats off sale. We can capture, cut and deliver work fast, live and in the moment with the team. There is a full sound mix and we cut this live between the wide shots and the camera operators picking up the close ups and tighter shots.

The theatre has been on board with this development, and have got how this works. The work between the different departments have enabled the collaboration needed to make this a success.

This is how I think Digital needs to work in Arts organisations. It is about finding the ways to reach and connect with audiences. To help to disseminate the work and to provide opportunities to create a ‘Digital Outreach’ programme of activity.

Digital is about being able to create more opportunities for access points for audiences. So this does not just sit in the responsibility of just one department. More often, digital falls under the umbrella of marketing  and communications. This is not the only place this work needs to sit. Digital by its very nature is pervasive and touches and affects all aspects of the organisation, and as such should provide links and synergies across all departments. This will encourage a shift in thinking across the work that is created, the internal systems and all the outward facing aspects of the Arts organisation.

I have been delivering digital strategies for leading Arts organisations over the last year, these have included Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Harrogate Theatre and Kettle’s Yard Museum and Gallery. In all these organisations there is the real willingness to develop and to deliver  a new way of working within the digital space in this way.

However, at the moment, there are many obstacles in the way for arts organisations to get on board with this. Hurdles of rights, permissions, and legal stuff. All important stuff, but we surely need to find a way to streamline this and push the tech and opportunities forward.

To help do this I have put together a ‘how to get started’ with all this, for UK Theatre. This was published on their site this year, and I am now attaching my redrafted version here, which hopefully might be useful.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas about how we might develop this work in the future…

Thanks – here is the guide for you

LivestreamingGuidebyMarcusRomer

marcus@artsbeacon.uk

Marcus Romer – Keynote Speech from the European Theatre Convention – 2017

5 Sep

This was from Karlsruhe in Germany this year, where I gave a keynote speech on the subject of Digital Innovation in Theatre as part of the EU Theatre lab Conference ad part of the European Theatre Convention

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 have 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

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’