Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Conferences and Festivals

I'm about to jet off to the NET Fest (for my personal, nefarious purposes) - but if there's any interesting technology happening there, you'll be the first to know, fer sure.

In the meantime, the technology innovation discussion continues at the SuperNova conference - starting with, it sounds like, the age-old questions "Is this really innovation?" - and for whom, exactly?:
Honestly, the most interesting thing on display is the gender dynamic of the conversation. I can'’t tell whether this is a relevant detail or not, but I'’ll include it nonetheless: The room is very predominantly male. Janice, you might have noticed from some pronoun clues, is female. Has that set the tone of the discussion at all? Would Chris Anderson have drawn more snark from the audience had he been Christine, instead of, ostensibly, Christopher?

I think I might have noticed one other black man at the conference so far, so maybe that'’s the only reason I'm sensitive to this.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Arts Blogging in my own backyard

Laughing Squid's implementation of WordPress (which they are offering to all of their hosted sites) is a great example of how something as simple as a blog can be pretty versatile without trying too hard.

One nice this about this blog is the ability to tag individual items (something I don't do in Blogger because there's no native support for it.) But if you look at the bottom of any given post, you'll see what words they've used to tag their content. Go on, click on one of the tags....

You'll be brought to another live page, consisting only of content marked with that tag. And better yet, it has a permanent URL. For example, I randomly picked the "books" tag. (There's not much there as of July 17th, but it's a newish blog....) I don't have to change my link above to the books tag, yet I will always see new stuff that gets posted; and best for the Squid Team, they don't have to do a lot of fancy HTML'ing and re-organizing of their web-content folders for all that to happen....

And a side-trip inspired by this blog: There's a post about the Royal De Luxe parade in Nantes. All Scott had to do was go to Flikr, type in "royaldeluxe", and all of a sudden he can see a ton of other photos from that same parade.

Depending on the rights available for each photo (which are listed on any given photo page on Flikr), you can dig up your own relevant photo content- whether it's about gay pride, a particular type of art, fire-dancing, or even protests - you just have to figure out what "tag" is going to give you the best results....

Threatening artists only encourages them

[A random Friday-afternoon round-up of artsy things that - if nothing else - I found on the Internet....]

So I mentioned earlier a (perceived) trend towards anti-authoritarianism. Although I wanted to point to Banksy, I couldn't remember his name - so let's rectify that and file it under the DIY clause. (And in the tech-related realm - I wouldn't know about this if it weren't for massive cross-linking to The W. Collective's "content-rich" website - not to be confused with the W. Group.).

This could also arguably be applied to the P2P file-sharing movement - we currently have much better file-sharing technology, for a wider range of media types, because Napster was shut down. And I'm not talking about illegitimate uses either....

Then I read about a cease-and-desist notice from major play-publisher Samuel French - for a production they already OK'd - that resulted in a new satire of the whole thing being created by the theatre company. [Original discussion here. Follow the dotted links to see variations on the theme.]

At first I was very proud - try to control the artists and they just get more creative.

Then I read about the Secret Service getting involved in intimidating arts shows and people posting collages to online galleries. So far, even subsequent efforts to post similar types of collage photos have been removed....

"Free speech." Free as in beer, but not as in speech?

I'd like to think that the artists will eventually win out over intimidation.

If not, I might have to warn my boss about a possible trip by the .... SS? Better get out my rolodex of EFF friends.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dance website puts it together

OK, so I complain when my online searching of the performing arts is limited to theatre - then proceed to do a search based on the keyword "theatre" (see my previous post).

In rectifying that, I came across an interesting UK-based dance website called Critical Dance that has an intersting combination of online functionalities I've been discussin here:
  • An ongoing "magazine" (with submissions from "non-experts")
  • An extensive image gallery
  • An extensive forum where a) the most recent "talk" is excerpted on the front page, b) almost every topic is current...
  • Threads of their reviews reposted to their forums to continue the discussion. A good example is here (although it's a little difficult to follow the timeline).

Audience reviews as a new norm?

No, probably not yet. But.... I was at a theatre fundraiser last night, and one of the most lucrative fundraising activities was purchasing tickets for the opportunity to dunk a host of local theatre critics. While it was all in good fun, the fervour of some of the "dunkers" got a little personal. Probably not really improving the long-standing tradition of wariness between critics and theatre-makers.

This got my mind wandering to audience reviews - not that I think one needs to replace the other, or that either are really going to provide the ultimate judgement of a piece of work. (I mean, it can be cathartic to dunk a critic - but you don't want to go around dunking every person who didn't like your show, do you?... Do you?).

So I did a little searching - really, not much. Audience reviews generally seem to be available when a particular theatre thinks it's a good idea - although a San Francsico site and an unrelated one in Kansas City have attempted to be both universal and democratic by offering the ability to write reviews of any show that's playing locally.

(And do I need to remind you that many Fringe Festivals make it a point to allow audience reviews?)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sound, text - where are the pictures?

In the performing arts world, I personally primarily deal with theatre (if that wasn't obvious already). This can certainly have a blinder affect on where my web searching takes me.

For example, I found (via a long-lost trail I cannot remember now - I know, the first rule of blogging is credit your sources...) an innovative (?) site that features round-table discussions-cum-theatre reviews in audio format: theatreVOICE. Quite compelling - although they don't (yet) offer podcasts.

Then there's theatre texts made available online - the idea being that it's not the text you should ultimately pay for, but the right to produce it. Playscripts offers free extended extracts; ProPlays allows you to "tip the playwright" if you like the play (and of course, then pay the playwright if you want to produce the play).

(Also among the first few pages that come up on the Google search: a compilation of historical plays from England and Ireland - which have now ended up in my open-content tag list- just be aware of how far back copyright extends in England....).

Then there's Doollee, the website that aims to:
... list every play written or produced in English since 1956 [...]. As a general rule of thumb, if you are, or know of a playwright who has had at least one play written or produced in English since 1956 then you are eligable for inclusion on the site.
Every play? Produced in English (but not necessarily in England) - of course, they don't publish the full text, but still - that's a lot of plays. Ad free, sponsored by referred book purchases. And it even lists the playwright's agent, if you're working that far up the chain....

But what about images? And video? And this is where my theatre-centricity constrains me - because I'd love to see / find sites that use technology to share / publish images and video. I imagine this is already happening in the dance world - but there's the challenge that like the texts of plays, the video of a dance performance essentially "gives it away" - so how does the director / choreographer get any reward?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Taking I.T. into your own hands

[This post was originally inspired by some seemingly unrelated articles on ArtsJournal and elsewhere- and I've let them sit and fester for a while before I tried to tie it all together.]

There's a growing resistance to traditional arts forms and institutions, where (because?) other people determine the value of a particular art, publication, performance, etc.

We saw it in the recording industry, where not only music "consumers" but even musicians themselves wanted to more direct access to each other, and wanted to avoid the gatekeepers (who are portrayed more business-minded than quality-minded).

We can see recursive layers of resistance to "authoritarian"-seeming structures in the ongoing evolution of Burning Man - the event and the organization.

Couple this trend with news that traditional venues for developing, producing and promoting arts get cut, and what do you do?

Well, you DIY. Despite what people may think of you.

This is not new. This happens in cycles, throughout history. Sometimes it's called a revolution, sometimes it's called a cultural shift.

And when you have computers, we see a new fold in this time-honored trend -

You techno-DIY.

We saw it happen with the advent of VCRs and CD players.

We see something happening with museums, where their pay-for-"our"-interpretation programs are being usurped by Podcasting.

(My preferred term is the full "techno-DIY" - only 28 Google matches as of 6/9/06, including some interesting ones.... And of course, the "interference" with posts about techno music....)

Something tells me this also ties in with the concept of a mediated culture, but my threads above are tenous as it is...

Monday, June 06, 2005

How online ticketing changed my life

Well, actually, how it changed my job.

OK, my other job. I moonlight at some theatres around town, running the house before a show. That means I'm the guy who looks for your name on the list, takes you money, and gives you a ticket. Yeah - that's me.

It used to be that I would show up 2 hours before a show, and look at the reservation list. We accepted unpaid reservations that we would honor until 10 minutes before showtime. And while we didn't accept credit cards at the door, we allowed purchase by card over the phone - typically with the information left on the phone. So not only was that inherently insecure (phreaking, anyone?), if it was a busy night, me or the person who worked the afternoon office shift before me had to run anywhere from 5 to 15 credit card purchases on our little machine in the office before we opened the house.

Depending on who was performing, we might also sell tickets to a show via TicketWeb - but that wasn't the theatre's standard policy, so it never became standardized. Typically over half of our show required people to pay at the door - either in cash or check, with the invariable scramble when we reminded people that we didn't take credit cards at the door (we just never had the time to run credit cards while people were in line).

I hadn't worked there in a couple of months, so when I returned to run the door last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see they had switched their entire operation to an online ticketing agency.

The system now requires that if you want to make a reservation, you have to pay in advance. While this is a difference in "methodology" for the regular audience, there apparently has not been a significant negative impact. None, actually, if you go by a co-worker's casual observation. You can also still pay at the door - but my job has changed radically. Anyone with a reservation has already paid - I don't have to run credit cards before a show. In addition, over half the show is paid in advance, so the time it takes to process people through the line is much faster.

It used to be that a sold out show (for a 99-seat theatre) would take 35 minutes to get everyone through the line (including the stragglers at the end) - because most of them still had to pay. My coworker was telling me that now when a show sells out, there is literally no one who pays at the door (i.e. it's sold out online); and they can fill the theatre in 15 minutes, because no time is lost messing with change, checks and "You don't take credit cards?"

Now remember two things:
  • The main affect is improved efficiency in my work. I.e. the shows were selling out before they switched the system - now became easier to handle. The ticketing system did not miraculously increase their overall ticket sales.
  • This improved efficiency is not unique to the specific vendor they used. What has helped the process is the ability to sell tickets in advance online, and have sales reports handy the evening of the show to help the house managers. This is common to many online ticketing agencies.