Philip Glass’ The Trial: sharing the life of an opera in social media

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The Trial by Philip Glass / Music Theatre Wales

In recent months we have been working with Music Theatre Wales, the contemporary opera company, for the first time. Our aim has been to help develop the innovative use of digital media by the company: developing audiences, sharing company practice and complementing its existing creative work. In particular we have focused on their currently touring production The Trial, renowned composer Philip Glass’ new adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel.

No two organisations are alike and in the field of social media, no two strategies are alike either. Although we have clear processes for ideation and development of viable initiatives there is no template plan as such. This is particularly true in the performing arts. In working with people we are looking to bring the best of our experience at NativeHQ while being open to learning and collaboration with them as specialists in their own field.

Music Theatre Wales was founded in Cardiff in 1988 from the merger of two companies with roots going back to 1982. They focus on contemporary opera rather than the canon of classic works. I had several eye-opening moments working with the team. Maybe I should say ear-opening moments. One thing I have learned is just how central music is to the experience of opera. Being an art fan with more curiosity than knowledge about opera – and a relative outsider – was an advantage in some ways.

Our work with the company and the production has included designing and running strategy development sessions, co-running the resulting initiatives, bespoke training and coaching. It will culminate in an evaluation of all these activities. It has been very encouraging to see how the company’s use of social media has progressed since we began. This has been a fruitful collaboration between people who specialise in fields which seldom converge. In other words I believe that the opera world’s mastery of social media is at a very early yet promising stage.

There were many ways to approach The Trial and we explored a greater number of exciting ideas than resources could possibly support. A key part of the work has been to commission a social media producer, Helen Griffiths, to investigate the life of the production and capture conversations among the director, composer, writer, performers, crew, office team and audience. These conversations deal with the creative development of the production, the themes raised by the narrative, the music and the roles of cast and crew members.

To watch the videos which Helen has produced, this YouTube playlist is a good starting point.

You can watch, listen and interact with other content produced by Helen via the Storify grid underneath this post. More content across various platforms will be appearing in the next few days.

This work has reminded me of how it’s important to be clear whether an online activity is promotional or conversational (or maybe something else). In our development sessions with Helen and the Music Theatre Wales team we have been careful to distinguish the two categories of purpose. We did spend time helping with a Facebook advertising campaign so that Music Theatre Wales’ page can reach more fans, targetting according to relevant geography and topics.

The bulk of the interesting work has been in the conversational category, in which the guiding principles have been to share the ‘heart and soul’ of the company and stimulate genuine multi-way conversation. We really hope you enjoy engaging with the results!

The Trial gan Philip Glass: rhannu bywyd opera ar gyfryngau cymdeithasol

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The Trial gan Philip Glass / Music Theatre Wales

Yn y misoedd diwethaf rydym wedi bod yn gweithio gyda Music Theatre Wales, y cwmni opera cyfoes, am y tro cyntaf. Ein nod ni oedd helpu datblygu defnydd arloesol o gyfryngau digidol gan y cwmni: datblygu cynulleidfaoedd, rhannu arferion y cwmni a chyfrannu at waith creadigol y cwmni. Rydym yn canolbwyntio ar gynhyrchiad cyfredol The Trial yn enwedig, addasiad newydd sydd ar daith gan y cyfansoddwr amlwg Philip Glass o’r nofel Franz Kafka.

Mae pob dau sefydliad yn wahanol ac ym maes cyfryngau cymdeithasol, mae pob dau strategaeth yn wahanol hefyd. Er bod gyda ni prosesau clir am daflu syniadau a datblygu mentrau dilys, does dim cynllun templed fel y cyfryw. Mae hynny yn wir yn y celfyddydau perfformio yn arbennig. Trwy weithio gyda phobl rydym eisiau dod â’r gorau o’n profiad yn NativeHQ tra bod yn agored i ddysgu a chyd-weithredu gyda nhw fel arbenigwyr yn eu maes nhw.

Sefydlwyd Music Theatre Wales yng Nghaerdydd yn 1988 o gydsoddiad dau gwmni gyda gwreiddiau ers 1982. Maent yn canolbwyntio ar opera cyfoes yn hytrach na’r canon o weithiau clasur. Ces i sawl moment agoriad llygaid wrth weithio gyda’r tîm. Efallai dylwn i ddweud moment agoriad clust. Un peth sydd wedi dod i’r amlwg yw’r pwysigrwydd cerddoriaeth i brofiad opera. Roedd bod yn ffan celf gyda mwy o chwilfrydedd na gwybodaeth am opera – ar y tu allan i ryw raddau – yn fantais mewn ffordd.

Mae ein gwaith gyda’r cwmni a’r cynhyrchiad wedi cynnwys dylunio a rhedeg sesiynau datblygu strategaeth, cyd-redeg y mentrau canlynol a hyfforddiant pwrpasol. Bydd y cyfan yn bennu gyda gwerthusiad o’r gweithgareddau hyn. Mae hi wedi bod yn galonogol iawn i weld sut mae defnydd y cwmni o gyfryngau cymdeithasol wedi cynyddu ers i ni ddechrau. Mae hi wedi bod yn gyd-weithrediad rhwng pobl mewn meysydd sydd ddim yn dod at eu gilydd yn aml ac wedi dwyn ffrwyth. Yn y byd opera ar hyn o bryd mae hi’n gyfnod addawol gyda llawer o botensial i feistroli’r cyfryngau cymdeithasol.

O ran The Trial roedd sawl ffordd i fynd ati ac edrychon ni at nifer fawr o syniadau cyffroes, mwy nag sy’n bosib i’w gynnal ar yr adnoddiau ar gael. Rhan allweddol o’r gwaith oedd comisiynu cynhyrchydd cyfryngau cymdeithasol, Helen Griffiths, i ymchwilio bywyd y cynhyrchiad a chipio sgyrsiau ymhlith y cyfarwyddwr, cyfansoddwr, ysgrifennwr, perfformwyr, criw, tîm swyddfa a chynulleidfa. Roedd y sgyrsiau hyn yn delio gyda datblygiad creadigol y cynhyrchiad, y themau a godwyd gan y adroddiant, y gerddoriaeth a rhannu’r cast ac aelodau’r criw.

Er mwyn gwylio’r fideos a gynhyrchwyd gan Helen, mae’r rhestr YouTube yn fan cychwyn da.

Gallech wylio, gwrando a rhyngweithio gyda’r cynnwys eraill a gynhyrchwyd gan Helen trwy’r grid Storify o dan y cofnod hwn. Bydd mwy o gynnwys ar draws platfformau amrywiol yn ymddangos yn ystod y dyddiau nesaf.

Mae’r gwaith hwn wedi fy atgoffa bod hi’n bwysig i fod yn glir os yw gweithgaredd ar-lein yn hyrwyddo neu sgyrsiol (neu rywbeth arall efallai). Yn ein sesiynau datblygu gyda Helen a thîm Music Theatre Wales rydym wedi bod yn ofalus i wahaniaethu rhwng y ddau gategori o bwrpas. Treulion ni amser i helpu gydag ymgyrch hysbysebu ar Facebook er mwyn i dudalen Music Theatre Wales gyrraedd mwy o ffans trwy dargedu ar sail daearyddiaeth a diddordebau.

Ond mae’r rhan fwyaf o waith diddorol wedi bod yn y categori sgyrsiol ac rydym wedi dilyn egwyddorion o rannu ‘calon ac enaid’ y cwmni ac ysgogi sgyrsiau aml-ffordd go iawn. Rydym yn gobeithio eich bod yn mwynhau rhyngweithio gyda’r canlyniadau!

Social Media Insights: Arts programme gets underway

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NativeHQ recently started a project working in partnership with Arts Council Wales called Social Media Insights: Arts. It’s similar to the Social Media Insights service that we offer commercially, and is based on meeting with clients for monthly sessions to address digital strategy, tactics, training, tools and analytics.

We think this is one of the most effective ways to improve client’s effectiveness on social media platforms for clients who want to retain control of their internet presence, and avoid outsourcing it to an external agency.

We put out a call for Welsh arts organisations to apply for the five places on the scheme, and were very pleased to receive a total of 46 applications, which has obviously made it very difficult for us to narrow down to five, but demonstrates the a very strong demand exists within the Arts scene in Wales for more support in this area.

We were very interested in getting a diverse portfolio of organisations to work with, in terms of the artforms they work in, their geographical location in Wales, their organisational size and the languages that they work in.

We have made our decisions and have informed all the applicants of the results. The final list of the organisations we will be working with over the next eight months is as follows:

  • Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno
  • Hijinx Theatre, Cardiff
  • Urdd Gobaith Cymru, National
  • Powys Dance, Llandrindod Wells
  • Response Wales, Vale of Glamorgan

This is a pilot project, and will involve a research element which will explore some of the common challenges and needs of the sector in creating effective work in social media, which we will make available to Arts Council Wales. We are currently getting underway, booking our initial sessions with the organisations and conducting benchmarking surveys to assess their perception of the issues they face at this point in time.

As we deliver this programme, we’ll post occasional updates on our blog to keep you informed, and we’ll explore the issues that the arts sector is presenting us as we help them get to grips with this transformed media landscape.

Outsourcing social media: the debate

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ama2We were asked recently to write down our thoughts on why Arts organisations should not outsource their voice on Social Media platforms recently, for the Arts Marketing Association blog. The piece has just been published alongside an argument in favour of outsourcing by Sarah Morris from Sequence, another digital agency also from Cardiff.

You can view the debate here on the AMA blog – what do you think? Get involved in the discussion over there!

WWF Cymru: working on Earth Hour 2013 / Gwaith ar Awr Ddaear 2013

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Just poking my head out from the nerve centre to say that we’ve been working with WWF Cymru on the Earth Hour 2013 event and campaign. On 23rd March at 8:30PM many thousands of people, organisations and businesses will be switching off their lights for one hour. For those taking part it’s a statement of support for renewable energy and a chance to think about it with friends. I like to think of Earth Hour as an international festival, as people will be variously organising processions, poetry evenings, singsongs, candle-lit dinners, art projects and a whole lot more.

Saying that our role on the evening itself will be trying to document, blog, post and capture as much as we can of various things other people are doing. More generally, NativeHQ’s work on the event and campaign has included social media strategy, network building, online publicity, social media advertising and production of videos and other content.

Please sign up for Earth Hour so that your own participation and support is logged in the stats, whether as an individual or on behalf of a household, company or organisation. It will take around two minutes to sign up.

Follow:

Test your knowledge of renewable energy with this quiz (made by Carbon Studio).

Dw i newydd ffeindio gwagle prin yn y dyddiadur i ddweud ein bod ni’n helpu WWF Cymru gyda’r digwyddiad ac ymgyrch Awr Ddaear 2013. Ar 23ain o Fawrth 8:30YH bydd miloedd o bobl, sefydliadau a busnesau yn diffodd eu goleuadau am un awr. Mae’r gweithred yn datganiad o gefnogaeth am ynni adnewyddol a chyfle i’w ystyried gyda ffrindiau. Mewn ffordd mae Awr Ddaear yn wyl rhyngwladol – bydd pobl yn trefnu gorymdeithau, noson barddoniaeth, noson canu, cinio a chanwyll, prosiectau celf a mwy.

Ar y noson bydd angen i ni dogfennu, blogio, postio a recordio gymaint sy’n bosib o weithgareddau pobl eraill. Yn cyffredinol mae gwaith NativeHQ ar y digwyddiad ac ymgyrch yn cynnwys strategaeth cyfryngau cymdeithasol, adeiladu rhwydwaith, cyhoeddusrwydd ar-lein, hysbysebion cyfryngau cymdeithasol a chynhyrchiad fideos a chynnwys arall.

Cofrestrwch am Awr Ddaear er mwyn dangos eich cefnogaeth a chyfranogiad, fel unigolyn neu ar ran cartref, cwmni neu sefydliad. Mae’r broses cofrestru yn cymryd tua dau funud.

Dilynwch:

Profwch eich gwybodaeth o ynni adnewyddol gyda’r cwis yma (gwnaethpwyd gan Carbon Studio).

Scratchr: towards an ‘open source’ for live performance

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For a few months we have been designing, developing and growing an online platform and community called Scratchr in close collaboration with the team at Battersea Arts Centre, London.

Do watch the above video as it explains more about the scratch process the BAC team have been refining for several years, in which an artist has the valuable opportunity to try out work with an audience of participants who then help shape it. As a means of making art, the scratch process is more like a conversation than a one-way broadcast. If you know NativeHQ then you’ll have guessed that this mentality of conversation-not-broadcast and process-as-product twigged our interest straightaway! The brief which led to the nascent Scratchr software platform and community started out as a question: how do we take the offline scratch process into online? In other words how can we reimagine and support the outworking of the scratch process using digital technology?

It’s still very early in the life of Scratchr. Like the artistic process, it’s a co-creation with the community of people that is forming there. I like the idea of giving people a broad description ‘it’s a platform for artistic collaboration and idea development’ and letting them work it out in wonderful ways. We do need some guidelines on what features are intended for what purpose. But we don’t want to prescribe exactly how it’s used. One never prescribes to an artist.

Check out the Scratch Blog for a couple of recent highlights. See also: the Digital R&D Fund blog post about Scratchr.

A friend recently asked us if we could have done something similar with Facebook or a pre-existing platform. I would say ‘no’. It would have been very difficult to change people’s perceptions of such a general-purpose platform and also bend the software to our will. That’s why we took the decision to build using WordPress multi-site and BuddyPress. We are not tied as a company to this software other than the fact we like it and know it to be flexible. Still, it has taken a lot of coaxing to have it perform exactly as we want it and it would be rash to say that’s it’s all there even now (the beta test group is testament to this). The decision to take this more difficult route wasn’t about picking up more development work – if we could have picked a platform which allowed us to begin even more rapidly then we would have! But we felt that the requirements of Scratchr were unique. (Thanks go to Marc Heatley for invaluable work with us on this.)

WordPress and BuddyPress are released under the GPL which is a free software licence – in other words, the software gives us freedom to copy it, modify it and use it for any purpose, independently of the software developers. The principles and licence underlying the software itself are also happily in keeping with our aim of being unrestrictive to BAC as a client and to embrace the results of good collaboration around the globe. I mean, it would seem odd to pick proprietary restrictive software for a project that celebrates collaboration, freedom and openness.

If you’ll permit I’m going to offer some half-developed thoughts that have resulted from this project – and grown from previous work we’ve done with theatre and live performance.

Many people would agree that another valid term for free software is ‘open source’. Now, there is something in the way the artists are using Scratchr which could be described as ‘open source theatre’ or ‘open source art’. In other words, they are sharing the process, they are inviting collaboration, they are not as ‘closed’ as theatre and live performance can sometimes be. Maybe some of them wouldn’t mind if you borrowed their ideas and adapted them (but that’s a tentative observation rather than a piece of advice). But I’m still trying to resolve what it means to use the term ‘open source’ in this context.

As I’ve alluded above, the discussion as relates to software is very well advanced. For example there are four specific freedoms associated with the GPL and such licences have allowed for a galaxy of innovation from GNU/Linux to Firefox to Raspberry Pi to cloud computing. In the world of content such as text, video and images there is a parallel in Creative Commons and GFDL licences which enable reuse with conditions – leading to amazing projects like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap.

But software and content are very different from live performance and its various offspring. In the world of theatre and live performance the conventions and rules of play for ‘open source’ are still being worked out. Sure, you could share a script or a planning document under Creative Commons BY-SA and many artists have done. But that doesn’t feel to me as if the potential for widespread collaboration has been fully realised. I appreciate that the original principle behind free software was user freedom but I think that this also changes the culture in the field and in the industry; it changes the way people and companies create.

A hallmark of success could be new forms of work that have never been seen before. We see this happening in other fields. Journalists are grappling with what the internet can do to improve their work to make reporting and analysis more collaborative – and to better serve society (hopefully). Businesses, filmmakers, musicians and other content creators are experimenting with crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter which promise to give us a wider variety of products and innovations.

What then is open source theatre? What would be the Firefox or the Wikipedia of live performance? I’m not necessarily referring to the scale of Wikipedia but to the fact that it’s living proof of newer forms of collaboration. If we believe that such a thing as open source theatre is possible and opens up new opportunities for more people to participate, what would that look like?

Timeline for Facebook pages – the key changes

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If you run a Facebook page, the changes announced this week are important for you to know about. In a nutshell, the swanky new design led Timeline display that we’ve been seeing on personal profiles has come to Facebook pages. Some of the changes will be a bit annoying (work you’ve done previously could become irrelevant now) but as with most Facebook changes, these guys know what they’re doing and it’ll almost certainly result in better experiences for your fans.

Here’s a summary of some of the biggest changes:

Cover photos (the big photos on the top of the page 850 x 315 px) give you the opportunity to create a strong visual identity to your page. Here’s some inspiration from Mashable if you need it – 20 Facebook cover photos to inspire you.

Custom tabs have changed position, size and the number that are visible above the fold – instead of having a load of tabs running down the left hand side of the page, you get just four large tabs at the top of the page underneath the cover photos. This is going to be annoying for page admins that have developed a lot of content on their Facebook page, and it’ll force you to think carefully about which are the most important.

Custom welcome pages for non-fans are gone. Having a friendly page incentivising people to like your page has been important for the last couple of years, but they are no more – users will now land on your timeline, and there’s no choice about it.

Content layout has changed – those familiar with the Timeline will know about the two column layout, with the line in the middle representing time. This will provide some challenges as people learn how to use the layout effectively. You can add deep history to your Facebook page if your brand has some serious history – you can add milestones to give the timeline depth.

Sticky posts it’s now possible to keep a post at the top of the timeline by pinning it to the top of the page (where it’ll stay for a week) – this is going to become a critical space for pages to post their key message.

Messages - something people have complained about for years with pages – you can now message your fans – but only if they message you first. So it’s something you can use to encourage people to get personal responses from you. You can turn this option on or off in your Page edit menu.

A new admin panel which appears at the top of the page gives a snapshot of recent activity, messages and even gives tips (we’ll have to see how useful these will be).

These are the big issues you need to think about immediately. All in all, this is quite a significant change, so if you run a Facebook page, it will be well worth your time getting to grips with how things now work.

There are a very useful posts from some of the big social media agencies in London that are well work a look – here’s my top three:

  1. Blog post on Mashable about the key changes you need to know about by Victoria Ransom, CEO of Wildfire Interactive
  2. Katie Glass from FreshNetworks posts about Facebook page changes
  3. We are Social post about how they redeveloped Bulmer’s Facebook page and the lessons they learnt.

National Theatre Wales Community in the Guardian

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The Guardian published an article I wrote about the National Theatre Wales Community today in their Culture Professionals Network. Here’s the link – it’s called “The next step to social networking is to build your own online community” and looks at how the community, which is built on the Ning platform,  has been used by the theatre to develop as a company.

One of the most important ways in which the community has affected the growth of the company has been to enable them to invite participation in their development of policies and initiatives. Everything that they do is communicated through the community, including the framing of their approach to commissioning, casting and theatre criticism. The community site allows the to throw the virtual doors open and invite comments and debate about their work and the direction of theatre in Wales.

Encouraging people to participate in an online community isn’t easy – it’s not just a simple matter of ‘build it and they will come’. It takes commitment from the people at the top to set participation in online discussions by the staff as a clear priority for the work of the company, something that John McGrath the Artistic Director has given in spades.

John is one of the most committed bloggers on the site, regularly sharing his thoughts and reflections about the work of the theatre, responding to people who seek his views. We trained their staff to administer the network, to blog and to help people to feel welcome and encourage them to participate in the debates and discussions held online/

One thing is certain – setting up an online community for a major national institution has been an exciting process and has brought some changes to the way that the company operates – it changes the demands on the staff team, requires training and guidance and it changes the feeling that people have about the institution – hopefully people have felt more involved and listened to.ask for his thoughts and leading debates about where theatre is going – see for example this recent discussion on the shape of political theatre.

There is still a lot to do for the company to realise all the opportunities to connect and communicate with the arts community in Wales that this resource offers them, but they have made a tremendous start and we wish them all the best as they continue to develop their online community, and the theatre community as a whole in Wales.

Protecting an area of rainforest the size of Wales

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We are helping the Size of Wales with their environmental campaign. Check out the video to find out more. Our work is focused on using social media to raise awareness and money.

Please leave a comment on the YouTube vid which will help to boost its ranking. You can also like the Facebook page to follow the latest news. For each Like, Size of Wales’ partners will contribute £1 to the fund.

More info on this project to follow shortly.

Think Digital Cardiff: some notes about Platforms & Practices

Here are my slides from my talk entitled Platforms & Practices at the first Think Digital Cardiff event.

This was a bit of a freeform talk about social media. There are no bullet points! Its purpose was to inspire people to think about creative use of digital media. Some quick notes follow.

Platforms & Practices: the general point was that it’s not enough to say you’re using tool X, a platform such as YouTube or Twitter or the web itself. I want to highlight the question of practices – what are you doing and how is it benefitting your work? If there is no practice then you are just playing with the platform, which is fine as long as you’re aware of that. The two need to be there together if you have a hope of any work-related strategy.

Collaboration: I deliberately began with Google Docs as a suggested improvement over email attachments for some situations. It’s an example of online collaboration with colleagues on documents, an easy thing that gives us a hint of what could be possible with bolder forms of collaboration. (At the bar afterwards someone mentioned that true collaboration is about working with people from different disciplines which was a good point. I could have added here that it’s about the practice as well as the platform of Google Docs. But we had to start somewhere.)

The cloud: it just means servers. I’m personally uncomfortable with the term ‘cloud computing‘.

Wikipedia: another glimpse of what is possible when people use social software to collaborate. Also available in Welsh, Spanish, German, Japanese, etc.

Ravelry: a social network for knitting enthusiasts. But we know that hobbies are big on the web.

Here Comes Everybody: recommended book by Clay Shirky, about easier group formation

giffgaff: just one example of a business which nurtures an online ‘community’ to fix problems and cut customer service and marketing costs. Some of the community members know more than the staff about aspects of real world use. I really wanted to emphasise that this is not merely Social Media Marketing. Mobile phone networks are an interesting area – they play to the network, including friends and family deals. The network effects keep people using the system and give value to people according to their connections/friends/etc.

National Theatre Wales Community: we worked on the strategy and trained the team. A very interesting project, with some unexpected outcomes in terms of how people participated.

1 / 9 / 90 guideline: there are wisdoms around online communities and participation. You can gather metrics on many things that are important to you, much more than just member count.

OnePeople documentary: commissioned to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence. A superb example of remix and social video. Maybe the fact they’ve booked Kevin MacDonald to edit the DIY videos is the most conventional

Remix by Lawrence Lessig, another recommended book

YouTube: there is a culture of YouTube. It can be about you and your DIY video, made on a phone camera or Flipcam. It can be a mistake to hire an expensive crew with professional editing. It doesn’t have to be about broadcast quality or production values.

It’s all about your second video: just a thought that you should probably go through the process of making a short video (maybe just a conversation about your subject or industry, forget about overt marketing pitches) and uploading it. Then you have gone through the ‘initiation process’. It’s the beginning. You might get a comment, etc.

Platforms & Practices is also about play. You can experiment on a personal account. This informs your practices as a company.

There it is, there wasn’t much time to elaborate further but a lot of hints that people will have found useful – I hope.