leading the charge into transmedia theatre

Yesterday, Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington D.C. took a bold step into the new frontier of theatre in transmedia storytelling. They launched the BWPG-CMU-ETC-Global Cyber-Narrative Project, partnering with the Black Women Playwrights’ Group and Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center. But make no mistake. This is transmedia.

It was over a third of the way into the three hour presentation of projects and panel discussions when the word “transmedia” was finally used, and it was uttered by a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. Lynn Nottage stood before the audience and said, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark was originally conceived as a transmedia play.” If that doesn’t legitimize what some have poo pooed as the bastardization of theatre, I don’t know what does.

The day was overwhelmingly energizing. Theatre people were bowled over, having never considered that a play’s narrative can spill out onto other media platforms. They marveled at the video game concept that accompanies Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. They were overjoyed when Ms. Nottage shared the By the Way, Meet Vera Stark website featuring a mockumentary of Vera Stark’s life and a clip from one of her “films.” They engaged and offered ideas about how mobile devices might be used with Harrison Rivers’ work-in-progress play, Look Upon Our Lowliness, being produced by The Movement Theatre Company.

I’ve never seen a room of theatre folk this curious about a new innovation in theatre storytelling. Probably, because there hasn’t been a new innovation in theatre storytelling for decades. The audience posed many questions to the panel, mainly about monetizing, marketing and IP laws. However, as Ms. Nottage emphasized, transmedia is a new way of telling stories, and she’s interested in it as an art form.

Kudos to Karen Evans, founder of the Black Women Playwrights’ Group and a DC-based playwright, who encouraged this program after identifying digital media as an important area in playwright career development. There are a few companies, including Performance Space 122 and Epic Theatre Ensemble, already including transmedia in their work, but Woolly Mammoth is the first theatre company seriously partnering with a university for the expressed purpose of expanding story experiences beyond the stage. Other participating theaters are: Dallas Theater Center, About Face Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Geffen Playhouse, Victory Gardens, The Hip-Hop Theater Festival, Penumbra Theatre, and Intersection for the Arts.

The most thrilling aspect of the day, for me, was watching the team of CMU grad students passionately explain the plays and how they are integrating new media with those stories. These students are, no doubt, the transmedia leaders of tomorrow. They spoke with authority, intelligence and joy. It was inspiring.

You can (and should) view the LiveStream video archive of the program’s launch below. I was only able to find part 2/3 & 3/3 on the #newplay LiveStream. As soon as they post the first part, which features Kristoffer Diaz’s project, I’ll add it, too.

PART 2/3 (Q & A with CMU grad student panel about the video game for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity )

PART 3/3 (Lynn Nottage & Harrison Rivers featured, along with the CMU grad student team)

If you search #cybernarr on Twitter, you can gather what people said about the event and join in the conversation.

Good luck to everyone involved. I can’t wait to see the evolution of this promising program. It’s where theatre should be headed, and a Woolly Mammoth is leading the charge.

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