Opt In To Learn How The Show Ends

In somewhat the same theme as the post I made last week about Tu Me Manques  which uses social media to tell the story of a relationship, I had also come across an article in May about Pirates & Mermaids, a one person show about a long distance romance that “unfolds through texts between the two main characters, shared photographs, and good old-fashioned storytelling by the fire.”

What drew me to the story wasn’t the use of social media in the show. The show doesn’t appear to rely on the availability of live Wifi like Tu Me Manques does. It was the way the production company, Poorboy, was using social media to keep connected with their audiences. In the case of Pirates & Mermaids, it was ending the show with a cliffhanger that created some incentive for providing your email to Poorboy.

After the show finishes, audience members are offered a postcard where they can share a message about the performance and share their email address with the production team. Those who opt in receive two follow-up emails from Cameron that lets them know what happens next.

It is a creative and fun way of engaging audiences beyond the performance by building the story into the marketing. Plus, it’s a smart way to build a mailing list because it encourages people to opt in to email communications by giving them something more than a marketing message that they can really to look forward to. The messages that come back from audiences give an insight into audiences’ emotional investment in the story.

One thing I should note is that they tend to do the show for small groups of people so they already generate a degree of intimacy with audiences. The postcards and emails they get in response are more often addressed to the character, Cameron, encouraging him onward rather than commenting on how well the production team did their job. They have had about 150 performances over the last six year and have an email list of 800 people which they say represents 75% of their audiences opting in to the email list.

Some quick math indicates they are performing for audiences of 7-8 people (the article says they limit site specific shows to a max of 15) so this is hardly a cynical attempt to trick people into helping them fatten their marketing database. They say their email open rates for the show are 75%-80%, which is better than the open rates for their other productions which use different social media techniques to connect with audiences.

According to the article, they do transition people from the show email list to their newsletter. The piece doesn’t really mention whether they specifically ask if people want to be included in the newsletter list or not. My guess is that since the production company is based in the UK, it will need to be very deliberate in how they handle those email addresses now that new regulations went into effect across the European Union at the end of May.

In any case, their process represents an option for engaging audiences that people might like to explore a little more deeply.

Hello, I Am Thespis-App, I Will Be Narrating Your Play Tonight

Amid the whole debate about whether cell phones are appropriate in the theater are some indications that creative folks are going to be using the technology to drive narrative.

FastCompany came out with their 100 Most Creative People in Business list. Whenever something like that comes out, I always want to see if anyone from the arts and culture sector got included.

Indeed, there are some great stories about: Flocabulary which is using hip-hop to teach kids everything from history to math and science; Keir Winesmith who is using technology to deliver content of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, including to your cell phone anywhere in the world; Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for the apocalypse (Westworld and Handmaid’s Tale, among others); and Hannah Beachler, production designer for movies Black Panther, Moonlight and Creed.

But it is the work of playwright and filmmaker Rodrigo Bellott I am referencing when I talk about productions which use social media and cell phones to drive narrative.

Bellott is now revolutionizing theater. His 2015 play, Tu Me Manques, about the suicide of his closeted lover, includes a live hourlong Skype conversation, projected on multiple screens, and live Facebook messaging. He was told by Broadway producers that it couldn’t be done; the possibility of losing Wi-Fi connection made it too risky. So he produced it in Bolivia, a country with what he calls “the worst WiFi in the world.” The sensational result (the biggest box office in a decade) encouraged hundreds of young Bolivians to come out, in a country not known for its LGBTQ rights. Now, Tu Me Manques is not only moving to Broadway in early 2019, it is a film, debuting at numerous film festivals this summer and fall.

Bellott is currently producing a play, a murder mystery, that will use a cell phone app as narrator.

I found a video (below) of Tu Me Manques which illustrates the Skype call and Facebook messaging. One interesting thing about the Bolivia production which was mentioned on FastCompany’s summary of the 100 Creatives was that Bellott had to use cellphone jammers to keep their signals from interfering with his Wifi. I wondered if that would be the case for the Broadway show or if the standards and strength of Wifi and cell phones signals would be distinct enough to make it successful.

It will be worthwhile to observe how he pulls off the cellphone app as a narrator for his next show. The murder mystery format seems conducive to any number of approaches.

Chatbot As Assistant Grant Writer

When I first saw this piece on Arts Professional about data driven decision making, I thought maybe the author, Patrick Towell, was cribbing Drew McManus and Ceci Dadisman’s recent conference session on the same topic.

He even referenced the gut trusting HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion/in Office).

I might have only had myself to blame having brought attention to it with my inspiring post on the subject.

But Towell quickly moves away from that subject to address a pretty significant barrier to using data to drive decisions–people’s comfort levels accessing, interpreting and using the data.

Towell cites respondents to a survey of people working in cultural organizations in the UK:

Some of those respondents work in an organisational culture that doesn’t embrace the use of data: “Data gets bad PR. The greatest barrier to usage is lack of fluency and comfort with data as a medium to tell stories.” For others it was systems being difficult to access and join up: “We can’t effectively understand or engage with our audience without tools to collate, analyse and use our audience data.”

Despite this discomfort, many respondents were eager to use data to support their activities:

Interestingly, many did consider its use in artistic and cultural programming: “Data could be used to inform our programming schedule, driving more revenue.” Audience development was an area where people saw a clear benefit: “Our visitor and sales forecasting is based in fairyland – better datasets and data analysis could be more realistic.” People also thought they could better justify the use of public money through more defensible evidence.

What Towell says his company has done is started to prototype a chatbot that will “sit over your data” as a “kind of Alexa for cultural managers” and help a wider range of people in an organization feel comfortable accessing it. The example they use in the screenshot of the prototype queries the chatbot about how many new members visited shows in December.

If they can get this to work, it would be awesome. If you were able to feed budget numbers into it so just about anyone could ask about revenue and expenses for different combinations of projects, it would make completing grant reports so much easier. Especially if it potentially spread to onus of completing reports around the organization.

The biggest hurdle I see is that funding organizations have such diverse definitions and conditions associated with their reporting, programming a bot AI to keep it all straight might be cost prohibitive.

Still, it is a pretty intriguing idea. Some time in the last couple weeks I saw someone mention they were visiting the websites of arts and culture organizations to see how many used chatbots to facilitate the sale of tickets. (Things like, “when are Thursday performances of Hamlet in June and July?”). The value of chatbots for public facing interactions is rather obvious, but I suspect few people have considered their utility for internal information sharing.

Your Phone Tells Me You Were In An Art Museum, Now You Are In Starbucks….

Last month NPR had a story discussing how lawyers were sending ads for their services to people in hospital emergency rooms thanks to technique known as geofencing which allows one to identify cellphones entering to certain geographic area.

Geofencing is something retailers use to offer you coupons when you approach the area of their shops. The use around hospitals raises some privacy concerns. Everyone in the hospital is bound by law not to reveal information about your visit, but those gathering information from your phone signal are not.

Once someone crosses the digital fence, Kakis says, the ads can show up for more than a month — and on multiple devices.

To Kakis, this is just modern-day target marketing. In his pitch to potential clients, in an email reviewed by WHYY, he calls the technology “totally legit.”

But Massachusetts’ attorney general, Maura Healey, offers a different response.

“Private medical information should not be exploited in this way,” Healey says. “Especially when it’s gathered secretly without a consumer’s knowledge, without knowledge or consent.”

This type of service is widely available and can be used for all sorts of useful purposes. If you can see that people attending your events are also frequenting various restaurants and other businesses in your area you are able to take any number of actions like coordinating promotions with the businesses or providing evidence of economic activity in your community.

You can also geofence other arts organizations in your region as a way to identify people who are inclined to participate in arts and cultural activities and provide them with information about your own activities.

Of course, the technology can assist in some questionable practices as well. You might send general ads about “high quality performances at half the price and free parking” to people who have visited an arts organization in your area that charges higher pricing. Or you could directly disparage other organizations with people who enter or pass near their buildings.

As I understand it, you currently need to provide ad content to a service provider who sets up your ads in the same way a broadcaster might. By which I mean, it has to pass through human hands and they could potentially nix something as blatant as “Why are you walking into that crappy theater when you could be in a modern facility that allows you to eat at your seat and has a fun all around atmosphere. There is still time to come to Acme Theater.”

However, I imagine within a handful of years, you will be able to delineate your own geofencing using an online map and upload an ad from your office as you would to a social media site. It may be difficult to track who is attacking your reputation while people are buying food from your snack bar.

Now personally, I don’t see a lot of arts and cultural organizations getting this cutthroat. They may send out something along the lines of “If You Liked The Dali Retrospective, You Might Like….”

However, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that an electronics business, video streaming service or cable company might geofence your organization and send something like “After a hard day of work do you really want to get back in the car, try to find parking, get home at 11 pm and pay the babysitter when you could stay at home and enjoy being in control of your experience with your gorgeous entertainment system?”

I anticipate that there will be debates about the ethical use of techniques that allow marketers and others to track people’s movements as these practices become more common and wide spread.

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