Tom Pursey is the co-founder and creative director of Flying Object, a creative studio that works with arts organisations, charities and brands on engaging audiences and customers online, through video content and social media, and through technology-enabled installations.
Theatres do more than put great stories on stage. They are community hubs, research and development labs, places to hang out, creative catalysts, educational tools. At Flying Object, we work with theatres and other arts organisations to help deliver these various aspects of their missions, and understand online behaviour so as to better connect with audiences.
Across our projects we’ve explored new routes in storytelling, enabled by technology, connecting to audiences outside the auditorium. We wanted to share some of our favourite projects, in the hope that this inspires further experimentation.
1. Teaching storytelling at scale through digital interactive
Our "Mix" sites, created for British Council, encourage culture lovers around the world to easily create music (Mix the City), theatre (Mix the Play) and contemporary dance (Mix the Body).
For Mix the Play, part of British Council's Shakespeare Lives season, we worked with the Old Vic to understand the process of Bayliss director Joe Murphy and recreate it in a way that allows anyone with a smartphone and internet connection to "direct" their own scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream - interpreting the text, casting and directing actors, setting the scene and choosing music. Audience members can then watch and share that very scene with their friends on social media.
Thousands of people have created their own scene, compete with customised theatre poster, and the project repeated with top Indian director Roysten Abel for Romeo and Juliet.
By taking a digital interactive approach, we’re able to put control into the hands of the audience, and open up the theatre making process that few have the opportunity to see.
2. Finding a new angle on a story with an unusual experience
Back to the Old Vic, we were invited to create a physical installation as part of Deirdre Kinahan’s Rise, their Community company's 2016 show about unexpected encounters in London. Workshopping with the Company, a unique and passionate group of individuals with their own stories to tell, we realised that - to bring to life the theme of the show - we simply needed to make these stories available. And the best way to do this was to hear directly from the company themselves.
The end result was London Calling: a series of phone booths, built around the company's temporary stage, which would ring on the night. An audience member answering would get a short voicemail recorded by a Company member - perhaps an apology, or a shared joke, or even a confession - as if mis-directed. The odd, striking experience felt like eavesdropping on a fragment of a relationship or conversation.
If you weren’t able to attend in person, you could sign up to receive links to messages via text.
3. Doing more with corporate partnerships
The RSC'S partnership with Intel and the Imaginarium to deliver a unique, motion-capture-enabled Tempest led to an extraordinary stage show. But how to amplify this partnership in the theatre more broadly, and talk about Intel's consumer tech at the same time?
Our response was Conduct the Storm. We used an Intel RealSense camera - which detected hand movements - and put it at the centre of an installation which turned audience members into Prospero, creating the storm that starts the play. Large screens hung across the RSC’s tall lobby area projected the storm into the space. The installation drew out the theme of the play and gave a taster of what was to come inside the auditorium, while featuring a product that the partner was keen to produce.