A couple years ago, Seth Godin notes what is has probably become abundantly clear to us all– people are looking for abridged versions of pretty much every activity so they can “acquire” an experience without having to spend the time having the experience.
There is a self-perpetuating cycle set up by the media and internet which has generated the demand by creating expectations which in turn forces them to ratchet things up a bit to fulfill the expectations they helped to create.
“A performance artist was on the local public radio station the other day. He didn’t want to talk about the specifics of his show, because giving away the tactics was clearly going to lessen the impact of his work. No matter. The host revealed one surprise after another, outlining the entire show, because, after all, that’s his job–to tell us what we’re going to see so we don’t have to see it ourselves.”
Godin had an interesting observation though about the exception to this.
My full-day live seminars have impact on people partly because I don’t announce the specific agenda or the talking points in advance. It’s live and it’s alive. I have no certainty what’s about to happen, and neither do the others in the room. A morphing, changing commitment by all involved, one that grows over time.
To some degree I think all seminars, not just his, result in people feeling like it has an impact on their lives because the format itself forces people to slow down to the speed of the proceedings. (Though they may be living at a slightly different speed via their tablet computers and phones throughout the seminar.)
Godin makes a similar claim about audiobooks changing people’s lives because they can’t skip ahead and still get the full story.
This dynamic may be why the Serial podcast became such a hit. People had to navigate the story at the speed it was being delivered and no one had any idea what the ending would be.
The performing arts have long touted the uncertainty of live performance as a selling point. You never know if someone is going to flub a line or the first chair violinist will kill off the second chair by bowing too vigorously. (Don’t pretend you haven’t imagined it.)
But it seems that this level of uncertainty just isn’t enough to interest people any more. The arts may need to kick it up a notch.
Ah, but what is the answer? Certainly the endings of many performance pieces are well known or can be discovered. Even if a performance company devoted themselves to offering entirely new works all the time, it wouldn’t be long before the show is summarized and reported.
In some communities it could be more detrimental to have a new work panned on social media by a couple people than to present a well known old warhorse.
More free formatted, choose your own adventure type shows like Sleep No More offer an alternative. Except there has been a problem when people discover the outcomes designed into those shows and try to impose themselves upon the different pathways.
On a smaller scale and performed over a limited time, I imagine that this model could still prove successful for many performance companies.
I obviously don’t know the answer, but I am intrigued by the basic idea Godin presents about how an experience that forces people to travel at the pace it unfolds and evolves can have a significant impact on the participants.
This describes the experience the performing arts have always aspired to and at one time, often achieved– people walking out of a performance feeling moved by the experience. People obviously have that reaction these days too, but at one time it was happening in greater numbers and in response to content rather than spectacle.
Many aspects of those days are certainly behind us and we shouldn’t seek to restore them because they were a product of a different social and cultural environment.
The Serial team may not be able to replicate the success of their first effort, but the fact that so many people became invested in the podcast suggests it is possible that people will slow down and pay attention if you create the right product.