#TBT: Extremely Public Displays of Privacy

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Extremely Public Displays of Privacy.

I’ve written about the live industry in general (and theater and performing arts specifically) needing to find a way to broaden the business model by delivering content outside the confines of a live performance. I stumbled across New Paradise Laboratories in Philadelphia and had to mention it. They’ve done several things, but the one that I went through is called Extremely Public Displays of Privacy.

New Paradise Laboratories has created a form of theater that crosses a lot of lines. The best way that I can describe my own experience of it is that you first come to know the characters in the show via material that’s posted on a website, literally going so far as to “friend” them on Facebook, if you want. There’s a loose narrative arc that you discover through the Tumblr pages, short videos and other online materials. On the other hand, you have a lot of latitude as a “viewer” to see more or less of it and discover more or less about the characters. And, of course, you could interact with the characters through Facebook, etc., too if you wanted.

I have to hand it to the New Paradise Laboratories folks … it’s pretty deep. It even gets hard to say where the pretend stuff ends sometimes.

But once you make your way through that material (not that you couldn’t always go back), there’s a walk in Philadelphia that one can do, accompanied by a downloadable file. If you were in Philadelphia, you followed prompts to get from place to place. And although I didn’t quite gather whether you were supposed to do this whenever you wanted to or leading up to the time of the live portion of the performance, there’s definitely something lost in translation when you just do the virtual version of the walk online. Still, the fact that that’s available is, once again, impressive as a commentary on the quality and continuity of the work this group is doing.

Finally, there’s a performance. These live performances have come to an end, but there’s a recording of one that you can, you guessed it, watch online.

You can do what I did anytime by going to the site and clicking on the “E” at the top of the page. It’s pretty self-explanatory from there.

You judge for yourself, but I have two somewhat differing points of view on this. First, this has succeeded in keeping something ephemeral, the experience of a live performance, alive and vital in a way that’s not merely recording it. That’s the good side.

Second, though, where I see the limitations to a form like this is that it creates inertia between audience and participation just as much as it reduces it. Sure, I went through a proxy version of it from here at my desk in Pasadena, Calif., but when done as intended, fully participating in this thing is far, far more work than simply going to a show.

Not that this is all bad. Depth of commitment and immersion is a profound potential strategy. But if the audience is using other media with a live performance, the idea is to increase participation, and requiring things like a 45-minute walk and a lot of prep material work goes somewhat in the other direction.

But that’s like me critiquing New Paradise Laboratories for something they weren’t even trying to do. This is clearly about engagement, depth and participation, and it’s designed for people who want more, want to be involved and want to get deep.

Set aside an hour or two sometime and go through it. It can be pretty NSFW if you go around certain corners, depending on where you work, of course.

Still, if you’re interested in the future of theater and the ongoing discussion of what’s possible, it’s not to be missed.

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