March 4, 2013

Thursday 2nd May, 2013

Usefulness & Delight

So I rock up to the BBC feeling like a total don.
I’ve tweeted the hell out of this one.
“Just heading over to the BBC for a podcast workshop #standard”
I am so excited, never mind the fact that I’m going to a useful, informative and FREE workshop in making podcasts with a bunch of arts professionals. I’m at the BBC and that means one thing: celeb spotting. If I don’t get to snog Miranda Hart, play chess with John Humphreys and possibly spit on Jeremy Clarkson I will be sorely disappointed.

“Hi is this the podcast workshop?”
“No this is Crimewatch.”

A bit of a false start but I found the right building and bunch of people, a great mix of artists and representatives from larger arts organisations; writers, theatre and visual arts were all in the room and most of us were fairly new to the subject. The workshop stemmed from Arts Council England and the BBC Academy’s partnership building digital capacity for the arts.

It’s at this point I should say that for a while I didn’t think I should blog about the workshop. On the surface it may be difficult to find a connection between my learning commission and a day on making podcasts. Consequently I held off for a while but there were a couple of nuggets I thought were pretty neat and I want to share them with you regardless of their connection (or lack thereof) to the theories of pro-social behaviour, participation, community or learning.

Here are some things I either learnt or for the first time had a proper think about.

The idea comes first, technology second. It sounds pretty basic but time and time again whether it be arts, science, academia anything really. We get excited by a platform or the carriage we’ll be presenting with and so can forget about the initial intention. It’s even possible to not have an idea at all in the first place. Of course I’m thinking podcasting as an example but we can apply it to anything. Have you ever been to the theatre and thought “It’s good but it would make a better radio play” or read a blog and thought “Sure, I get the idea but I want to see it in action can you put something on YouTube?” We constantly hear that we live in an age where for the first time we are bombarded with content, more ebooks, blogs, vlogs, tweets, pictures of cats, live webcasts, podcasts than anyone could possibly stomach let alone digest in a life time. This is not a bad thing, it can be an overwhelming or even daunting thing but its ace. What’s more, we now have a plethora of platforms in which to engage with content. Take an idea or story and it can be presented to an audience through a multitude of different routes. Of course certain things (currently) translate better on certain platforms than others. The Royal Ballet is going to struggle using podcasts because well frankly, if I go online to check out what’s going on with the super-buff-dance-people I’m going to want to see lots of men, big ones, with their tops off, jumping up and down and so I head to Youtube. But the lines are blurring, podcasts are a great way not just to present final products but also to talk about process, take the National Theatre’s podcast where we can hear interviews with playwrights and performers talking about their work.

We had the opportunity to watch the BBC’s College of Production podcast being recorded and the topic that day couldn’t have been more perfect; digital storytelling. I urge you to give it a listen it’s really interesting stuff. Throughout the day then as we asked questions about audience, editing, software and RSS feeds what we kept going back to time and time again was how we can use podcasts to present the kinds of ideas and stories we are working with as artists, producers or larger arts organisations. Content; we kept going back to content. How are we going to make our content work on this platform? Interestingly someone asked the question “Can a podcast be considered an art form in itself?” and we were told no, it’s simply a means for distribution….

Now I don’t know about you but the minute someone tells me something is not or cannot be art, I tell them to jog on… mostly in my head because that would be really rude but you get the idea.

But I don’t have a clear answer on this one, I just get annoyed when someone puts limitations on a thing, I don’t think it’s healthy. Yes, right now podcasting may well be just a platform, but herein lies the challenge for artists to take this gaggle of code by the scruff of the neck, shake it around, do a little dance and produce something interesting with it. At the least we can think of it as a form and apply a dramaturgy to it. Performer, director and disco ball Scottee has a weekly podcast After The Tone. It’s a simple premise, people call his mobile and leave messages for him beginning with “Hi Scottee” In the podcast he responds to each lunatic in his own unique, irreverent and at times almost touching way. The exciting thing about this is the participatory nature of it, call and response. The artist delivers a structure but the content is coming from his audience of fruit loops. Most of us won’t get up to London to watch Scottee smashing plates at the Vauxhall Tavern but we can enjoy his work through subscribing to his podcast, reading his blog and following him on Twitter (yeah I’m a bit of a fan-girl). That’s another great thing about podcasts and one of its most significant differences to radio; choice. We directly choose to subscribe to podcasts whether it be a couple of Americans talking about stuff you should know,  storytelling slams, or something altogether different we are taking back a certain amount of control when it comes to our content consumption.

Can you tell I’m struggling with this a bit? But it’s ok, I’m learning, I don’t have to bring you a set of answers, just a bunch of ideas I’m currently chewing. I have this feeling that the gaming world probably have some really interesting approaches to podcasting… does anyone have any suggestions? During the workshop something really helpful was put forward;

usefulness and delight

Your blog, YouTube video or website should either be useful to an audience, delightful or ideally both. Again it’s not deep but I think this is really helpful to keep in mind as we go about developing all that lovely content and shoving it on the internet…

During my time at the BBC Academy my views on the possibilities of how to reach people, get them to engage and hopefully participate have changed… I didn’t spot any celebs but the Crimewatch thing really did happen so job done, it was a good day.

Monday 4th March, 2013

Quite honestly, sat in that bright conference room in the Innovation Centre at the beginning of this project I felt like I had blagged my way into one of those private members clubs. Except this wasn’t a stuffy old man affair; this club was different; people were really nice and there was homemade cake and everyone was smiling but not in a creepy way. I still felt like I was going to be found out at any minute – someone would come up to try and do a secret handshake or ask me a question involving the words ‘arts’, ‘public’ and maybe even ‘policy’ and I wouldn’t know the password.

But all of this was in my head.

I was at first intimidated by a group of artists and partners I had a) heard of and respected and b) were totally un-affected whilst managing to have conversations about the theory behind altruism, ‘bigger-than-self-thinking’ and their practice. What did I have to offer? Blogs about donkeys and a Twitter habit to rival The Beliebers*? But I got over this and frankly I am really chuffed about this commission.

I’m Phoebe and I am Learning. No, literally Learning – this is my brief as part of People United’s Artist Commissions. Five artists each with a mediator stemming from the brilliant Arts and Kindness paper; Belonging, Kindness, Empathy, Values and Learning.

The Learning commission was aimed at an early career artist just starting out in this field. My background is varied; I make theatre mainly as a solo performer but sometimes with others. I write and do a bit of producing. Coming from Kent, I left at 18 because that’s what you do but I found on coming back to Canterbury that this region’s arts community has been really good to me so I’ve made the decision to stay.

I have been working on a project for a while called To Make You Happy where participants give me challenges or tasks to make them happy and I have a good go. It involves a lot of micro performance or one to one encounters. I blog and record audio and do a lot of research which inspired my Masters thesis Towards a Performance of Kindness. Here I looked at organisations and individuals who don’t consider themselves artists but were using theatrical tools and structures to action kindness in public sites.

Still with me? I even got a bit cognitive and looked at what might go through someone’s brain when they come across a piece of art which is essentially attempting to get them to engage with an act of pro-social behaviour. There is a lot more work to do on this but it was a really useful starting point and the commission couldn’t have come at a better time. Now I get to spend time learning from a group of artists who are directly exploring some of the questions I currently have about audience, place, encounter and really importantly exchange – I think that might be key.

So I will be learning about how they work as artists and how they are dealing with the questions posed by this commission. I will be researching and talking to people from different fields – academic, arts, social change, vegetable, mineral etc. And as I go along I will keep presenting my findings; sometimes practical early career artist related stuff, and also some thoughts about this mediator and how it fits into the wider realms of the commission and with the other mediators. I’ll connect this learning with my own practice of performance and writing and something will be made at the end of this project.

I’m working on a key research question as we speak, something which will draw focus and enable some slightly more strategic thinking about how I’m going to do this thing. I am also aware of how lucky I am to be part of this community of people working with a bunch of ideas that had already really excited me. This is something I think is important and not in a tea-bag-first-milk-last sort of way, but in a – we could do good work, we could help change things – sort of way.

This is where I’m at, and this was my first blog. Keep in touch.

*The Beliebers: The millions of young and old who follow the cult of Justin Beiber; approach with caution.

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