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Reinventing the Audience Experience at Salon Series #3: A Streamed Dance Event

May 09, 2016 By Crissy Campbell

This is a guest post from MDM faculty Patrick Pennefather. Read more over on his blog.

Often times, at the Centre for Digital Media's MDM Program, we challenge our learners to innovate. So what does innovation look like in the social media space? Is there any room for innovation or are we stuck in the "just tweet that out to get attention" loop? Are we destined to mainly rely on Facebook group posts to promote a product or event? Are we really dependent on using the same social media platforms and mechanisms for the same purposes? Why do we Instagram anyway? Shouldn’t we all be Facebook streaming by now?

While some people are aware of the advantages of leveraging social media for everything from brand identity to promoting an event, cause or blog, many of us use social media in a haphazard way…myself included. Sometimes it's just hard to keep up despite the help of HootSuite. At the same time, many of us are saturated contending with repetitive social media exposure syndrome. More often than not, when we are not resisting checking our Facebook timeline, we accidentally come across posts that we occasionally like, and less occasionally follow through on and read, digest, experience, etc… This post in itself, meant to bring attention to an interesting hybrid live/virtual dance performance at The Emerald on May 12th, will likely only have come to your attention through divine intervention that no UX expert could possibly explain no matter how well you fit the psycho-demographic profile.

The Rules of Event Promotion Are Changing

For many producers and artists of events there are known mechanisms for getting the word out. But, those rules are changing. An experimental dance production faces stiff competition with Youtube and the latest free-to-play mobile game. It’s a known fact that artistic companies are attempting and in some ways, have always been attempting new ways to engage audiences. It’s in the blood to do so. It’s how the arts have survived and flourished despite limited or at times no funding. Leveraging social media channels is another such way. More experimental companies are exploring new ways to not only draw new audiences to their productions, but to create a world around a performance. This is where we see teasers of the show in rehearsal, pre-show interviews with performers, directors, designers, producers and writers. Below is a recent promo video for the last Salon Series at the Emerald.

I’ve been wondering how else we could generate a world around a live performance besides the more marketing-oriented purpose. How can we engage audiences differently? Are audiences looking for new ways of engagement in live performances? Technology is certainly being integrated into live dance and theatre events in Canada.  At the Salon #3 the audience will witness Grammy-winning singer and virtual violinist from New York City Caroline Shaw accompanying live contemporary choreographer and dancer Vanessa Goodman (depicted below). Choreographer/dancer Karissa Barry will perform with projection design and live DJ. There will no shortage of technological integration.

Salon Series Volume 3

Innovating the Audience Role

But what about innovating on the audience role? At the CDM we think about the audience or the ‘user’ (a less flattering term) all the time for new product development. Many people, when it comes to describing the user experience of a typical audience member for a live performance, tend to reflect on that separation between stage and audience. This, despite the fact that for centuries companies in all disciplines, including film,  have attempted to break that fourth wall. Dances for a Small Stage and other productions continue to reinvent the audience experience. Their Salon series is another such attempt, this time manifesting at the Emerald on May 12th; a uniquely situated intimate performance space in the heart of ChinaTown where the scents of Chinese herbs accompany you up the stairs to a little gem of a space decorated in red wine colours, wooden floors, a tasty menu and a newly built stage. There, as emcee and artistic contributor, I will act as virtual ringmaster bridging the live performances with the virtual ones.

Small Stage Salon Series

My recent collaborations with Julie-anne Saroyan have been with her popular Small Stage series bringing dance to small stage venues. Her role is to ignite ideas, suggest boundaries and act as a resource both for artists in the development of their work while connecting with the audience.  Our artistic visions have been linked by our interest in addressing the audience experience. And now, in extending the world of the performance beyond just the live experience. The Salon series is the perfect environment to incubate, intermingle and test ideas, while collaborating with other artists. In a way, we user testing short works with a live audience and receive audience feedback. The goal is to build community around responding to artistic expression, giving artists an opportunity to adapt their work based on audience feedback—giving the audience a voice.

Engage Audiences Differently

The next Salon also attempts to engage audiences differently by designing a live performance event that asks the audience to re-construct their live experience of the show into the virtual. On May 12th we do away with the notion that documenting, curating, and capturing a live event is a no-no; a pre-show warning to turn off cameras because the flash may throw off a jeté or pirouette will not be played. In fact, the Salon 3 pre-show will involve a tutorial on how to capture an event should our ‘users’ want to share any aspect of the show in-the-moment.

The next Salon series then is a working prototype that reinvents the audience experience. We invite the audience to co-curate the event. We are more interested in the idea of allowing audience members an opportunity to experiment with sharing a live experience as-it-happens to their own social circles. As the emcee for the event, one goal will be to integrate and address commentary from both live and virtual audiences. For my own act, featuring choreographer Caitlin Griffin (below), the audience will be asked to be participants in the filming of a dance-music video, in which they all have an active part.

To support the event, I’ve asked current and past graduates of the MDM Program, like Yangos Hadjiyannis, Nicholas Ayerbe Barona, Tianyi Tang, Zeeshan Rasool, to join me. While the Master of Digital Media program has been largely focused on developing interactive digital media prototypes for local and international companies, in the past few years we have begun to increasingly collaborate with physical/digital based installations. The latest collaboration with the Vancouver Maritime Museum is a great example of this.

The days of the audience as voyeur still dominate the industry, however, the world of interaction propelled by video games and mobile applications invites us to play with that. The Salon series attempts this on a modest and small-scale production with talented artists like Vanessa Goodman, Karissa Barry, Caitlin Griffin, Paula Skimin, Jason Overy, Stefana Fratila, Caroline Shaw and Kerry Uchida. On May 12th we invite the audience to co-curate live dance with remote musicians, to be monsters in a music video, to be exposed to live musicians and perhaps be one, to sip a glass of wine and consume a kick-ass tap dancer, to engage in curated live discussions and non-curated virtual discussions; to share their personal experiences with their own virtual circles, to be part of the emergence of a different kind of audience experience, a prototype of interactive engagement that blends the physical and the virtual.

Find out more information about the Small Stage Salon Series show on May 12th.

Get tickets here.

UPDATE: Watch a video of Salon Series 3 with live audience participation