To Stream or Not To Stream?
Whether it’s a play, concert, or comedy show; at an arena, dingy club or high school cafegymatorium, there is nothing like live entertainment. I founded Technodramatists to create new opportunities for artists and audiences alike to connect through shared live experiences. But, in the words of the ever-prescient Goo Goo Dolls, Broadway is dark tonight. It has been since March and will remain so until at least the Summer of 2021. Like most everyone in our industry — from actors, directors and playwrights, to stage managers, set designers and stage hands to ushers and concessionaires — our shows and contracts were all canceled and our financial and creative future became dim and uncertain.
Frankly, it’s depressing. But a bootstrapped startup doesn’t have (that much) time to be depressed. Not the Technodramatists! We innovate. We take what’s available and make something awesome regardless of budget or opportunity, and apparently, regardless of the federal government mismanaging its response to an unprecedented global pandemic. We’re committed as ever to creating innovative and entertaining shows that embrace the ephemeral and serendipitous nature of live entertainment.
Yes, take out your AOL compact disks folks, we’re going online!
In all honesty, I was initially hesitant to shift our work online and sometimes I still am. There really is no way to emulate the experience of being in a live audience. Embracing this reality was the key to moving forward: We’re NOT making theatre. We can produce work that is theatrical but we’ll need to create new forms that tap into the advantages and limitations of the live stream medium.
Before diving in, we explored what others were doing in this new space. Right away it became clear that there were two things that we would not do. First, adapting work meant for the stage without changing anything besides putting cameras in front of actors leads to flat unengaging experiences. So straight Zoom plays were out. Those Zoom boxes create an interminable distance between performer and audience and the platform lacks the controls producers need for successful visual storytelling, which is essential to making a small computer screen feel dynamic and grand. Secondly, we will not be pre-recording our material. Our philosophy has always been that the impermanent nature of live entertainment is what gives it its unique power. Streaming pre-recorded performances sap them of that synchronous energy. It also places us in competition with much higher production value mediums like streaming giant Netflix that are easily accessible on the very devices on which we’re trying to reach audiences.
On the other hand, there were a lot of exciting innovations to learn from. Like the more successful productions’ attempts to create new forms, we would borrow from video games, streaming platforms, escape rooms, role playing and more, while staying true to ourselves as theatre makers and storytellers to bring you new live(streamed) entertainment. At the same time we’re trying to be careful not to overwhelm the audience with interactive bells and whistles to the point where the drama and performance become secondary. There’s a balance to be struck here, and we’ll need your help to find it.
We know most of you already have to sit in front of screens all day, so we don’t take this request lightly. We’re asking you to join us in our attempt to transform those screens into something more magical, into devices that can, for a few minutes, transport us into a dark room surrounded by strangers drinking $26 whiskey cokes, where the connection between performer, audience member and every fleeting moment creates a palpable energy.
We’ve taken our time and now have several projects in development that will be ready for folks to experience early next year. I’ll be using this space, with some of our friends and collaborators to share what we’re working on; our successes, failures, technical, and emotional meltdowns and hopefully, for a few moments, if not more, it will feel like we’re all together again, waiting for everything to go right… or beautifully wrong.