team u.s. maple – storycode hack: beta

FROM VAPORS…STORYCODE EMERGEDImage
For a little over a year, I’ve been entrenched in the transmedia world, and part of that immersion (pardon the pun) includes StoryCode, a not-for-profit that grew out of the Transmedia NYC Meet Up.

StoryCode is blowing up. Between its new residency at Lincoln Center Film Society, partnerships with Kill Screen Magazine, becoming a legit company, and the creation of new programs like StoryCode Immersions — monthly small group “deep dive” sessions into focused topics like tech, fundraising and entrepreneurship — StoryCode supports the transmedia community like no other organization in NYC. In addition to offering case studies and environments from which creators may learn, StoryCode fosters environments in which creators can, well…create.

RELEASE THE HACKATHON
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Like so many companies, StoryCode is implementing the hackathon structure to create new work and bond its members. Like the 24-Hour Plays (or the 47:59 Play Festival for which I wrote a few years back), this experience plans to fast forward the story creation process. Over 24 hours, teams of four work to develop a brand spanking new transmedia project pitted against other teams. Storytellers, producers, video artists, and programmers converge to birth and present projects in hopes that judges proclaim their team winner of the first ever StoryCode Hack.

I’m super psyched to meet all my team members tomorrow at orientation and head into next weekend’s hackathon with fire and fury. The competition is fierce. Friends will become enemies. Platforms will be compromised. And one team will reign victorious

Check out our cheeky team description below, and follow Team U.S. Maple on Twitter or Facebook for more on this madness as it develops.

OFFICIAL (UNOFFICIAL) U.S. MAPLE PRESS BLURBImageHow do four strangers, who have never licked each others’ faces, unite to create an epic transmedia spectacle that unfolds on three platforms in only 24 hours??? Armed with only two Panasonics DVX-100s, A CASE OF RED BULL and a DREAM, TEAM U.S. MAPLE will document their entire experience where they collide together to accomplish the seemingly impossible (but not quite impossible and therefore definitely attainable ONLY due to this motley crew’s MAD SKILLZ) for Storycode’s Hackathon’s TRANSMEDIA CHALLENGE. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we update LIVE from inception to conception AND BEYOND.

FOUR STRANGERS!!!! THREE PLATFORMS!!! TWO PANASONIC DVX100a’s!! ONE EPIC TRANSMEDIA STORY EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER! = TEAM U.S. MAPLE smacking down at Storycode’s Hackathon. ROOT for them ONLINE (throughout the week on FACEBOOK & TWITTER) and IN PERSON at the Lincoln Center April 28 & 29th.

To learn more about the challenge the team faces visit hack.storycode.org

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mib3 aims to warm things up with phone hotline

A couple days ago, Men in Black 3 released a ripple in the space-time continuum when it rolled out the second trailer for its upcoming summer release. It features much more of Josh Brolin (yay!) and gives us our first glimpse of Bill Hader as an under cover Andy Warhol (awesome!). What we didn’t get is more of Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as the movie’s big baddie, Boris (boo!).

The trailer came off as a Mad Men meets Back to the Future mash-up, which could be fun. I didn’t think much more about it. Then, last night, they added a dash of The X-Files to the recipe. I was heading home and I noticed this in the subway:

Of course, I called the number.

A teenage boy’s voice answers and explains he is Bugeyes. He informs me I called “The Men in Black Are Real” hotline, and what he’s telling me will change my life forever. By pressing 1, 2, 3 or 4 I can either: know what he knows, hear details on where to find him, learn the latest on someone named Clive (“who’s definitely not human”), or leave a voice mail message reporting alien activity. I can interact with the phone number through voice mail or text, and Bugeyes might post my message on themeninblacksuitsarereal.com.

As I punch through prompts, Bugeyes exclaims, “Extraterrestrials live among us. Seriously? How cool is that?” He’s also monitoring Clive because he thinks it’s “what The Men in Black Suits want him to do.” He directs me to his blog for more details about the Men in Black Suits. When I visit the blog, there are several posts starting on December 6, 2011.

MIB3’s The Men in Black Suits are Real campaign started back in November 2011 and received some criticism for only linking to Bugeyes’ Facebook page at that time. Now, it appears with this phone number, a new phase has commenced, and on Monday, along with the subway ads, Bugeyes posted his first video blog.

On Facebook, “fans” are posting pictures of potential MIB activity, including this mock up newspaper clipping from 1969 featuring a young Agent K (aka Josh Brolin, second from the right, in priest’s garb).

Bugeyes comes off as a child of one of The Lone Gunmen (if they’d ever actually gotten lucky and spawned). Will Smith seems cheesier than ever. But that’s what the public wants from Will Smith, right? Right now, Josh Brolin is the most exciting aspect of this story, but I’m wondering how worn his Tommy Lee Jones impression will be after 90 minutes.

Several entertainment sites are calling it “viral marketing.” It could be the beginnings of an ARG. I’m hoping the engagement increases, or it might fall short, like The Hunger Games campaign. I know it’s challenging creating other elements to an already existing property, but when studios have so much money, I always hope they’ll raise the bar. Publishing a number so blatantly and offering participation does indicate there may be more to come. I hope so.

If you’re curious, call 1-888-202-9797 and let me know if there’s any new news on the hotline. Maybe it’ll warm up as we near the summer release.

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.

tweet seats – the public theater live tweets the gob squad

Last week, I participated in a new grand experiment recently popping up in theatrical Petri dishes all over the country. I was a tweet seater. Or, I live tweeted Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) at The Public Theater.

Gob Squad's Kitchen

Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) photo by David Baltzer

It was the first time The Public offered seats to Twitter users for the purpose of sharing thoughts about a play in 140 characters or less. The designated tweeters sat in the last three rows to minimize disturbing other audience members, and the theater gave us a number of rules to observe during the performance: No phone calls, dim your screens, no photographs (this was lifted moments before curtain, and several people did tweet pictures). There’s been loads of debate over the usefulness of tweet seats on blogs, news organizations and, of course, Twitter. I figured I’d share my experience of The Public’s Great Tweet Seat Experiment, and encourage theaters and theater goers to continue contemplating this divisive topic.

When I heard The Public was offering its first ever live tweeted play, I wanted to join in. After applying for a spot, the marketing staff chose me as one of 25 participants. One of my main interests, beyond seeing The Gob Squad for the first time, is my work in transmedia and interactive art. I was very curious to observe the reaction of the audience, the tweet seaters, and those following the #kitchenlive hashtag at home. There seem to be two camps in the live tweeting of theatre – the passive and the interactive.

One debate point that arises regarding live theater tweeting is over “passive tweeting.” Passive tweeting was what I experienced at Gob Squad’s performance. The tweet seaters essentially called a play-by-play of the play. Anyone following the hashtag read thoughts like:

shimmeringcell: This is hilare/nuts. Even the Public ushers are cracking up.

Or:

msteketee: Middle screen blonde actress has now donned the Edie Sedgwick striped shirt. Yes.

And criticisms such as:

nikkipatin: Just like Sontag last week, the technology utilized is far more interesting than the performance itself.

People live tweet concerts and television all the time. From concerts, tweeters share pictures and video of singers on stage and drunk friends acting asinine. The difference between a play and a concert is, typically, there’s no plot. With television, a wider, communal experience occurs; whereas, with a play only a few handfuls of tweeters share mainly with friends and colleagues. Does tweeting a play really make a difference, and if so, who cares?

For me, at least a few people cared. Responses varied. Some energized followers jumped in:

jennyg29: @PublicTheaterNY @jdcarter Digging the hell out of this #kitchenlive experiment. Hurray #Transmedia!

Fellow tweet seaters conversed with me:

adamjohnfrank: @jdcarter #kitchenlive yea, the plastic bag over the head is kind of freaking me out…

Audience members at the show who weren’t live tweeting joined in the feed after the fact:

AKwritenow: @jdcarter @PublicTheaterNY I was unPREPARED for how awesome #GobSquad #kitchenlive was.

The strongest interaction of the night came when I suggested it would be great if our tweets interacted with the show, a friendly debate (with a user following the #kitchenlive feed from home) over passive and interactive live tweeting ensued:

jdcarter: I wish #tweetseats tweets interacted with #kitchenliive and affected the performance. Or they responded. #interactive

jennyg29: Agreed. RT @jdcarter: I wish #tweetseats tweets interacted with #kitchenliive and affected the performance. Or they responded. #interactive

dloehr: @jdcarter There’s not much point otherwise. (Course, tweets from outside might have an effect, too.) #kitchenlive

jdcarter: @dloehr really? You think? It’s not like live tweeting any other event? Interaction is nice, but not necessary. #tweetseats #kitchenlive

dloehr: @jdcarter No, it’s not like other events. But I’m not a fan of passive live tweeting of theatre. #tweetseats #kitchenlive

Scamandalous: @dloehr @jdcarter Passive? As opposed to sitting in a theatre and NOT tweeting? That’s active?

dloehr: @Scamandalous @jdcarter Audience mood affects every performance. The only truly passive audience is deaf, blind & unconscious.

Scamandalous: @dloehr @jdcarter YOU were the one who used the term “passive,” not me.

dloehr: @Scamandalous @jdcarter Sorry. Sitting without tweeting has often been called passive out here on twitter.

Scamandalous: @dloehr @jdcarter I just don’t see how live-tweeting is less active. Maybe you don’t think you can engage in the work enough?

dloehr: @Scamandalous @jdcarter We can–and should–make art that can incorporate this & truly involve audiences beyond the level of chatter.

Scamandalous: @dloehr @jdcarter That is interesting to me. I did think it was a unique experience livetweeting and reading others’ tweets though.

dloehr: @Scamandalous @jdcarter Livetweeting the tv, you can pause, rewind, etc. Theatre can’t do that, unless the show’s designed to use tweeting.

I resigned myself there’s two kinds of live tweeting and each has its place. I’ve always been a proponent of criticizing plays for what they are and not what we wish them to be. Like the play itself, we should examine live theatre tweeting for what it is. If there are two ways to live tweet an event – one where tweeters report and one where they interact – let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.

For me, as a theatre and transmedia artist, the most exciting artistic use of Twitter (or any social media for that matter) a production integrates tweets into the experience, either allowing the audience or user at home to interact with the show or characters/actors share personal updates integrated before, during or after the performance.

Some companies have integrated tweeting as part of the narrative. The Royal Shakespeare Company partnered with Muldark, a cross-platform production company. Together, they created Such Tweet Sorrow, a five week, improvised Twitter adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Actors took roles of central characters in the tragedy, and they tweeted as the characters living in contemporary London. Also, Waterwell’s#9 explored “how we use technology and technology uses us,” according to their website. The company invited the audience to live tweet the show with the hashtag, #9. They LiveStreamed the play, and viewers at home engaged in the live tweeting experience. Waterwell pulled the hashtag stream and fed it real time onto video screens in the theatre, much like super titles, which has been suggested in this tweet seat debate. I participated through the LiveStream, and though it was fun to see my tweets pop up as some sort of “inner tweetologue” of the play, though they never fully interacted with the performance.

I asked The Public’s marketing director, Nella Vera, to share her thoughts on the Gob Squad tweet seat experiment. Ms. Vera said:

“I think many of our tweeters enjoyed being able to share their thoughts on what was happening on stage, but also found that it was a bit of a challenging task – keeping one eye on the stage and on your phone is not as easy as it seems!  Because it was a large group sitting together, many of them commented that they enjoyed being able to ‘talk’ with each other without disturbing the show and share impressions; this added to the communal feel of the event. They liked being able to see how others were reacting to the work and how it compared to their own thoughts.  In a way, it actually enhanced the very thing theater tries to do—bring people together to share ideas.  This is not something we would do on a regular basis but it is fun to consider if the work lends itself to such an environment.  (For example, our Joe’s Pub venue is already a tweet-friendly zone where fans of the musicians regularly take photos and videos of performances.)”

A way to view passive tweet seaters is to consider them press. This is the second production I attended this season (the first, Nightmare NYC) for which I was specifically invited to tweet the event. At Kitchen, a couple tweeters referenced this:

Shimmeringcell: Whoa, we have laminated press passes with our names on ‘em, drink tix, & swag!

Scamandalous: This makes me feel like real press! #kitchenlive, baby!

They felt like real press. Perhaps even a critic. The night I attended was, indeed, a press preview. I saw David Cote of Time Out New York dart out just after the curtain call. What if, in addition to his regular review, Mr. Cote sat in the back and live tweeted with the rest of us? Would there be an immediate box office jolt for the show if a critic’s tweet hailed a performance? Automatic dive if it panned? Over the past couple years, bloggers have gained credibility with producers as viable critics. Might tweeters be taking their rightful seats next to blog and mainstream critics? I’m not suggesting reviewers begin reviewing on microblogs, but if there’s a place for the long form bloggers, why not tweeters, too?  Obviously, there’s already been plenty of fire against tweeting about plays before they’re ready for prime time (Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, anyone?), but what if the tweet seats landed on press previews? That certainly doesn’t preclude the average theatre attendee from sharing her/his thoughts after the show, but it might encourage microbloggers to attend a preview worth sharing.

Ms. Vera also offered some marketing statistics from the tweet seat night. “Although the intent behind the event was not purely a marketing one,” said Ms. Vera, “it is interesting to note that there were a total of 483 tweets generated, resulting in 270,359 impressions, reaching an audience of 32,700 followers.  That’s pretty amazing for 25 people!”

Indeed it is. 25 live tweeters reached 32,700 people. For theaters, it may not just be about creating artistic interaction. It may be about spreading the word. And for an experimental theatre show imported from England, I’m sure it can use all the word of mouth it can get.

photo by David Baltzer

For many reasons, Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) was the perfect play on which The Public to experiment with tweet seats. The Gob Squad is forward thinking, media focused, and experimental, and so is Twitter. One of the biggest concerns/complaints of tweet seats is potentially distracting other audience and performers. The troupe performs 98% of the play obscured by a giant video screen behind which live three simple sets: a bed, a stool, and, of course, a kitchen, which are all projected onto the screen thereby minimizing actor distraction. In fact, prior to performance, the actors invited the entire audience backstage to walk through the sets, and they were excited to greet the tweet seaters. The show proposes recreations of several Andy Warhol films made in the heyday of The Factory, and these vignettes offer a meta-theatrical-video-film experience you have to see to understand. According to The Gob Squad’s website, it is, “A quest for the original, the authentic, the here and now, the real me, the real you, the hidden depths beneath the shiny surfaces of modern life.”

Sound pretentious? I thought so. And one of my followers who kept up with the #kitchenlive hashtag said our tweets made it sound pretentious, too. I guess we didn’t do a great job of conveying the experience because it was downright fun, funny, thoughtful, self-referential, and one of the best uses of audience participation I’ve seen in a long time.

I think that’s why I was only slightly disappointed with this specific tweet seat experiment. I wanted to be up on stage with the other audience participants. I wanted to interact. But I was stuck in the back row, sharing my thoughts with people who didn’t have context of my experience. I wanted more. But that’s just me. Someone else had a completely different experience, and that’s how life works. Each of us has her/his own perspective, and in the end, we’re each trying to find the original, authentic, the here and now, the real me, the real you, the hidden depths beneath the shiny surfaces of modern life.

It was an experiment, and like all experiments, some succeed and some fail. This one felt pretty positive. There’s always room for improvement, and I look forward to the evolution of this social-theatrical happening called tweet seats.

As Ms. Vera shared, “Overall, I think a good time was had by all and we truly thank everyone who participated. We learned a lot and I’m sure we will be having internal discussions about this for quite a while.”

Thanks to all my fellow tweet seaters, and special thanks to Nella Vera and The Public Theater for the tickets and their bravery.

there’s something happening here

Since March, I’ve been attending regular gatherings of the Transmedia NYC Meetup, and every month, I look forward to congregating with cutting edge professionals and making new friends.

Recently, the group made two big announcements: It is incorporating as a not-for-profit organization called StoryCode and the Film Society of Lincoln Center is a new sponsor, offering the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater for the group’s meetings. Wonderful, dramatic changes for this vital organization.

Last night, Frank Rose and Nate Goldman spoke about immersive entertainment, “fear of fiction,” and how Orson Wells influenced Goldman’s project Undead End, a zombie-pocalypse transmedia extravaganza in Boston, MA and now Bloomington, IN. Sylvain Lerou from Orange shared FanFan2, an interactive project based on the novel of the same name. All the presenters had great case studies, sharing what worked and what fell flat with their respective projects. Zach Leiberman, too, offered a 5×5 call for collaborators for his nascent 3D venture he likened to a little boy’s Alice and Wonderland meets The Red Balloon.

It was very eventful with some “who’s who” in the biz, a packed audience, and after, the Film Sociaty at Lincoln Center offered its green room for drinks and conversation. In a way, that was the best part – exchanging ideas one on one with other energized creators.

The big news of the night was TransmediaNYC Meetup is all grown up. Jen Begeal addressed the group in her new, official capacity as the Managing Director of StoryCode and announced they’re seeking a PR person to jump on board. Got a knack for publicity? Reach out to Jen to find out more.

If you’re the least bit interested peaking at the future of media, stop by the next meeting on November 15th. Same bat time, same bat place. The outstanding Lina Srivastava speaks on transmedia activism. Lina is at the forefront of transmedia for good initiatives, specifically in the documentary film world. She offers innovative ways to integrate tech and social change. Check her out.

Thanks to Aina Abiodun & Mike Knowlton for all their hard work organizing and Rachel Fairbanks, Brian Fountain on the LiveStream and still photography, respectively.

Happy to be part of this growing community.