Long time…


Been a long time. Not going to dilly with apologies though. In any case, if anyone’s been checking in you’ll have had plenty to read from all the spammers posting comments recommending online casinos and knock off drugs. Lucky you….

So yes – am going to try a bit harder here from now on. And less exclusively with the video posts too I think. I was speaking at Shift Happens in York last week and among the many things I learnt there, was that by using video on the internet but not captioning/subtitling we’re effectively excluding a whole load of people. Bad us. More on internet subtitling at the literally URL’d internetsubtitling.com .

So yes, I was invited to speak at Shift Happens which is basically a conference organised by Pilot Theatre to discuss/introduce some of the shifts that are happening (see what they did there) in the performing arts as a result of developments in technology. I’ve posted the second half of my notes below – the ‘interesting’ bit, as I like to think of them. The first half was me describing some of the digital journey that Unlimited has been on since we formed back in ’97. Full notes can be downloaded as a pdf by clicking here from The Shed should anyone wish to do so.

Am right now on a train back from the Manchester International Festival where I was invited to attend the dress rehearsal of Prima Donna – the new opera by Rufus Wainwright. Will aim to write about that sometime soon.

Until then all bests, JON.

from Jon’s talk at Shift Happens…

Because this is where despite all of my geekery, early adoption, interest in and engagement with this tech… I continue to hold quite a deeply rooted suspicion of how far we, in the performing arts, can – should – employ it.

I wholeheartedly believe that these online technologies, social networking sites in particular, provide an amazing opportunity for us as artists to reach and to communicate with both an existing and a new audience. But I also wholeheartedly believe that it is and should remain a way of introducing people to the work and encouraging them to come and see it in the real world.

And I’m aware that my use of the ‘the real world’ is contentious – it’s deliberately provocative because this is a conversation I’m interested in. Tassos Stevens who I mentioned earlier once said to me that “the show begins from the first moment that you hear about it”. And I love this – it’s why we wanted to make our online game for The Moon The Moon.

The moment someone tells you about the show or you pick up a flyer or you visit a website, there is an opportunity for you to start engaging with the work. And the internet is an obvious and a brilliant place to do that. But it should always culminate in a call to action that inspires people to take that massive risk – to get on a bus or a train or their bike or whatever and physically travel to a place and congregate with other audience members and the artists who are responsible for bringing them there.

Because it’s in that moment that the event becomes complete. That there is a live and a present, a creative, imaginative, political act that is the most inspiring and potentially life changing experience you can have.

I say this not because I think that there’s an immediate or imminent danger of the live, congregatory event disappearing – but because I worry there is currently an attraction to the idea of the internet as a cost effective way of presenting work amongst some arts funders.

Without an appropriate, additional level of investment that continues to allow (particularly small companies such as ourselves) to keep a focus on what we do. To take theatre to an audience who have invested time, energy, money in getting to it. Wherever that is whatever the shifting definition of theatre might be.

The performing arts remain that most inspiring of events, in my opinion, because of the risk we take and the effort we make in getting to it. I’ve been wondering recently about the danger of encouraging ourselves to spend even more time on our own, at home or wherever, in front of a screen and in total control of the cultural experiences that are being sold to us. Because in a society in which the state has the power by law to

“impose conditions on public assemblies where more than two persons are gathering or expected to gather”

….we as artists have a responsibility to be giving our audiences ever more reasons to come together.

A small piece of anecdotal evidence from a post show discussion we hosted recently for The Moon The Moon – we’d invited Sarah Brennan who’s the Chief Executive of YoungMinds to chair the discussion. Young Minds is a national charity committed to improving the mental health and emotional well-being of all children and young people.

The discussion was an inspiring one about representations of mental health in society and art and we got onto a conversation about if younger audiences were coming to the show and how they were responding to it. Sarah was very clear that from her experience the young people they were talking to were saying “Yes, we’re on Facebook and Bebo and Myspace and all those other sites, but we’re still doing that at home and on our own”.

The thing that I’m most excited about having conversations about here is – when do we turn off our phones and our laptops and log out of the networking sites and really I mean really give people no option but to come together. In the real world.

Thank you.

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