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Case Study No. 2: National Theatre of Scotland
By Nancy Malitz
April 2, 2012
Five Minute Theatre: 24 hours, 230 plays, performed by anyone, to an audience of everyone
Issue: The National Theatre of Scotland, a highly acclaimed touring company with no building of its own, first burst on the scene in 2006 with ten free productions in ten locations by ten directors in the course of a single week. As its fifth anniversary approached, NTS wanted to celebrate in similar style. Goal: To share the five-year milestone with as many people as possible from all over Scotland and the English-speaking world (the company performs internationally) in a way that stressed NTS’s key values—provocative, playful, professional, collaborative. In February 2011, NTS announced Five Minute Theatre, inviting people of all ages to submit ideas for five-minute works they could produce and perform.
Digital component: A 24-hour webcast of the five-minute plays from all over Scotland, U.K. and elsewhere, some pre-recorded, and some performed live "direct to the web" in precisely designated time slots. Many participants traveled to broadcast studios in city hubs to do their numbers. Others performed in their own remote communities, shot by roving web-camera crews. A total of 230 performances were booked, and all but 23 shows came through, with 74 of them performed live, and the goofily serendipitous results can be viewed on the Five Minute Theatre YouTube Channel where touching, absurd and hilarious performances line up side by side.
Sample 5-Minute Video 1
Sample 5-Minute Video 2
Obstacles: Bandwidth—the roving teams had to rely on an iffy combination of wifi, Ethernet, and even 3G mobile phone connections in rural areas. The lack of precedent—there were daily unexpected issues, says Marianne Maxwell, audience development manager and coordinator of the project. "There was always the sense that something could take it over the edge."
Money: NTS treated the project like one of its shows, funded out of the normal operating budget in the place of a regular play, including a consulting fee to webcast service provider Envirodigital. A media partnership with Scottish TV involved "a very small amount of money" for studio time, cameras, crew staffing and simulcasting on the Scottish TV website.
Time & Staffing: Maxwell and three other staff members—a video producer, technical director and production assistant—worked as the core team for months in addition to their regular duties. The team swelled on event day to a 60-person crew including roving camera teams and the entire 30-person NTS staff.
Measuring Results: In 24 hours, 1000 participating performers received 22,000 views on the web from 6300 people in 51 countries. (Some viewers checked back repeatedly.) The mini-shows were also posted individually on the YouTube channel, bringing in another 26,000 views and still climbing. Traditional print and television media covered the long buildup to the event; more than 150 separate newspaper or magazine stories and TV segments ran, typically six a week. Many of these items were instigated by performers in remote locations who were urged to get the word out. They used online publicity kits including poster templates and press-release templates provided by NTS.
"And I learned more from the experience of live chat during the event than from anything else in the project," Maxwell says. "People were very active, asking questions of us, making suggestions about the lighting. People want to talk during theater. The idea of what participation is, and what the audience is, has completely changed for us." (Maxwell discusses the project at greater length here )
Nancy Malitz has been writing about the intersection of the arts and technology for most of her career. She developed some of Gannett Media's first newspaper websites and worked on strategic projects for media change.
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