Got used laptops and smart phones? Donate them to MIRA!

This spring, I’m teaching a course in digital storytelling for MIRA, a great organization, and they need help. Hope Traficanti is the president and co-founder, and she says everything about the drive below. What I’ll add is this is a great group of people offering digital tools and storytelling structure to young adults seeking work and earning their high school degree equivalency. I’m proud to be working with MIRA, and your support will offer a foundation for a fledgling organization with big ideas. If you have any used electronics, please consider donating.

Thank you,
James

Turn those last-generation electronics into tax deductions 

MIRA, a 501(c)3 charitable organization I helped to found, is about to launch a training programme in digital storytelling for young men and women who did not complete formal education.

MIRA’s mission is to provide vulnerable youth with a global platform for sharing their stories with the world, and to create a more diverse global media that promotes open information exchange.

This spring’s course will enable participants in the Henry Street Settlement’s Youth Employment Programme to explore new ways of engaging their communities, potential employers and wider audiences, using storytelling as a vehicle for digital media education. 

Many in the community have already lent their very generous support to MIRA at its fall fundraiser – their support has made this initiative possible. However, we are still lacking basic tools with which to train our participants.

We are seeking donations of used:

  • iPhone 4 and 5s
  • Samsung SmartPhones
  • Macbooks
  • PC laptops
  • Digital cameras that have the ability to record video

Even heavily used equipment is appreciated as long as it is in good working condition. As a 501(c)3 organization, donations to MIRA are tax deductible, and MIRA will gratefully issue you a tax-deduction acknowledgement letter.

Get a tax deduction and reduce clutter while helping young people – a win-win!

To make donations, contact me at h.traficanti [at] mira-ngo.org, and specify the type of equipment along with its general condition. To learn more about MIRA, visit www.mira-ngo.org. Thank you!

Hope Traficanti, President and co-founder

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reach out and touch someone

This feature first appeared on Culturadar, an arts listings website for New York City. You can read the original post here.

A woman appears on a computer screen and smokes a cigarette in a tiny London flat. She coyly asks if you’ve ever followed a stranger to a hotel room. In Australia, a bouncy blonde wearing what looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume pops up on a laptop, insisting she met you hundreds of years ago. Together, you have a plan to save the world. A third woman – a Romanian – shares a sad tale about her boyfriend, photographs and donuts.

This isn’t a private adult video chat you discover after accidentally clicking a link in a spam email. This is theater.  Long Distance Affair, produced by PopUp Theatrics, takes the audience on a journey around the world. And you don’t even have to get on an airplane.

Creators and directors Tamilla Woodard and Ana Margineanu create intimate theatrical experiences for one person. Digital theater for one. Some of the performances are interactive, requiring audience members to engage with the character. Others are passive, offering a more traditional theater monologue. Each piece is more unpredictable than the previous.

With Long Distance Affair, Ms. Margineanu and Ms. Woodard partnered a director, a playwright and an actor to create eight minute bits of theater performed live from the actor’s own home. The audience views these performances via Skype from New York City’s The Gershwin Hotel. Here’s the catch (as if there wasn’t enough of one already): None of the creators live in the same country as their collaborators. In two weeks, they write, rehearse and perform the short plays. All over Skype.

PopUpBanner“In Romania, the director is considered a god,” explained Ms. Margineanu. “In America, the playwright is god. In Russia, the actor is god. You can imagine what happens when three gods try to work together.”

Not only is it an experiment in form and process. It’s a test of endurance. Actors must perform the same eight minute piece up to 30 times in one evening – sometimes at 3:00am, if they live seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

PopUp Theatricals is devoted to unpacking the creator’s relationship with the audience. With their other major production, Hotel Project, PopUp again assembled international creative teams. In another exclusive performance, a lone audience member becomes a fly on the wall while a scene plays out around her or him.

Long Distance Affair runs through February 28, and tickets are limited due to the intimate nature of the event. Because of the staggered schedules and time differences of actor locations, audiences can attend multiple nights and might see different plays. Don’t think this is an entirely digital experience. There are analog elements that allow audience members to connect with the characters, too. Who knows? You might even receive a present from a new friend in another part of the world.

_____________________

LONG DISTANCE AFFAIR
THE GERSHWIN HOTEL
7 east 27th street, NYC (next to the Museum of Sex)
Tickets ONLY $25
Available at ovationtix. com or by calling 866-811-4111

authentic listening, part 2: the rise of geek theater (and death of the theater geek) – an origin story

This is the second of a three part series on authentic listening, theater companies who do it, and how empathy can change the way we interact with our audience and other artists. You can read part one here.

Theater people frequently lament lagging box office numbers and an aging audience that only supports the largest institutions. There’s talk that we must do something drastic to sustain our future. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about audience. Who are they and why are they waning? The solution to salvation may not be as drastic as some think.Ten years ago, Vampire Cowboys figured out the formula. A self-proclaimed “Geek Theater” company lead by playwright Qui Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker, VC did two things. They followed their hearts, and they listened to their audience. Before VC, over-the-top, camp antics like cross dressing, wacky puppetry and goofy pop-culture references were relegated to cabarets and drag clubs. Certainly, theaters from the 1990’s like Collective Unconscious, Surf Reality and Todo Con Nada paved the way for VC to explore fringe theatrical devices. But, VC didn’t just create avant-garde passion projects for tiny downtown venues, nor did they try to fit their square-peg-style into a round theater community’s fashion. They aimed to cultivate a vast audience over the entertainment industry at large.

Vampire Cowboys was the first theater company to have an official sponsorship with ComicCon. For several years, these Geek Theater makers have manned a booth at the New York arm of the convention, offering live fight performances from their productions. Obviously, the increase in popularity of ComicCon paralleling VC’s inception is fortuitous, but the important point is they seized this opportunity and grew to cultivate loyal fans, as well as becoming critical favorites.

Another fantastic (now retired) program that VC offered was The Saturday Night Saloon. Again, building on the downtown theater models of the 90’s, VC created a monthly-serialized theater event that brought together some of the best up-and-coming playwrights, like Crystal Skillman and Mac Rogers. It also offered a regular home for actors and fans to get to know each other in an intimate setting. By involving these actors and playwrights, they expanded their talent pool and encouraged those artists’ inner geeks.

Vampire Cowboys inspired a theater movement that follows its heart and listens to the spirit of its audience. It effectively took the stereotype of the theater geek and turned it on its ear. Suddenly, it was hip to be square. More companies across New York City followed suit. Now, there are groups in Chicago and Los Angeles embracing the aesthetic. VC heralded the death of the theater geek and made way for a new hero: The Geek Theater Artist

Last season, Mac Roger’s theater company, Gideon Productions, produced his Honeycomb Trilogy – Advance Man, Blast Radius and Sovereign. It is an epic, science fiction tale about an alien invasion on Earth, the resistance and their rebuilding. The trilogy was ambitious, and ten years ago, it might have been a recipe for disaster. But Gideon learned from VC, skirted traditional theater press, and reached out to the science fiction community. They received accolades from tor.com and io9.com, which filled their houses with fellow sci-fi geeks. The productions’ success attracted the New York Times, which gave the trilogy’s final installation a rave. They also joined VC at ComicCon this fall, presenting Kill Shakespeare: The Live Stage Reading, based on the successful IDW Publishing comic book series.

Poster from Sovereign, the third part of Mac Roger’s Honeycomb Trilogy

Also last season, Flux Theatre Ensemble teamed up with Gideon Productions, forming an alliance with Boomerang Theater Company called BFG Collective. The three companies took over The Secret Theatre in Long Island City for six months, to disperse production costs. Flux produced August Schulenburg’s Deinde, a science fiction play about the rise of the singularity. Tomorrow, they open Adam Szymkowicz’s superhero  noir comedy, Hearts Like Fists.

Hearts Like Fist cast, photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum

Next week, terraNOVA Collective, where I served as associate artistic director for eight years, also opens a comic-inspired play, Robert Askins’ P.S. Jones and the Frozen City. I saw a workshop of the play earlier this year. It’s filled with wild puppets and fabulous costumes in a far out dystopian future. It’s gonna be loads of fun.

Illustrations by Peter Shevenell, Design by Christy Briggs

Finally, Vampire Cowboys returns for their 10th anniversary season. For the first time, the main stage play won’t be written by its co-artistic director and resident playwright, Qui Nguyen. In March 2013, they’ll mount the appropriately titled Geek! by Saturday Night Saloon alum, Crystal Skillman. I also enjoyed a reading of this play earlier in the year, and it’s full of stage fights and geeky girl power.

It may come as no surprise that all of these theater companies have dipped toes or dove into the deep end of transmedia storytelling. Vampire Cowboys has a long history of creating online videos that tie into their shows. Flux Theatre Ensemble and Gideon Productions have used video blogs, news conferences, and pamphlets. And, terraNOVA Collective used video, written blogs, and Twitter for my play, Feeder: A Love Story.

Is the theater market becoming overrun with Geek Theater?

Can it sustain the influx of zombies, super heroes and sci-fi dystopian futures?

Short answers: No and yes.

There are only a handful of groups creating this kind of theater in a massive market, and there should be room for everyone to play in the same sandbox. However, it only works if they remember to stay true their hearts and listen to their audiences. When creators authentically listen, they lay the foundation for a long conversation with a dedicated and engaged audience. It can’t just be about the next box office transaction. It must be about cultivating a sincere relationship. If large institutions are going to thrive in an ever-changing digital landscape, these are the values they, too, must embrace.

Tomorrow, I will conclude this series featuring another panel from the Futures of Entertainment 6, focusing on empathy and listening.

You can read part three here.

ny_hearts: les kickstarter

Creating a new piece of work is challenging. You work endless hours writing, planning, and raising money. The first two tasks are daunting enough, but then you ask people for support — whether you request they pay money to see the project or solicit donations for financing — you ask friends, colleagues and strangers to believe in your work and invest time and money into it.

It’s been a while since I’ve invited people to support my work, but now I’m reaching out again. I’m proud of the creation, and I’m just about ready to share it.

Now, I’m in the final phase. I’ve launched the Kickstarter campaign for my transmedia theatrical project, NY_Hearts: LES, which opens in The Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival in July 2012. I’m partnering with local small businesses to offer an immersive experience in which the audience gets to see, feel, taste and smell the same things the characters did in the story.

Contribute $25 and submit a sentence about someone you love or loved, and I’ll integrate it into the story. You can also get 30% off the regular price if you pledge $40 for limited early donation discount tickets. Once this deal is gone, you can still reserve regular priced tickets through Kickstarter.

Thanks to all who have supported me throughout the years. This is a big new chapter in my career, and I hope you’ll not only contribute now but also come to check out NY_Hearts: LES this summer. After all, the most important part of creating work is sharing it with others.

DONATE ON KICKSTARTER

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
Image
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