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Theater Media (Not Quite A) Roundup: New Leaf Theatre’s Touch

January 06, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: projects, Uncategorized

Okay, so I’m recusing myself from this one. But I’d love to know what you think of Very Clever Productions’ work for New Leaf’s production of Touch – opening tomorrow. What does it tell you? Does it grab you? Does it seem true to the play and the theatrical experience?

I think it’s nice to put your money where your mouth is from time to time, and see what comes out – and see what comes back. We were able to learn a little bit from the video / theater crossovers that we’ve seen so far, and I think as far as process we could also use the practice in collaborating with a cinematographer to achieve something that represents theatricality honestly in a cinematic format.

So what do you think?

And yes – as The Examiner noted today, that’s the face and voice of Dan Granata, my cohort in creating the CTDB. Break a leg, Dan.

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11 Comments to “Theater Media (Not Quite A) Roundup: New Leaf Theatre’s Touch”

  1. Nick,

    I think it’s really good. I think the production values are probably the best I’ve seen for a theatre promo. And the performance in it is good and isn’t so broad as to be inappropriate for THIS medium.

    That said:
    It’s too long for my internet ADD.

    I really want (more of) an establishing shot on a stage (the opening shot looks like an abstraction of the space theme). Something that lets me know right off the bat that it’s a theatre production and not simply a short film.

    I would invert the sex stuff and the interrogation stuff so it builds to the “banging and banging” and drops to “we met in my physics class”… but that’s personal preference.

    Honestly, if that’s my level of criticism I’m really nitpicking.

  2. Nick Ward says:

    I saw this a few hours ago, via the facebook, and it made me want to see the play immediately. It made me think you guys are taking a big ol’ swing for the fences. Here’s hoping you’ll hit a grand slam.

  3. Lovely work, and though I don’t know the play and can’t comment on whether it is ‘true’ to the play, what does grab me is interest in what the character is speaking of, how he does it … so I am interested in knowing more. This could translate into my buying a ticket, although given my current location I won’t be doing that! So as a marketing device, good work. The NT of Great Britain have been using ‘trailers’ like this for a while now. You can grab them on YouTube.

    Is it true to the theatrical experience? Generally, no. This is film although the multiple (though mediated by the camera) perspectives of the character reflect how an audience ‘sees’.

    As to collaborating with cinematographers in creating ‘fusion’ live performance/video etc., this is such an exciting arena for creativity. Best of luck in your experimentation, and if you’re interested, check out the ‘cinematic theatre’ work being done by Markwell Presents (Australia)

    And good luck with the show … break a leg!

  4. This is by far the best promo for a theater show I’ve seen. It made me want to see the show. There is a sense that you are aware of the mediums you’re working in. That said, I agree with Travis, it’s too long. And yet, I’m glad I saw all that I did. So maybe it’s a question of editing to create a faster sense of pace and/or varied rhythms with your shots. For example: the beginning. After the first shot on the line “I was taking physics. I was taking physics again,” there is a switch to a wider shot in the upper left hand corner, but since it’s at kind of the same angle and further away it seems like a continuation rather than a change, if that makes any sense, so it slows the beginning down. I also wanted more dead on looks into the camera. This is all nitpicky stuff, so consider it a good place to be.

  5. Wow. Thanks for your feedback, everyone. So some big takeaways:

    The internet and its multitude of forms demands brevity. I learned this most acutely when my wife and I filmed a personal holiday greeting for our 500 some-odd friends and family who had all joined facebook this year. We shot about 2 hours of improved talking around the camera, and thankfully decided to cut out a lot of it.

    However, the central challenge – and perhaps folly – of using internet media to communicate and promote a theatrical event, is that the theatrical event demands attention in a way that the internet tends to scupper it. If you’re telling a two hour story, it should be entertaining, but it also makes that demand of the audience that they provide the patience for the reward of a more deeply enriching story than they’re used to. The urgency for me is that I think that if we all hop on the ADD internet bandwagon without also finding ways of communicating the value of the time bomb story, we will lose something.

    That’s not to say that, Travis and Elizabeth, you’re not right on. This is an ad, and if I’m going to hold your attention for this long, you need initial payoff so that you’ll be more enticed to make the trip the big payoff of the whole 2.25 hour event.

    I think, if I can somehow manage to speak from both the production end as well as the critical / consumer end at the same time about this process, that the trick here is the old “beware of your babies” maxim. When you come up with a concept as a vehicle for your message and decide on a particular method of executing that concept, more often than not your concept can hijack your message at some point in the process. One mantra that we tried to stick to every step of the way was: We’re trying to communicate the world of the AD, not the world of the PLAY here. There was a temptation to tell the whole story in two minutes, and when you’re the producing theater picking copy for an ad, that temptation is hard to see around. I think it’s a universal hurdle for the DIY arts marketer.

    Also, since this was pro bono work on the part of our wonderful cinematographers / production company, we had to be respectful of their need for a portfolio piece. Most importantly, we had to not pour all of our respective energies into a trailer when we also had a show to put up, so the concept had to fit our known level of energy – but I think we were able to creatively balance those needs.

    There were other needs that we didn’t have this time around. The need for brevity, flowing pace, and direct human connection (the “dead on looks” that Elizabeth mentions) are the needs of the viewer. They’re the last, and most important, piece of the puzzle.

  6. Very insightful discussion here, folks! I definitely agree with most if not all that’s been said here, and I certainly struggled throughout the entire process with the issue of brevity v. substance v. honest portrayal of the story v. not giving too much away. That’s a lot of versus for a short song. But these comments let me know we’re heading in the right direction.

    I think the internet has not reached it’s end in terms of how people view content. A year ago I might have agreed internet content has to either be short or unwatched. But now people are watching hour long dramas on Hulu every day. So it’s not the internet that innately demands brevity. It’s people. And people I can deal with.

  7. Ladies and Gentlemen, Nick Wagner, the genius behind the video. Thanks for throwing in your thoughts, Nick. You’ve been doing this sort of work exclusively for a while now, so I wonder if you can give us a sense of how you see the trends of content length and the way people view content on the internet and where you think they’re heading and why. I think we’ve seen a similar long-term trend in the way people experience theater, and having the opportunity to have cross-media dialogue with you on this project has been really exciting and enlightening.

  8. Well we’re seeing a very exciting convergence of multiple factors–1) the ubiquity of high-speed connections allowing for more and better kinds of content, and 2) the decreasing cost (both in both time and money) to produce content (such as online video, interactive web sites, radio shows) are leading to 3) a complete breakdown of the traditional producer-consumer model of content distribution. Anyone can now have a radio show. Anyone can now produce high-quality video. Anyone can have a dynamic web site that hosts content and has an instant worldwide potential audience. We’re already seeing internet-based “tv shows” gaining ridiculously huge followings. Where is there a place for a traditional studio in all of this? There isn’t. We’re all content producers now. And the way we find things to watch is through word of mouth. We talk about what we like on Facebook and on Twitter and in our IMs, and that’s where we hear about the cool stuff that’s out there. And once we have it from a friend that such-and-such is worth watching, we’re going to give it more than 30 seconds to prove itself. That’s when longer content is successful–when people are no longer blindly clicking on random stuff. So what does that mean for a trailer for a play? Well, if it’s relying on random clicks it’ll have to be short. If it’s relying on making rounds in the word-of-mouth circuit, it could possibly afford to be a bit longer.

    Wow. Gotta go, but I’d love to keep the conversation going!

    And everyone go see Touch! It really is quite an experience.

  9. As the person who wrote “Touch,” I wanted to add how much I admire this work. It evokes what I see as the play’s emotional complexity beautifully.

  10. Thank you so much for saying so. That is wonderful validation and encouragement to all of us who have worked so hard on this video and this play. I was finally able to see the performance just last night, (I had only caught a few rehearsals before we shot this promo) and I only wish that the video could truly do justice to the power of the live performance. It is an amazing piece. Again, thank you.

  11. Toni, I’m speechless about your response. The happy kind of speechless.

    I just got back from running my third talkback for The Wooster Group’s The Emperor Jones, now playing at the Goodman as part of the O’Neill Fest. The talkbacks have all been very well-attended, confrontational and cooperative, and meaningful at the same time. It’s been very interesting to see how these ideas we’ve been talking about on this post conflate with the Wooster Group’s approach to their work, and the way that we all choose to incorporate technology into our work as theater artists.

    I’m still kind of buzzing from the post-show bar conversation from Touch last night that involved nearly half the audience, so forgive me if I’m being inarticulate here. I think the point where these two experiences (The Emperor Jones and the Touch trailer) meet for me has been how we dive in to experimentation in the whitespaces between two media and then quickly open the results up to a wide public dialogue. When that dialogue then gets fed back into the experimentation, I think we can mine some pretty spectacular leaps in innovation.

    This may seem odd, but the fact is, using video in any way in or around theater really scares me. I share the fear with some that even letting video into the room in the context of our culture will damage the theatrical experience somehow. I fear that the theatricality that moves me personally will be overcome by these cultural forces of loud speakers and immersive screens that are often used to get in my face and then, unfortunately, cut me off from that empathic connection I feel with an actor on stage. There have been a very few times I can remember where incorporating a screen in a show – even from a live camera – hasn’t counterintuitively severed that emotional connection with the work.

    Television, Film, the internet and screens in general have spread a new way that we intake information. As this re-acculturation takes old over new generations, we now tend to distrust or ignore live people and we tend to trust or get excited / moved by people on the screen. This cultural shift has spread like a virus or an antibody, through our mother’s milk, by being raised with television and now the internet in our lives, Like any group of scientists looking at a trend like that – the way that we listen to ideas – we can look first to the characteristics of the change. This decade, content is fracturing and distribution is kaleidoscoping. The number of choices we need to make in our lives are exponentially growing and the infrastructure that we have used to make those choices is at the same time collapsing and settling – like a media avalanche. We don’t yet know all about the side effects of the change, so there is the very real potential still that they are damaging as well as beneficial. But we can follow those trends out to possible conclusions and extrapolate where we’ll be, and take meaningful action if we feel it is necessary. It’s important that we have the widest sampling of information and feedback that we can get before we take that action, however, otherwise we make the choice to react to our own personal whims rather than an objective reality.

    New Leaf’s marketing for Touch – if nothing else – has shown to me that if you can provide a kind of online window into the theater through a cocktail of video, blogs, twitter tweets and a spirit of engagement, you’ll have created a highly effective way to reserve energy for the production while still allowing your audience to connect, engage, belong and ideally have a stake in your theatrical work. In order for any of that to work, of course, the conversation has to start early and every part of that chain of communication (ESPECIALLY the production itself) needs to be frank, unified with the central vision of the play, open to criticism, and ultimately: quality.

    I’m not saying we’re there – given the feedback above there’s clearly going to be new things to try next time – but I do feel like we just started skipping down a new road.


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