Online experience of The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning #ntw18

Right now we’re working with National Theatre Wales on a production called The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning. This is a fictional dramatised account based on true events. Writer Tim Price contributed a piece to the Guardian about why he wrote the play and here’s a brief intro:

Bradley Manning is the 24-year-old US soldier accused of the release of thousands of US embassy emails to Wikileaks. On Friday 16th December 2011, his pre-trial hearing opened in Fort Meade in Maryland. Manning faces a maximum sentence of life in custody with no chance of parole. But just a few years ago, he was a teenager in west Wales. How does his story impact on the people he left behind, and who is responsible for his ‘radicalisation’?

From very early in the production process it was obvious that the interest in the play and the questions it raises would be much wider than the venues around Wales – at schools in Haverfordwest, Cardiff and Connah’s Quay – and indeed wider than Wales itself.

Therefore as part of the online experience we had some discussions with the director John McGrath and decided together that a live stream was needed, to cater for this international interest and allow people worldwide to watch and take part. If you’d like to watch the live stream it’s free and you can book to receive a reminder to make sure you don’t miss it.

Unlike some other theatre companies which are within walls, National Theatre Wales’ primary presence has always been digital through its online Community. There is an expectation that the digital life of the production will receive attention and care. While this will raise the profile of the production this is not predominantly a marketing channel for the theatre but a bona fide way to appreciate the story, the ‘content’.

The artistic questions then become: what kind of online experience can we offer? How can we make appropriate use of the distinctives of online? How can we encourage people to participate in this and ‘sit forward’ rather than just consuming the stream like TV?

Photos by Tom Beardshaw

In truth we are navigating our way through these questions but we do prefer to regard this is a standalone online experience – rather than an attempt to replicate the live corporeal theatre in a screen. The online view is different – it will depend on microphones at the venues and cameras which feed into what’s effectively a vison mixer and streaming software. This is not pre-recorded video either, everything will be happening live. (Thanks to Kinura and Pilot Theatre for their hard work on the live stream.)

Certain things become possible such as a live text-based chat with other viewer-participants (terminology decision pending) from around the world. I’m very curious about the kinds of conversations that people will have while the show is in progress and what links they will share. In practice there will be other forms of conversation around the wider web too, not just our spaces. (Incidentally if you are a blogger or social media devotee and you can get to Cardiff, Wales then you have the chance to take photos, record video and interview cast and crew at a sneak preview on 18th April 2012.)

Of course the story itself includes the theme of technology and its use by Bradley and others. I’d rather not say anymore right now – if you’re curious you can book to receive a reminder of the live stream.

You can also read updates on National Theatre Wales Community blogs under the show tag which is ntw18.

The Passion of Port Talbot: Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen multiplatform

It’s nearly a year ago since Michael Sheen’s The Passion of Port Talbot – one of the most acclaimed pieces of large scale participatory theatre in recent history.

The play that transformed the South Wales town of Port Talbot on Easter weekend 2011 was also live blogged to the world across multiple internet platfoms thanks to a project that we ran with a team of volunteers from the town. It’s one of the most exciting multiplatform events we’ve been involved with.

Port-Talbot.com was framed as a local blog within the world of the Passion story… writing as if everything happening in the show was happening for real. During the weeks leading up to the show, we built up the storyworld in the town, spreading news of a missing teacher from the town and a sinister multi national company ICU industries, which was due to arrive at the town soon.

We set in motion a transmedia experience with an alternative reality game (ARG) that took people from codes on graffitit defaced posters in Port Talbot town, to phone numbers, live events and the web, leading to the release of a unique short film with Michael Sheen as the character, The Teacher.

We lived blogged the events that took place in Port Talbot over the weekend, filming the action and editing and uploading it to the web within a couple of hours. The final crucifixion scene was witnessed by twelve thousand people on the streets of Port Talbot and tens of thousands more online from one hundred and twenty countries.

Live blogging has the advantage of bringing an event to the web, enabling people from all over the world (from 120 countries!) to feel involved and connected to events on the ground. With the Passion, we created the blog as a new character in the story – a media outlet that was part of the world in which The Passion took place.

Looking back to The Beach: the multiplatform design

It’s hard to believe that two years ago I was caked in sand, doing early development of The Beach theatre game.

I thought I’d blog some of the background to the multiplatform work we did, partly because we have come to regard this as one of the core specialities of NativeHQ and partly because multiplatform theatre is a growing area of innovation. I also wanted to pull together some of the relevant links in one place.

The Beach was a pioneering theatre production combining drama with gameplay, produced by National Theatre Wales in association with Hide & Seek. The live event ultimately took place on the sands of Prestatyn, Wales in late July 2010. If you’re curious about the live game itself start with the blog post about game design and others tagged ntw05 on the theatre’s community site.

But as I said, let’s consider the multiplatform aspect to the production.

Theatre-goers were given the opportunity to interact with the characters of Charlie and TJ in advance of the game via discussions on their personal Facebook profiles.

I was reminded of the importance of time here. Time is among a multiplatform producer’s best assets. I think one particular challenge we had was that we were building not only character profile pages (which is trivial) but social networks of audience members to be friends for the characters (which requires promotion of some kind). If you don’t have time to build these networks of friends/followers, you need massive exposure. That same summer in 2010 Bethan Marlow (who was one of my co-writers on The Beach along with Rhiannon Cousins) worked on Such Tweet Sorrow which was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet on Twitter. The Royal Shakespeare Company, the producers of the show, made excellent use of the Twitter fever and their own reputation to build the characters social networks rapidly. Another advantage RSC had was that their production, while multiplatform, was online-only whereas we were sharing the attention between online and the live game on the beach. If anything The Beach used online as an adjunct to the live game.

While this was happening and the live rehearsals were beginning I captured a few One Minute With video interviews, which weren’t part of the drama but intended to be a chance to meet members of the production team behind the scenes.

The characters also produced daily phonecam videos where they gave story details and began to recruit members to the mission, i.e. members of the audience. These and the other social media activities were an integral part of the theatre production, the drama and its interactivity. Members of the audience began to consider themselves participants and had some early affinity with the characters. Because each video was uploaded while fresh it felt very spontaneous and dramatic, very much like theatre although the medium was online video. This contributed greatly to the later success of the live event. From a theatre production standpoint, the videos provided additional opportunities for the director Catherine Paskell to help the actors develop their characters in advance of the live game.

A key aim was to guide the online storytelling strategy and ensure that the drama was expressed believably through social media. I’m very pleased with how this was done and in the process I definitely learned some valuable insights about character and story from my colleagues on The Beach project.

Multiplatform design for The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning

The pre-trial process of Bradley Manning has started in the United States, with the 24 year old army private accused of the biggest leak of classified information in military history. National Theatre Wales is creating a new play written by Tim Price about the alleged wikileaker and the time he spend in Haverfordwest in Wales.

Tim has blogged on the Guardian about why he is writing the play and I have been commissioned by NTW to design the multiplatform element of the show. There is a group on NTW’s community site (built by NativeHQ) where the show and the issues around it are being discussed.

More will be revealed as we develop the show, which will open in Bradley Manning’s own Haverfordwest school in April, but for the moment, all I will say is that I’ve been thinking about how a live theatre performance can interact with a global audience through the internet, and how it can move beyond the broadcast thinking of the approach taken by National Theatre Live  🙂

Port Talbot: all about The Passion online experience

We’ve done quite a bit of work with National Theatre Wales, ever since the beginning when we helped them plant the seed of their online community and, among the most memorable and fulfilling for me, The Beach production in Prestatyn in July 2010.

Now Tom has written a long post about his experiences working on the online experience for The Passion, the theatre production in Port Talbot. Well worth reading if you’re interested in the intersection of theatre, community, storytelling and online.