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The elusive Tassos Stevens – member of a secret society

June 9, 2010

Tassos Stevens is debating the question – do we need a new relationship between theatre and the public?  at the conference AND participating in the session on 21st century storytelling.  A member of Coney, he is based somewhere in England I think, but most of the time he seems to be somwhere else in another time zone. I caught up with him last night and asked him: 

You are always on the road, New Zealand, Brooklyn – what makes your work so internationally desirable?

I have been on the road this year, New Zealand to do some digital strategy consultancy for the British Council, after going to Tokyo for the Connected showcase a few months prior. and Austin, Texas for SXSWi. In Tokyo, I and others in Coney remotely assisting made a very simple little adventure out of the event of giving a presentation (you can see it here from 2’30”), made very quickly and responsively. Brooklyn was the festival Come Out & Play; I wasn’t actually there but helping run a street game called Counter/Demo remotely from London with some others in Coney, some who are based in NYC, who did their own game Necropolis that we in London helped with.

If there is anything that makes the work attractive internationally, it’s because it’s responsive to the people and the place, and resourceful with whatever comes to hand – it’s a good guest and can travel light.

Do participants/players ever get lost in the game?

Sometimes. Sometimes so lost they end up in Coney itself, many of our best players get recruited. Three of the core entered that way, myself included. Coney itself plays like a game of secret society, we have codenames. I am not saying mine here.

Where in the world would you most like to make a piece and where would you say no to?

Good question… There’s a conversation brewing in New Zealand that I am really excited about. Or a secret place very near where I live. As for no, there’s no specific location – anywhere is interesting if you look at it the right way – but rather if the terms of engagement for us or for players meant the work would miss any of our key principles: adventure, loveliness, reciprocity.

Some work by Coney, last month, this month, next month…
The Haringey Challenge Match, a game for young people in a local authority helping them design their own services
Necropolis Family Tree & Counter/Demo, games in Come Out & Play in Brooklyn.
Moore Outside, audio walks and an adventure about the Henry Moore Exhibition for Tate Britain.
The Loveliness Principle, an adventure exploring exactly that, in BAC’s One-on-One Festival.
The Changing Room, an auto-memory-theatre, in BAC’s One-on-One Festival.
A Cat Escapes, second-phase pilot of an Adventure in Learning, in primary schools in Wandsworth in a co-production with BAC.
SuperMe, a digital project on resilience for teenagers, for C4 Education collaborating with lead agency Somethin Else and games agency Preloaded.
Art Heist, R&D funded by Arts Council England with New Art Gallery Walsall
And some more we can’t talk about just yet…

And me for Coney

Papa Sangre, a 4IP commission, an iPhone game in audio only, collaborating with Somethin Else


Theatre and innovation – time to stop floundering

June 8, 2010

In these times of financial crisis, arts funders cry out for theatre companies to be more innovative and to find new business models.  Implicit in these challenges is the belief that theatre companies are at best conservative and risk-averse or at worst hopeless at business and organisation.

NESTA, the UK agency with a mission to encourage innovation, has published Culture of Innovation, a report into how the National Theatre innovates.

The headlines have been grabbed by the phenomenal success of NT Live, the livestreaming of NT productions which not only have seen the NT extend the size and social breadth of its audiences but have also shown that this platform has found audiences to be more emotionally engaged than those at the theatre – it breaks through the fourth wall.

The report also cites the use of digital technology in audience development. We will talk about these issues in the conference session on Digital Technology’s Impact on Theatre.

But these headlines can obscure other key messages about theatre from the report:

1. theatres can be intrinsically innovative because they take risks with new plays

2. theatres can be as smart at business as other commercial outfits – managing programming, ticket yield etc

I guess many of us in the theatre knew that.  But the fact that funders dont know this stems in part from a lack of evidence of the value of the work that theatres do. We can flounder around trying to make the case after the event  NESTA argues for taking a research-led approach to experimentation to evidence impact and success and to inform policy.  It makes sense.

Theatre, the arts and the creative economy – Tom Fleming’s Initial Provocation

May 20, 2010

International expert on the creative economy, Dr Tom Fleming is today in Brazil leading a session at the Alliance of Civilisations. Tom works throughout the world supporting cities, nations and regions in policies for the creative economy, including for Lebanon, the Nordic countries and Portugal – as well as supporting Sheffield in its City of Culture bid.  So if anyone can explain the international language of the creative economy, creative industries, cultural industries and where theatre fits in – its Tom.  He has produced an initial provocation for us:

In my presentation at theTheatre Forum Conference, I will introduce the strategic context for the creative industries and explore the shifting policy dynamic between art, culture and the economy. Here I will provide an overview of the core terms and themes developed over the last 12 years of creative industries policy, internationally. I will then seek to locate arts and cultural policy within the overall creative economy policy. This will show how the best creative industries policy links investment in excellent, sustainable arts and cultural organisations to the growth and competitiveness of the overall creative economy. Here a strong and confident arts and cultural sector is key for developing talent, providing inspiration, and developing content for more growth-orientated creative businesses.

 See the provocation Tom Fleming: Creative Industries and the Arts: Learning the Language, and, if you want to read more, check out the links on this site.

Could Toronto’s theatre economy offer a sustainable model for Ireland?

May 16, 2010

Toronto today boasts a vibrant theatre scene with a strong and diverse independent sector intertwined with a bouyant commercial sector.  Its growth over the last fifty years  stems from several roots.  There was the creation of independent professional companies in the late 1960s and early 70s especially Theatre Passe Muraille , Factory Theatre , Toronto Free Theatre and Tarragon Theatre , and the great Canadian playwrights of the time; there was the  formation of Dora Mavor Moore ‘s New Play Society -influenced by Dora’s attendance in London at plays by Yeats  and Lady Gregory; and there were the great entrepreneurs and impressarios particularly the Mirvish family.

Now the third-largest theatre centre in the English-speaking world, after New York and London, there are over 90 venues in the Greater Toronto Area, with a population the same size as Ireland.  Alongside Cats, Mamma Mia and Brendan O’Carroll, there are several shows presented in the commercial theatres which have originated in independent and fringe theatres like My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding which premiered at a 80-seat theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe and remounted twice commercially.

Do these opportunities influence the sustainability of the independent sector? Is success entirely dependent on the choices made by impressarios? Is development funding important?

The Commercial Theatre Development Fund assists the Ontario commercial theatre sector through associations with Ontario-based producers who seek to present small to mid-sized commercial theatre productions in Ontario. The CTDF also assists productions that are chosen on the basis of their profit-making potential so that the CTDF remains sustainable

Camilla Holland , General Manager of Tarragon Theatre has also chaired the CTDF for the last five years and will be at the conference to share the Toronto experience.

With the opening of the Grand Canal Theatre alongside Dublin’s other theatres, will the theatre economy achieve a critical mass?  Joining Camilla will be Anne Clarke of Landmark Productions and Mike Adamson, CEO of Live Nation Ireland.

Theatre in the Digital Age – we have to talk

April 20, 2010

Twittering aside, there is still a chasm between those who believe that the internet age changes everything about theatre and those who think its just a fad.  Lyn Gardner’s blog at the Guardian today already has opened up the divisions, with the first respondents to the blog taking up different positions.  Is social media the way to sell tickets?  Oh no it isn’t (because people who fill in online surveys are a self selecting group and dont represent the audience).  Oh yes it is! 

Marketing in the digital age is important and we will be having a session looking at this with e-experts at the cutting commercial edge in Ireland.

But marketing is the tip of the iceberg.  The real opportunities of the digital age for theatre are about new platforms and live streaming of performances.  And some of the exciting challenges we have are about authorship as audiences become players and get more involved in the direction of the story.

Some of hyperlinks in Lyn’s blog will be represented in the flesh at the Conference in different sessions.

Marcus Romer of Pilot Theatre and director of Shift Happens will share his insights and passion for the opportunities of the digital age of theatre.  We will be looking at the NESTA findings on NT Live and considering the implications for Ireland.  We are hoping that Hasan Bahksi who wrote this will be with us to share his forthcoming report on arts and innovation.   And Tassos Stevens of Coney will take us in to his view of the world, which demands a paradigm shift in the way we think of players, audiences and interaction – and thats regardless of digital media.

We will be looking at how the National Theatre of Wales used digital media to create their community, chartering new waters as they have begun to build a theatre economy in Ireland.

We also have a less hyperlinked but more rounded (in experience not appearance) and very wise  Dick Penny who has an amazing breadth of experience in theatre.  He is the Chair of Bristol Old Vic – appointing Tom Morris to do things differently.  He is also the director of Watershed, a fantastic digital and community media centre in Bristol and originator of the experiment Extended Theatre.

The Extended Theatre Experience was an innovative experiment that explored and developed new approaches to the capture and distribution of a live performance event.  Over Spring 2009, technologists from Hewlett-Packard Labs, digital media experts from Watershed, and theatre practitioners from Bristol Old Vic worked together to devise a short piece of theatre designed specifically for the experiment.  Miniature cameras were embedded in the production design, sets and props, and the action of the piece was devised to test the technology’s capacity to capture the movement and immediacy of a live performance.  

The experiment was a success. The cameras captured rich and dynamic data, and under certain conditions, audiences reported an immersive, intimate and exciting experience.  The team is currently developing the findings and exploring possible commercial applications. 

So lets talk.

Voting is open – which Irish theatre veteran should be interviewed by Next Generation?

April 14, 2010

One of the sessions at the annual conference is where a next generation theatre artist interviews a veteran. On the Theatre Forum Facebook page recently we asked for suggestions and got so many we need your advice.

We can’t guarantee any of these people are available but let us know you choice of actor, playwright and designer from the poll  so we can approach them ASAP and hopefully one will be available.

Whose secrets would you like to know?

April 5, 2010

Phillipe Halsam: Interview with Marilyn Monroe 1954 ©2010 artnet 

Goethe said, ‘Talent is developed in privacy,’ you know? And it’s really true. There is a need for aloneness which I don’t think most people realize for an actor. It’s almost having certain kinds of secrets for yourself that you’ll let the whole world in on only for a moment, when you’re acting.” Marilyn Monroe

Learning about theatre is like learning about life. The most important lessons often come from spending time with more experienced people and watching how they do it. Getting to spend time close to people and artists in the theatre whom we admire can be pot luck. And sometimes, we can be too in awe to ask – why did you do that? how do you do that?

Ireland has a wealth of experienced theatre artists including playwrights, directors and actors.  A session in the conference this year will be about the next generation – or maybe its the generation after, the under 30s interviewing some of Ireland’s veterans. 

Who would you like to interview? And why?