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Monday, November 16, 2009

re: Orange Hats: concept v 1.1

If anyone would like a copy of our concept document for Orange Hats, just e-mail me at:

duckweekproductions@gmail.com

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Orange Hats: concept v 1.1





INTRODUCTION



What is Orange Hats?

People running around in orange hats getting audience feedback after exiting theatre shows to encourage critical discussion in a public space.

Why orange hats?

The orange hats are our signifiers at events. They help to us to stand out, to create interest in the project, and help people recognize us.

How did it get started?

This project began at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival to provide an alternative to print media by giving audience critique of shows equal status to the views of arts critics.

Where are the Orange Hats right now?

Currently we are based in Johannesburg, but are expanding to other major cities: Cape Town, London, Paris and New York City.



MISSION


Orange Hats aims to provoke direct audience response through conversation in an inclusive and accessible forum, and record and archive this feedback allowing critical culture to grow among audience members in unusual ways.

We desire a critical culture which

• is audience driven
• is based in conversation
• is supportive, yet direct
• is easily archived
• is easily accessed
• is responsive to the views of the audience
• is multi-directional, as opposed to print media in which information only flows from publication to reader
• de-centers the arts critic as expert
• de-centers the arts critic as primary source of critical input
• explores new(er) critical forms: web spaces, forums, social networks; ambush review; soap-boxing; viral review (analog and digital), and reviewing in character is critical of traditional critical critic's voice: spoken or written
• engages with audience vernacular as an equally valid form of criticism (e.g. "dat shw wz rly weak" or "lulz. show was made of fale").



COMPONENTS AND STRUCTURE


Orange Hats is more than a club or a web site. Our organization is a dynamic international community of members communicating at events and online.

There are a variety of ways to connect to the Orange Hats project:


THE STREET TEAM


The Street Team connects face to face with audiences. They provoke audience response to shows through engaging in dialog immediately after a show. The street team also collects information for the Orange Hats’ online archive through various forms including but limited to audio or video clips, and photos. Additionally audiences are encouraged through their interaction with the Street Team to SMS, Facebook, tweet, and e-mail their responses to the Orange Hats team.

Members of the Street Team hit as many shows in their city as possible. The more members working for the Street Team, the more shows are covered.

What is the structure of the team?

The Orange Hats sends a team of four (4) members to each show. This team is comprised of three people who engage the audience about their response to the show. Each member is equipped with an audio capturing device to record responses.

The fourth member serves as a documentarian, creating a visual archive of the event and audience interaction through either photography or video.

How do these conversations work?

Each interaction begins with a short introduction of the team member and the project:

Hi I’m Ben with the Orange Hats. We are interested in what audiences are saying about the work. What did you think of the show?

Sometimes audiences are reluctant to share beyond a simple ‘it was good/it was bad’. We’ve found that simply asking questions like “what about the performance did you like?”, “what was it specifically that confused you?” are the best for provoking less superficial responses from the audience. Team members must fully engage with what audiences offer. Taking the audience’s surface reaction and probing further through conversation has been the most effective way of collecting specific information about a show.

And after? Is that it?

The Street Team is not interested in one night stands.

Each audience member which interacts with the Street Team is given a loop of ribbon to wear not unlike ‘cause ribbons’ given for HIV/AIDS awareness. Our ribbons are orange with white polka-dots. A person may go out for a drink after the show and be asked what the orange ribbon is for. A conversation about the night at the theater and the Orange Hats begins. Through this simple gesture, the story of Orange Hats is shared through conversation from person to person.

Street Team members also give out cards which alert audiences to how they may share future thoughts with us (via SMS, E-mail, Twitter, Facebook) and how to connect with us online trough our website and online community. Anyone can keep in their wallet or purse and send us a quick SMS (or more) after other shows.




THE WEB SPACE

Orange Hats is registering www.theorangehats.com.

We are entering a partnering with Red Team Go (http://www.redteamgo.tv) and are going to develop the aesthetic and content collaboratively. We hope to incorporate some elements of their web design in our own project.

This website will act as the project’s primary archive by dynamically cataloging information from Orange Hats’ Street Team sessions in a FUN and ACCESSIBLE way. It also serves as a meeting place for team members, supporters, and users which all comprise the Orange Hats community.

What will I find on the site?

The basic layers of the site consist of the main page, archive, and community.

MAIN PAGE

Our main page will contain a variety of content showcased in a user friendly interface.

AESTHETIC

Our main page will use space effectively, giving the most content possible while still remaining easy to navigate (see Rotten Tomatoes and Pitchfork Media).


We wish to explore innovative ways to display content (see News Map)


We want to avoid models which are bland or resemble newspapers such as Artslink South Africa. We want to avoid models that are unorganized and lack flow such as Theater Mania.

CONTENT

The main page will showcase “feature content” such as what shows Orange Hats is going to that month and when, what shows have been hatted recently, recent reviews/feedback, member of the day, member content of the day, recent news from the organization at large and from individual members, and links to feature articles. Examples of feature articles are lists (best/worst of 2010, top members, etc), genre specific articles (comedy in Paris 2010), or 28 Days Later (an article dedicated to re-reviewing shows a month after seeing them).

The possibilities are endless, but we want a clear showcase of recent and relevant information displayed when the site is first accessed.

Additionally, there will also be links to the archive and community sections of the site, and a search bar for navigating the site.

THE ARCHIVE

Orange Hats will create a multiple page archive. The skeletal structure of this archive will consist of one page per production per city. That is to say, if Waiting for Godot is showing on Broadway at the same time it’s on in the West End in London, each production will have its own page.

What will a show’s page look like?

THE HEADER

Each page will have a certain amount of standard content contained in a large header section. The poster for each show will be boldly displayed in this section.

We will display the title of the show, the space it is being performed in, the dates of the run, the names of all working on the production (director, cast, designers, producer…), the genre of the piece, and a synopsis.

Grosses and/or ticket sales will be reported if the theatre is willing to release that information.

Links to production photos, trailers, and relevant websites for the venue and/or the production itself will be available in this section.

Additionally, each show will have a rating meter which displays what percent out of 100 the show has received.

THE METER

The default display of this meter will always show how the Orange Hats Street Team members have rated the production. A visitor to the site will be able to, through a series of tabs, toggle this rating bar to view how the show weighed in with “Top Critics” (Arts journalists at major publications) and with the Orange Hats community (all users on the site). If a user wishes, she may simply click and drag the meter the percentage she feels appropriate, and submit her own rating. This information will be archived individually by user and will also subtly influence the Orange Hats community meter.

The header represents the most superficial, easiest to consume content on each page. It allows users to quickly glance at the page and get a general impression of a production from many basic levels. The body of the page is reserved for content of a more critical nature which requires a greater level of engagement from a user.

THE BODY

The body of each page will contain reviews.

The tab which is selected on the rating meter always defines which reviews are displayed in the body of the page (Street Team/Top Critics/Community). Of course we want to avoid putting the full text of the review on the page so each review will be displayed with a headline and a short excerpt. If a user wants to read more, they simply click a link and are taken to the full text of the review. Each review will have comments enabled, and will display the number of comments posted.

THE SIDE BAR

For ease of navigation through the site, there will be a standard side bar on each page. This will showcase links to feature content from the main page and other material from the site. This way, a user does not have to constantly navigate back to the main page or stumble around with the search bar.


THE COMMUNITY

Visitors to http://www.theorangehats.com will be able register as an online member of the site. Registration will be as easy as providing basic information such as first and last name, e-mail address, city, country, and date of birth. This will be the only time personal information will be asked for by the site. A user will be able to remain as publicly anonymous as she wishes on the site.

Registering will allow users to post comments, participate in forums, and write and post reviews.

Each user will be able to generate a customizable identity which will be displayed by their content on the site. This basic identity will consist of a username (ex. Benjofamann), an avatar (a small user uploaded picture), and their city.

Depending on how much she contributes to the site a user will be able to gain rank and status on the site. This rank will be displayed along side the user’s avatar and other information.

We are also looking into designing a way to further define a user’s online through classifications. Many MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) allow players to join organizations or guilds. We would like the user to be able to assume a certain personality online. Examples are Patron, Artist, and Critic. Just as military ranks differ between the Army and the Navy, user ranks would differ slightly based on how they choose to affiliate.



CLUB LEVEL

It is very important that Orange Hats remains a sustainable creative project. One of the ways of building Street Teams for the future is through Orange Hat’s Club Level.

For each major city which becomes a home for the Orange Hats community, we wish to develop programs at universities. For instance, in New York City, there could be an Orange Hats: NYU and Orange Hats: Columbia.

Clubs are like the training ground for future fully fledged Orange Hats.

These independently registered clubs will act as microcosmic versions of the larger Orange Hats project. Everything which applies to the organization at large would feature in clubs. The only difference will be that each club will be responsible for covering events within their own universities.

Clubs register at http://www.theorangehats.com/ and would be indexed on the site in a clubs section. Each club would be free to send and upload content to build their own niche on the Orange Hats online community. All content will be archived through club pages.

Clubs would be open to all undergrad students, but be primarily organized and run by 2nd- 4th year students.

Being in the club level of Orange Hats does not exclude a member from participating in the wider organization of Orange Hats online or the Street Team level.

The Club Level will be founded at Wits University (Club I) and will be followed by New York University (Club II).


INTERNATIONAL TEAMBUILDING INITIATIVE


Orange Hats wants to make our project open and available to reach as many people in as many cities around the world as possible. Of course, it is impossible for founders and current members to travel to all corners of the globe and charter every new branch, new street team and new club.

That’s why Orange Hats is introducing the International Teambuilding Initiate.

We’re making it as easy as possible for anyone in the world to use our model to start Orange Hats in their own city, town, village, commune, or private island.

We do this by building a model which is open source and maintaining an organization which has open architecture.

What do we mean by open source and open architecture?

OPEN SOURCE

In the tech world, open source refers to a program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users see fit. If a car goes open source, then you're permitting others to copy the engine and body design, improve it, put their improvements back into the pool and share some more. Orange Hats wants to make our model available for others to use and modify. We hope this aids in developing a living model which changes city to city, and grows over time.


OPEN ARCHITECTURE


Open architecture is a system (hardware or software) where people can learn how it works and then build things to plug in to extend it. The IBM PC had an open architecture, which meant that people could build sound cards or other devices to plug in (without asking IBM's permission). Because there are limitless possibilities with the Orange Hats model, it would be silly of us to think we’ve thought of it all. We welcome and encourage new developments and hope to incorporate member ideas, experiments, and spin-offs in the future.

Okay, good. But how do I get started? I don’t even own an Orange Hat.

Becoming an Orange Hat is easy. We offer a variety options for becoming active outside of our current Orange Hats cities. Tell us what you need and we’ll help you get it!


ORANGE HATS WAREHOUSE

The materials are basic and Orange Hats has a number of packages available that will help jumpstart Orange Hats in other areas around the world.

A. Membership Pack
(Estimated cost: 6 USD, R 45)

The Membership Pack is ideal for the single new member: a perfect way to share the project with an interested friend or colleague.

Includes:

Orange Hat (1)
Instruction booklet
SM bag of Orange Hats ribbons (200 - cut and pinned) ‘
Registration on http://www.theorangehats.com/

B. Street Team Starter Pack
(Estimated cost: 14 USD, R 110)

The Street Team Starter Pack is an easy way to start a new Orange Hats team anywhere in the world.

Includes:

Orange Hats (3)
Instruction booklet(s)
LG bag of Orange Hats ribbons (500 - cut and pinned)
Registration on http://www.theorangehats.com/
Status upgrades for your user accounts
Automatic spot-lit content from your team online

C. Refills
(Estimated costs to be determined)

1. Orange Hats
2. SM Orange ribbon pack (200 - cut and pinned)
3. LG Orange ribbon pack (500 - cut and pinned)
4. Orange ribbon (25 meters uncut spool)

DO IT YOURSELF

As an open source project and open architecture organization, we will provide all the information you need to acquire Orange Hats materials by yourself. A list of companies who sell hats and ribbons like ours will be made available online so that ordering supplies through us always remains an option, not a necessity for inclusion in the project.

There’s also nothing saying you can’t design and create your own materials. Get orange ribbon and paint polka-dots on it. Wear orange berets. Make non-sequitur green Orange Hats T-shirts. It’s up to you.

Just spread the Orange Hats love.

After your new Orange Hats teams are up and running it is easy to send us content for the site via e-mail, SMS, Twitter, Facebook and more. And, of course, you can always upload content manually by becoming an online user.



SPECIAL OPERATIONS

Special Operations are a series of special events and projects in which Orange Hats team members participate.


EVENTS

Orange Hats began as a project to engage with the Grahamstown National Arts festival.

Orange Hats may be contracted to create a special team to cover other events in the future. We may work at anything as large as an international festival to a something small like a series of short plays.

The main difference is that the event coordinators (in the case of a festival) or the stage manager (in the case of a single show) makes contact with our project for the express purpose of having Orange Hats as a visible feature of the event.

What are the benefits of hiring Orange Hats for my event?

We hope to provide a dynamic way for audiences to engage with festivals and other special events.

Orange Hats will be responsible for running our audience response basic project at every show at your event. This means, not only will we creating a buzz around shows by merging the energy of our project with that of the festival, but we will compiling an archive of response to your event. This content will of course be featured on the Orange Hats website, meaning free publicity for the event.

We are prepared to run any number of special programs including but not limited to discussion sections and artist talk backs.

Orange Hats will negotiate per engagement which content we will release to the event for press releases, web content, and other use by the event.

The fees for coverage of the event are to be negotiated between Orange Hats and the event coordinators.


PROJECTS

Projects are member initiated and take the Orange Hats model and give it a specific focus, Instead of attempting to cover the most about of material. Projects are a way to investigate a particular type of work whether that is work from a specific community or a particular aesthetic. Some of the more obvious concentrations projects may be centered around are

GENRE – A team in Paris may choose to see only children’s theatre while another team in Berlin is only viewing Sci-Fi. The more niche the better.

VENUE – A team may focus on a particular venue or type of venue. For instance, a team in Johannesburg may focus their efforts at the Market Theatre or a team in New York City sees only off-off Broadway productions.

ARTIST – People follow their favorite writers, directors, and actors through theatre and film all the time. Why not have a group following designers? Stage managers?

This kind of interaction will help to generate feature article and spotlight specific communities and their relationship to the arts.



Creative Commons License
The Orange Hats by Ben Lundberg and the Orange Hats Team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 South Africa License.
Based on a work at ahfafalala.blogspot.com.

Creative Commons License
The Orange Hats by Ben Lundberg and the Orange Hats Team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at ahfafalala.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Orange Hats: in your dreams

Yesterday at the theater, a colleague told me she dreamt she walked out onto her patio to find the Orange Hats team sitting in deck chairs, sporting our signature beanies, poised and ready to review her.

A minor event, perhaps, yet I can help being excited about the idea of Orange Hats rolling around in someone's sub-conscious.

Funny how someone else's dream can make your own wispy aspirations feel more solid.

Perhaps we're playing on people's imagination and consciousness more than we thought? Or maybe my colleague is just paranoid about receiving criticism: an equally interesting point to investigate.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seth Godin: Brands that matter

From Seth's blog; pointing out the "obvious"- and yet, it's so easy to forget this.

So simple; so true.

Brands that matter

In this era, there are two questions every marketer answers:

  1. Do I want people to interact with me and my brand in unexpected ways (as opposed to just quietly consume it)?
  2. When they interact, do I overwhelm people with delight worth remarking about?

If you think about dead brands like Tide or United Airlines, the answer to both questions is clearly 'no'.

On the other hand, vibrant growing brands manage to answer both questions with a resounding 'yes.' It's not an accident and it's not easy, but if you do it right, it may be worth it.

Tide and United Airlines: this is exactly how I feel about the majority of theatre sites.

No and no.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

re: Stop complaining about arts journalism or do something about it.


A very brief response to an article by
Atiyyah Khan on artslink.co.za:

I want to discuss this idea of framing the critic as educated and possessing expertise.

She writes the following caveat:

"This leads to the idea that only people who have degrees in film can intelligently criticise films..."

I agree, this is false.

Later she writes:

"I encounter musicians regularly who feel that there are only a handful of music journalists who can adequately criticise what they do.
"

I don't think you need to be particularly arts trained to give criticism of art. In fact, it is more useful and more relevant to place reviews by people "in the know" side by side with reviews that come from a less nuanced background. It is only then that we have a comprehensive view of how a work is received.

We are don't make art for artists and we sure as hell don't make it for the critic.

Hopefully I'll hear back soon.

(P.S. Atiyyah - when I referred my "latest post" in my direct FB response to you, I meant "Orange Hats 3½")

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Orange Hats, 3½

After reading through my disjointed blow-by-blow recounted in Orange Hats, Phases I-III, I thought; this amounts to a look-what-we-did goulash with a healthy serving of name dropping. This was especially troubling to me because, although the project is continuing in Johannesburg, I'm not sure that we have done anything - except generate interest.

But interest around what?

I am still wrestling with the articulation of our aims, but here are some ideas -

We desire a critical culture that...
  • is audience driven;
  • is based in conversation;
  • is supportive, yet direct;
  • is easily archived;
  • is easily accessed;
  • de-centers the arts critic as expert;
  • de-centers the arts critic as primary source of critical input;
  • is responsive to the views of the audience;
  • gives equal weight to audience and critic (e.g. framing audience as critic);
  • is multi-directional, (i.e. opposed to print media in which information only flows from publication to reader);
  • is critical of traditional critical content (this means including basic/uninformed response as well as hyper technical response, as opposed to middle-ground mediocrity)
  • is critical of traditional critical forms (e.g. newspaper, radio, T.V.)
  • explores new(er) critical forms (e.g. internet: sites, forums; ambush review; soap-boxing; viral review [analog and digital], reviewing in character);
  • is critical of traditional critical style (e.g. the typical critic's voice: spoken or written);
  • engages with audience vernacular as an equally valid form of criticism (e.g. "dat shw wz rly weak" or "lulz. show was made of fale").
Orange Hats continues to investigate these points...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Orange Hats, Phase III: The Grahamstown test

I will forgo the narrative and instead provide a quick inventory of the Grahamstown experience.

Project related slang generated:
Orange Hats (as the vernacular name of the project/group)
Orange Hatting (reviewing)

What worked:

One-on-one conversations
Infiltrating pre-existing conversations
One-on-one dissemination of audience crit./feedback in the Village Green
Orange ribbons/hats increasing visibility and prompting curiosity
Orange ribbons/hats prompting critical discussion of shows
Our pitch (pitching the project to interested parties)

What didn't work:

Soap-boxing (increased knowledge of the project/visibility at fest could change this)
A core group of 8 reviewers (we need more people on the ground)
Coordinator as reviewer (we need a person or group of people to organize comp. tickets, a schedule of reviews, etc.)
Archiving (we need a team that consistently compiles Analog Blog review and audience review)
Other commitments (we were all involved in shows - next year I plan to run this project without competing engagements with a much larger team)

Missed Opportunities/Untapped Resources:

Advertisement in NAF literature
Advertisement in The Cue
NAF blogs
Rhodes radio
Friends of the Analog Blog and The New Joburg Underground (as reviewers, promoters, etc.)
The Village Green (not enough presence)
Major watering holes: The Long Table, Pirates' House of Pizza, The Rat and Parrot, Mad Hatters (no presence)

From The National Arts Festival we received:

Formal sanction to run our project
Letters of media accreditation
4 Photographer passes (she was worried she was going to run out of 'Media' passes)
Complimentary tickets (no more than 2 per show)
Contacts for The Cue, the NAF bloggers, Rhodes' radio

From The Cue we received:

A feature article with photo coverage of our review of I Am My Own Wife.

People we met who are interested in supporting and developing the Analog Blog:

Gilly Hemphill - National Arts Festival, The Famous Idea Trading Co.: head of media and public relations (NAF)
Adrienne Sichel - The Star: Tonight, South Africa's most experienced theatre and dance critic
Nike Jonah - Arts Council England: Senior Diversity Officer, Decibel Project Manager

(All three have followed up post-Grahamstown, and we are currently investigating future relationships)

And now Orange Hats continues in Johannesburg...

Orange Hats, Phase II: Signifiers and visibilty

Through my initial conversation with Melanie, it became apparent we needed some kind of signifier to increase recognition and visibility at the National Arts Festival. She suggested a pink umbrella, or balloons, but neither seemed compatible with our high hopes for high mobility.

More importantly, it was crucial that we find a way to extend visibility and mobility the idea beyond the Analog Blog team itself to general audiences of the festival. Those who interacted with AB needed to be able to take something away from the experience: a token, a symbol that signified not only participation and support, but that they had joined the movement. If such a signifier could be transmitted throughout the festival, our presence, and in turn, our idea would have the opportunity to spread virally.

From another (more corporate) perspective, these audience members would be branded by our group. In time, the ideas associated with our group would be associated with the branding.

This idea of branding lead to the first vague inklings that the Analog Blog's "street team" would, in effect, be "tagging" the shows that they live-reviewed, an aesthetic that we continue to explore.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, idea was to use a play on the 'cause ribbon': pink for breast cancer, red for HIV/AIDS, yellow for troops. We went with "Orange with White Polka Dots for Challenging of Print Media and Deconstruction of Critical Elitism" - or something.

The festival T-shirts were blue this year; Orange seemed like a natural choice.

After a trip to the thrift store (charity shop), we had our personal signifier as well. In lieu of umbrellas and balloons, we went with more of a Team Zissou look: the now infamous Orange Hats:

Some times, when I'm out reviewing, I feel like I'm in a gang; I suppose we are a gang of sorts.

So, armed with orange hats and ribbons we arrived in Grahamstown on the morning of July 1.

Orange Hats, Phase I: Imagining a space for audience as critic

(yes, this 'phase I:' formatting strikes me as Guyedwabian/CultureFuturesque)

At this year's National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, with the help of New Joburg Underground members, I launched a project called the Analog Blog: it's aim, to provide an alternative to print media at the festival.

For those of you state side, the NAF has one major publication, The Cue, that supplies its patrons with fest news. This daily paper, created by journalism students at Rhodes University contains a series of feature articles, advertisements, and updates about the festival itself. What makes people shell out the R 4, however, are the reviews. Every show at the festival gets reviewed by The Cue and these 50 word blurbs often make or break a show.

Problems.

Enter the Analog Blog.

The idea for AB was originally conceived by myself and Megan Godsell a two weeks before the festival. In its earliest imaginings, AB was going to be a series of impromptu, soap-box style reviews given directly after exiting shows. Audiences would be compelled to directly engage with AB team members' critique, through giving their own feedback and criticism. In turn, the dialogue that was generated by each session would be taken to the Village Green (the central meeting place at the festival) and be disseminated there for the benefit of audiences who had not yet seen the shows.

At its vaguest and most basic stage, the infant Analog Blog was concerned with conversation: a dialogue between audiences and artists, as well as between audiences and critics.

I pitched the idea to Melanie Keartland (who has become a sort of mentor to me) at the Performing Arts Administration. She was the one who actually suggested the concept of an "analog blog" and the name stuck (for awhile). Then, Melanie, with her seemingly infinite stockpile of contacts, got me in touch with the NAF director, Ismail Mahomed. I was asked to provide a short statement for the festival which, at the time, looked like this:

The aim of the Analogue Blog is to provide a mobile forum for artists and audiences to talk about the work they see at festival. We believe facilitating this kind of dialogue is an important step in creating a more inclusive critical culture at the festival.

Our mobile team plans to operate though a series of impromptu live reviews and mini talk-backs that will occur site specifically directly near venues after shows, and regularly in the festival green. Through soap-box style presentation, we will strip the process of critical feedback down to the bare essentials, and allow greater interaction between critical viewpoints.

From there, it was a short series of e-mails to Gilly Hemphill of The Famous Idea Trading Co.: head of media and public relations for the NAF. She approved of our project's presence at the festival and I was to meet her as soon as I arrived in Grahamstown. Justlikethat.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Guest blogger, Megan Godsell: on international collaboration/conversation/communication

Okay, I'm going to cheat a little bit and reply to both posts, on the validity of international collaboration work and the structure that would make such work relevant, at the same time. The answers are intrinsically linked in my head.

We are supposedly now all citizens of a global community, where both international travel and international communication are getting cheaper and easier by the day. And yet... Xenophobia is waxing, not waning, cultural prejudices and cultural stereotypes are becoming more clearly defined, not less. To list just a few mythologies popular about individuals from the two cultures creating and responding in this particular dialogue.

South Africans think Americans are:
Loud
Stupid
Arrogant
Badly Educated
All rich
All think that Africa is a country not a continent
Pushy, wanting to take over
All over here for a self-gratifying African Experience

Americans think that (South ) Africans are:
Loud
Stupid
Badly Educated
All poor
Live in huts surrounded by lions
Backwards, in need of being guided into the world of progress
White South Africans are all rich and evil oppressors
Black South Africans are all poor and noble victims with wonderful dancing ability...
All want to travel to learn the ways of the civilised world.

Now, these are uneducated mass generalised views, often held by people who have not had close and constant contact with people from the opposite culture. But read through both these lists and ask yourself if you've honestly never fallen into the trap of one of these assumptions when in a cross-cultural conversation? I know that I have. As long as people are known to us only through a series of stereotypes, we will always judge first on assumptions rather than on the actual human being standing in front of us.

In his description of international festivals, Ben cites a Zoo mentality. I agree with this, but I'd push the metaphor even further. If international festivals are zoos, international travel is more of a safari. When we travel, we go to view the strange and wonderful creatures living in the bizarre natural habitats we have seen before on TV or in the movies. We peer out from the safety of our own ideas, into a world that's not quite real, and complain about the food or the hotel rooms.

If this is the case, how do we remove the screens, how do we break the glass, and get our cultures to engage with each other as realities rather than strange specimens on display?

It can only be done through engagement with and representation of the truths of both cultures, and the common laughing and crying points that, yes, do exist. Commonalities. And by engaging with and understanding the reasoning and meaning behind the differences.

As artists, we are the world's communicators. As artists, this responsibility falls to us. This is our job. International collaboration is not just necessary, it is imperative. If we don't start creating some cross cultural understanding, there can be no progress in combating the terrible creeping loneliness that is threatening humanity worldwide. There can be no progress on world health, world peace, or helping each other through the financial chaos over the next critical period. This may sound far fetched, but without cross cultural communication, real communication with understanding, we only get deeper into miscommunication based troubles.

So... not through the zoo-round of international festivals.

Through engagement... with the everyday round of theater-making over here and over there. Come and live in my house for three months, and help me tend my garden, see what grows. We will find a theater to stage our collective work in and you'll discover all the freedom of working in a system that doesn't really exist, all the frustration of working without funding, all the difficulty of creating theater across 11 (or 25) languages, and the joy of reaching audiences as diverse as they are delicious.You'll direct South African actors, and we will discuss the differences, strengths and weaknesses. We will teach each other and fill in the gaps that both our respective trainings have left. I will show you all my favourite and hardest and saddest things, and you will leave with Joburg in your blood....

And then you'll show me New York as I could never discover it for myself.

In this way, we will learn each other, and stage each other, and write to each other about what moments our audiences from here and there have laughed at the same time.

This is all the ideal. I believe that we can create a system like this, one that can work to promote artists knowledge of each others culture,history,language, background. For the moment, this is all just a beautiful idea. We will need planning, funding and structure. That 's in progress, but what can we do now?

Talk.

I'm currently working on a piece around the disintegration of the masculine identity. Is anyone else out there working on anything similar? What's the gender situation like where you are? Any reading suggestions?

International collaboration starts with conversation and then moves to writing. It might take a while for us to get the finance together to start physically engaging. But why not look at writing scripts together. I want to see what happens to Joburg/New York collaborated scripts when they are performed in both cities. So, lets start talking, and writing...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blogging in South Africa

In today's New Joburg Underground meeting the question of the effectiveness of blogs came up. The most interesting point of discussion came when an exasperated member broke in with "blogs - they're just not - or at least in South Afirca - they're just not the way".

It made me think of a personal debate I've had over getting a Twitter. It seems like it could be a really effective tool, but I keep having skeptical thoughts creep in. I'll admit, although I don't think this any more, upon first learning about Twitter, I questioned strongly how many people actually use it. I thought, it can't be many.

Comscore measured 32 million unique visitors in April.

Just because I'm not Tweeting, doesn't mean that there aren't a whole slew of people who are.

And when you're struggling to grow theatre communities, I don't know why any resource would be left untapped. Twitter, Facebook, Blogger - they all can be used to facilitate conversation - artists to artist, artist to audience, audience to audience. In fact, if your mission as a theatre company is to create new audiences, creating online communities takes relatively minimal effort: maybe an hour a day on Blogger, half an hour on Facebook, a sum total of 15 minutes on Twitter.

Just because a tool is underutilized by an organization does not mean that the tool does not have users. Look at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. They have a website, a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter. All are easy ways to connect with the festival. I noticed on my minifeed the other day that someone had one free tickets to a show by following Grahamstown's Twitter. An hour ago this was posted:

Springbock victory competition package ... 2 x Jimeoin (4 July), 2 x Parlotones (5 July), and 2 x Jesse Clegg tickets (6 July). One winner gets the whole bundle. Question: Name the South African comedian opening Jimeoin's show. (Hint - find the answer on the fest website) THIRD person to answer by commenting on this status wins the lot. GO!

Certainly those are audience benefits. Additionally, it creates stories around the event - stories that people want to share, and word of mouth is the most powerful tool an artist has at her disposal. Why not encourage it within online communities?

As a final thought I leave you with...

The 2009 South African Blog Awards
http://www.sablogawards.com/2009/

and

AMATOMU: The South African Blogosphere, sorted
"a list of [the top 100] South African Blogs, organised by unique readers"
http://www.amatomu.com/top100.php

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Questions about the international festival model

I was turned on to an interesting idea yesterday by Melanie Keartland.

We were discussing her experiences of international festivals. She made the comment that at such festivals, she always met a ton of people from all over the world, and very few people from the host country.

I was reminded of another conversation that I had with my friend Thabo about the 2010 World Cup. He was expressing his frustrations with Johannesburg's preparations and the complete overhaul of the city. Posters for 2010 tout Johannesburg as a world class host city. After speaking to Thabo, I get the sense that "world class city" has deeper implications than a city with the structural capacity to house the tournament. He tells me European beer is being imported. European brands are the sponsors. Johannesburg is being revamped in a generic European image for 2010 to satisfy the international expectations the World Cup experience. I would think part of the excitement of the World Cup or the Olympics would be its ever changing location.

Going back to Melanie's comment for a moment - "I always met a ton of people from all over the world, and very few people from the host country" - why does this occur?

I think it has to do with the fact that an international festival creates a holding tank for exhibition from all over the world. It is essentially a zoo.

In a zoo, you have the ability to sample - to see a variety of different specimens in a relatively short amount of time. In an international festival, you get to witness work from all over the world in a brief showcase.

However, in both the zoo, and the international festival, I believe the most we can do as spectators is tap on the glass. I cannot enter the exhibit and interact with the Tasmanian fruit bats; I can't experience their environment, or gain any sense of what it would be like to spend time with them in Australia. Likewise, I have little idea of what international artists' processes are like; I have no idea what it would be like to interact with those artists in an act of creation, and certainly have no concept what creating with them in their cultural environment would produce.

The international festival creates a microcosm that attempts to mirror the world - an international community that exists in a small corner of the larger world for a week or 10 days, and then evaporates until the next festival. Festival venues are created specially for the event; an environment is installed to house the festival. The environment of the hosting country is clouded by the international festival façade.

At the end of our chat, Melanie left me with this idea:

What if you set up an international circuit? What if artists were able to rotate through international sites yearly with relative ease. International activity would occur all year long. What if through your model, for instance, a prolific director could direct 4 shows in 4 different countries? Each one of these shows would be performed in real venues of that country it its actual artistic climate. Each production would be uniquely affected by the location in which was created and performed.

Most importantly, the fact that these productions happen in different countries, through international collaboration, would actually have value.

International site-specificity.


Location, location, location.

Why an international collaboration?

The question has been brought up: why an international collaboration?

Why do I desire to attempt to connect artists hailing from different countries instead of artists of different U.S. cities?

I could tackle this question by assuming the question, "What is the point of an international collaboration?" but I feel that this leads me into "A plus B yields C" territory. Although structure is important, it cannot be the be all and end all. Consider Frankenstein's monster: an operational framework seeking a purpose, condemned to aimless wandering.

Currently, AH FAFA LALA is a similar patchwork child, yet it is not an automaton. It is an organic structure, open to change and growth. This is why I do not believe we can ask what its point is for it leads internally to mechanics. Instead perhaps it's more important to interrogate, what is the vision of an international collaboration? or even what is the dream of an international collaboration?

What are my dreams for this international collaboration?
  • I want to travel overseas every year to create work.
  • I want to build a model that makes it easy for me do so.
  • I want the model that is created between America and South Africa to pave the way for other countries to get involved.
  • I want to engage with the country in which I work, and allow that to effect what I create.
  • I want to witness new styles of theatre making.
  • I want to challenge my ideas of what can be done on stage.
  • I want to engage in a process of creation that is different than my own.
  • I want to gain practical knowledge of techniques I am unaware of in performance, directing, and design.
  • I want to create an international audience for my work.
  • I want to unchain myself from absolute dependence on vertical support (agents, casting agents, my training institutions, ...)
  • I want to do something extraordinary so that I can live off of making theatre.
My dream for AH FAFA LALA lies in challenging artists notions of what theatre making is through exposing international diversity. Out of this desire, I plan to facilitate the creation of a model that allows artists to travel easily and . Additionally, I believe that if we, as artists, expose ourselves to this diversity, then by proxy, our audiences will benefit in turn. We do not create art in a bubble; what we do effects our communities whether we want it to or not.

Challenging artists notions of what theatre making is through exposing international diversity.

Facilitating fluidity of artistic exchange between different countries and cultures.

Are these ideas we can get behind?

No questions on this blog are rhetorical.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New York City: 20 things you can do right now to get involved

  1. Read this blog.
  2. Send us feedback: comment, post, e-mail.
  3. Join the AH FAFA LALA fan page on Facebook to keep updated about the project progress.
  4. Suggest the fan page to your friends.
  5. Talk about the project to people outside of NYU.
  6. Send your skills inventory and your affiliations to ahfafalala@gmail.com.
  7. Request to join the AH FAFA LALA group page on Facebook to connect with the team.
  8. Tell us what arts/cultural groups in the city will be interested in supporting us; we'll write a pitch.
  9. Tell us what businesses in the city will be interested in supporting us; we'll write a pitch.
  10. Write a pitch.
  11. Brainstorm what corporate slogans sound like our project.
  12. Research grants and funding that support cultural/international exchange.
  13. Research grants and funding that support cultural/international exchange between the U.S. and Africa.
  14. Mention us in a staff meeting.
  15. Tell us what audiences are not being reached by the artisic community.
  16. Research New York City venues: both rehearsal and performance spaces.
  17. Post photos of possible New York City venues to the fan page or group page.
  18. Become Guy #3.
  19. Alert your theatre company; partner with us; showcase your work along side us in 2010.
  20. Tell your Mama!
Bonus: Add to this list.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Project update: the question of visas

It was brought to my attention over the weekend that, although it might be relatively easy to organize working visas for the Americans involved in this project in South Africa, it will be infinitely more challenging to work out visas for the South Africans coming state-side.

Based on the basic frame work being tossed around about this collaboration, does anyone have any thoughts about which visa seems most appropriate? I believe that the potential for outreach and community work that exists within the project may provide a case for Q-1 visa. I think these would be our best shot - at least for the first year of the project. (Yes, first year - we want to get this on the calendar every year.)

Here are brief outlines of the different performance visas and the aforementioned Q-1 visa:
  • P-1 classification applies to individual or team athletes, or members of an entertainment group that are internationally recognized (25,000);
  • P-2 classification applies to artists or entertainers who will perform under a reciprocal exchange program;
  • P-3 classification applies to artists or entertainers who perform under a program that is culturally unique (same as P-1); and
  • Q-1 classification applies to participants in an international cultural exchange program for the purpose of providing practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the alien's home country.
Thoughts?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

News from the front

Here's what's been going on with the 2010 International Collaboration this week.

Met with a representative from New Joburg Underground to discuss their involvement on the South African side of the project. Highlights from that meeting:

Possible structures for the first half of the project:
1. 5 Americans fly to Johannesburg the last week in May and rehearse a text-based, original work with 5 South Africans. Rehearsal for 4 weeks In July, the piece is previewed at The Grahamstown National Arts Festival. The piece goes into rehearsal again, incorporating feedback from the preview. No more than 4 weeks later, the piece has a run in conjunction with work from the New Joburg Underground.

2. Five Americans fly to Johannesburg the last week in June and travel to the Grahamstown National Arts Festival with the five South Africans. This affords the traveling party time to acclimate and get settled in with the other half of the team, while being exposed to a range of South African theatre. Then, the 10 return from Grahamstown and begin a 6 week rehearsal. The piece then has a run in conjunction with work from the New Joburg Underground.

The idea of "script exchange" came up in regards to the development of the text. Possibly, two texts could be passed back and forth in the time leading up to the Joburg side of the project. There's no reason a team of ten couldn't rehearse two hour long pieces in 6-8 weeks. Actors would be shared, and not everyone from the 10 will be working in an acting capacity - we need directors and admin. as well.

"Theme" for the work was discussed. It's not a word I like, but an interesting style or framework was tossed around - the idea of having the works be influenced by the idea of exhibition/freakshow/sideshow/circus. Certainly interesting, and provides for a lot of play, and could be quite dynamic.

Out of that discussion we proposed the idea of a reading list. Often, pitches for new work include a statement along the lines of "it's like if Mamet wrote a Beckett play with an anime influence". We're proposing that soon, a reading list becomes available so that we can say, it might be like this bit from Kafka's A Hunger Artist and this bit from Miguel Piñero's Sideshow with a dash of Copi's Loretta Strong and a pinch of James O. Incandenza's fictional film Cage III - Free Show outlined in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. You get the idea.

Major areas of expense were outlined: airfare, accommodation, venues, and marketing.

We discussed the idea of the host system for the South African side; it would be easy to do; people have homes here, not apartments. This cuts a huge cost on one end. I think we could do it in New York City, too - it just would be tight.

We are trying to solve airfare right now by developing proposals for both the American and South African consulates, and for South African Air. SAA is going though a bit of an image crisis with a drug trafficking scandal so we think we can spin a "buy-in" with them in terms of an image boost. Maybe. Worth a shot. (Sidenote: the good thing about writing all of these many pitches and proposals is that we force ourselves to become more clear about what exactly we're doing and what we want from people, as well as what we can offer.)

Continuing to research venues. They aren't going to be as big of an issue in Johannesburg, as they will be in New York. On that note, we're thinking more and more than the major hub of the New York side will be housed in Brooklyn. We are looking to partner with groups that would also contribute works to a collective festival in NYC. Organs of State and The People's Theatre Lab have shown interest already.

Pitches for the studios are currently being formulated. We're primarily looking for support in terms of sponsoring venues and rehearsal spaces.

Meeting today about developing additional proposals for other theatre companies state-side.

Things are happening.

Electronic updates

E-mail, Blogspot, Facebook, Twitter, Basecamp - use them to keep people abreast of what's happening! It's easy to do online and consistently updating your team and fans about your project's goings on is valuable for several reasons.

First, it speaks back to what I have previously identified as transparency. Allowing the entire group to see the inner workings of the organization is important. Of course, in order to get things done efficiently subcommittees and task forces (or smaller groups, if that sounds too corporate) will have to be formed. Although the smaller group takes quick, decisive action, they can easily make their work available to the group for discussion. A dialog about current work may raise important issues or lead to discoveries of resources within the group and its contacts. All of this serves to take away the "managerial, behind-closed-doors feel" that many organizations have and encourages a horizontal structure, versus an overtly hierarchical framework.

Secondly, it's a quick way to show activity and progress. Fans and members alike enjoy witnessing the project moving forward. Everything we do is a narrative, and the story of the project from start to finish should be exciting to keep track of.

Eventually, tracking progress becomes important for funders. If your organization has been documenting and archiving progress from the start, its easier to assemble proposals that clearly outline what has been accomplished already, and what needs to be achieved in the future. Companies, especially big corporates, like to see activity. They want to see proof. Even photos of rehearsal are valuable for them. They look, and say, ah! they're actually doing something.

Ultimately, keeping members and fans updated with news encourages and builds momentum with your movement.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

South Africa

It's the next hot spot for the arts.

Tools: Facebook

First year of NYU I was an avid facebooker - on all the time. My big thing was creating groups. You may recall "I'll Never Have as Many Headshots as Stephanie Kronenberg," "If Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Then I'm not a Gentleman," or "Alithea Phillips: The Bad Girl of Voice and Speech."

As you can see, I had a very productive year.

It was with great hesitation that I rejoined the Facebook community two weeks ago after a nearly two year hiatus. I feared obsession. Addiction. Most of all, I feared that it would be a complete waste of time.

Isn't that why most people, or most students - which is most people to me - go on Facebook? Has it not been framed in our consciousness as the ultimate procrastination tool?

Maybe we can use its power for good.

Instead of creating a group for people who are "Not On Fire," why not use group pages for organizing and team building for your movement, your company, your show. Use group pages for connecting people! And let's be clear; the difference in label between a group page and a fan page is bigger than semantics. Group pages often become fan pages: a collection of minimally committed and marginally aware friends, friends of friends, people who just think your revolution's moniker is cute enough to grace their profile.

Group pages can be a place of communication, too. However, because we conceive of Facebook as a time waster, a place to diddle the keys and mouse aimlessly, it remains an underutilized tool. Sure, we spam our friends about our shows, and get 423,981,273 people to link to our group and call it marketing. We're creating a buzz of sorts, but maybe it's closer to white noise: static, a drone. But how often to set up forums to facilitate discussion about projects that advance beyond, posting "Me, too!" like some brain-dead AOLer - it's just about as useless as JPEGs to Hellen Keller. Groups can get a dialogue going, become an archive of information for the company, and ultimately expand your movement.

Fan pages are for fans; the real supporters of your movement need a clutter free space to engage with each other.

Facebook is a tool we need to use more effectively.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thoughts about transparency

I have just received a deluge of e-mails from the New Joburg Underground. Preparations are being made for a test run of four new shows that will be taken to the Grahamstown National Arts Festival are in full swing, and the new work will be previewed later this month at the Alexander Theater in Joburg. Excitement abounds.

However, I got to thinking, who's actually organizing all of this? As a new member, I have a vague impression of the players involved, but I feel disconnected from this flurry of activity. Exciting as it may be, it also creates an in-group/out-group dynamic within the collective. I look at the group and see a small minority who's doing the work of the New Joburg Underground, and then a majority who's left milling on the fringes.

Now, in NJU's defense, a formal organization is in the process of being created and lack of a structure should not impede the momentum of current projects. However, something needs to emerge soon. Maybe not an elected board, or specialized teams, but perhaps something much simplier and ultimately more unifying.

Some ideas.

1. During the first meeting of the NJU, a list was made of contact information for the attendees. Where is this information? I know it has been saved and compiled, because I have received messages from NJU since our first meeting. My question: why is this information not public to the group? Publish the roster! Send it out in an e-mail, and post it to Facebook!

2. The group in attendance at the last meeting was asked to submit biographies and skills to newjoburgunderground@gmail.com. I think that each one of those biographies should be posted in a "conversation" on Facebook so they can be easily browsed through. This information must be publicly inventoried so we can actually begin to utilize the collective.

This is an issue of transparency. Why do only a few in the NJU have access to this information? The information is useful already, yes. We receive updates and important reminders. But it would even more powerful information if the entire group had access to it.