A New Conversation

Between the three London Ceremonies Posts and the Publication of the first “imho” book has arisen a compelling conversation about Experience, sharing that Experience, documenting that Experience and, overarching all of that, the process of and philosophies behind the original concept development and design of a given Experience; especially in the arena of Live Spectacle.

My point of view has been that, in the context of Stadium or outdoor Spectacle of virtually any sort, the best seats are always in the house.

To my mind, the creation of Live Experience is, with integrity, focused on those physically present to absorb and appreciate – to Experience – the full force of what is taking place on the stage, field, arena or lagoon. The cameras are there to share what can be shared within the limits of their medium. They are there to archive, record and communicate to the remote audience some sense of the high moments, the spectacle.

However, the inherent limitations of cameras, video and film, stand ineradicably in the way of actually Communicating the Experience. One simply cannot deliver the same, visceral rush to a remote audience that can be given to those present. Therefore, I believe that the audience for which Perfection of Pure Experience can be given deserves to be given it.

This means, then, that the Experience of the Live Audience is sacrosanct.

Historically, with the work I have done with my Creative Teams, the experiences we’ve created, this has meant no cameras on the field, no visible technology between the eyes of the audience and the action taking place before them. Nothing to activate the Left Brain; leaving the Right to absorb experience without analysis. As camera / video technology has evolved, this has become far easier to accomplish; with greater throws, suspended and micro cameras offering virtual invisibility of the close-up technology.

I am distracted by close-ups of Field Performers; I don’t need to see the individual, smiling faces so much as become connected and engaged by the choreographed movements on, across, around the field. (Rock Concerts = Different Thing…we want to see the faces and the fingers on the instruments.)

Ergo, as I create Live Experience, my focus is on the audience in the stadium (or wherever) and the pure integrity of that experience. Then, once that is designed, I turn to the photographers and videographers to design pathways and angles that can best support them in their supplementary and archival mission.

These spectacles are not designed for television!

Or so I’ve been known to posit.

Now, we’ve seen a massive stadium spectacle designed, specifically, for broadcast. The audience in the stadium for the London Ceremonies was clearly secondary.

From the stadium, were one to not pay attention to what was being shown on the screens, much of what was taking place on the floor of the stadium (or any of the multiple, adjacent and remote locations outside the stadium) would simply be lost. The audience was unable to follow the (albeit loose) unfolding narrative sans dependence on augmentation by media.

So what is the reality, here? What is acceptable? Can we augment without distracting? How much distraction is acceptable? More importantly, how much distraction is inevitable, and what is the tradeoff? What is being lost, and is it a Bad Thing? Even if it is a Bad Thing, is it going to be lost, anyway?

I have the sense I may not be completely happy with the answer.

In one, recent conversation with one of my own mentors, an iconic maven of the themed entertainment industry, we were exploring this subject. She was saying how much, despite her dedication to the integrity of the Live Experience, she enjoyed the broadcast of the London Ceremonies quite largely due to their being designed and produced for television. Acknowledging that this is counter to her own philosophy, she said, enthusiastically, that she had had a great experience.

“I couldn’t be there; so the broadcast was great, for me…”

We both sort of lightheartedly grumbled about this. Still, it must be acknowledged and faced.

She raised the example of “back in the day,” when people would attend baseball games with their transistor radios at their ear throughout the play; giving them information unable to be gleaned from the stadium seat.

Well, that was a long time ago; so this isn’t a new thing, actually.

Now, with smartphones, people can get all sorts of stats, data and visual on their hand-held screens. I believe this actually does enhance their enjoyment of the game, before them.

I don’t know that I like where this is going…

A sporting event, though, is not a Storytelling Spectacle; there is no narrative. And, while it can be viscerally experienced during the high points, the digital data augmentation doesn’t distract from anything as there is nothing to distract from.

We laughed (a little bitterly) at the fact that “…well, there’s purity and integrity of the Experience….and then, there’s Business…” When push comes to shove, the Producers and those looking to profit from the show or spectacle are going to want the greatest return on the investment. Uh-oh. Show / Business.

So. What’s the Challenge, here?

To create experience so intense and compelling that the technology in one’s hand is forgotten? Even for a moment? I mean, we aren’t going to keep the screens of any size out of the room; so, as crafters of live experience, how do we address this?

Right now, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I’m developing and writing an Experience for a major milestone in the history of an iconic institution, here in San Francisco. It will take place indoors, for about 500, and I doubt a single person in attendance will be without a smartphone. I have a lot to communicate in the messaging of this Experience, and we are creating a program with no speeches…it will all be done, theatrically.

So, addressing techno-addiction, we are creating four very short vignettes that are powerful and evocative; virtually packed with intense and powerful visual and aural cues that will deliver profound message via oblique pathways. My goal is to help the audience forget the technology in the hand or pocket for those few moments and immerse them in Experience; then give plenty of time between the theatrical segments for the talking / networking / eating / drinking …and, now… texting / tweeting / facebook-ing compulsions that are a part of this milieu.

So. I’m opening this conversation, on here, to the rest o’yuz. What does this mean for what I define as the integrity of the Live Experience? What will we lose, and is there a way around it? How will we evolve our craft and ensure that being actually present in the audience the prime spot for an Experience, rather than being technologically, remotely connected to the it?

In closing, as I write this, what keeps tugging at the back of my mind is the Opening Ceremonies for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. That Archer. Jaw-dropping Athleticism and Art, all at once.

I saw it on television.


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