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Saturday, August 15, 2009

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.


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.

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