Updated: Jan 14
This project became much more involved than I ever could have imagined. What I thought would feel like just another YouTube video ended up getting quite complicated, quite quickly. Here is my process, and what I learned while doing this preliminary version of The Alley.
The Alley is the first idea I ever had for a musical theatre piece. Each song is a window into the lives of the people that live in this place-less alley. None of the stories are necessarily connected, and can run in any order. As a digital project, the advantage is that the viewer can choose that order for themselves. The piece as a whole is not necessarily one that would be easily staged in the traditional sense, as it would lose the non-chronological aspect when a director would have to decide who sings when. Staging the show traditionally would also not be visually very interesting. Turning The Alley into a digital theatre project allowed me to create what Gontai Wang calls contingently obligatory relation, 'which means that the relationship between the artefacts combined in a total product is not predefined but contingent on the actual combination' (Wang). The necessity of the piece to technology (and vice versa) creates something that is not what we would think of as 'traditional' theatre.
The following is my weekly plan document for The Alley, which contains all plans for engagement and publishing. As detailed in previous blog posts, this did is not how the project ended up going, but I find it helpful nonetheless:
The best of intentions.
With the project less full than I'd like it to be, I haven't widely distributed the project to my own audience, but I have sent it to a few friends, family, and collaborators to get their feedback. Their opinions were widely: very cool concept, good songs, could use some polish/a better platform.
I am excited for the potential this project has for collaborative engagement. If my idea works the way I hope it will (more on this later), soon there will be a world-wide map of collaborators. So far, the map includes Chicago, New York City, and Wolverhampton, and I'm hoping to get in touch with more regional collaborators.
This duet is one where I lost the singers to covid, but it does show the digital engagement work I've been doing for The Alley:
Disseminate and Collaborate!
On this project, I ended up being the composer, pianist, production manager, sound engineer, film director, video editor, and techie. While I am quite confident in the composer/pianist/sound engineer pieces, everything else was new to me. Save a few YouTube videos which require minimal editing, I have not worked in/on filmed theatre. When I pick the project back up again, am excited to collaborate with a director. The bones of the piece -the songs- are solid, and that was the easiest part to complete. However, the ideas I had were larger than my skill set. I've a friend in mind to properly direct the window shots for each song in the near future.
Either pay people, or give them more time.
I reached out on Instagram to gather my cast for this project. I've done this in the past and it has worked well. I usually get an enthusiastic response; that was the case for this project as well. However, when it came to the actual doing of the project, I got ghosted by several actors, one got covid, and one told me she got covid (On her Instagram the next day, I saw her celebrating Christmas with loads of family members, so I find this hard to believe). There are two reasons I see for this severe lack of enthusiasm.
1) There wasn't enough time. I had assumed that 2.5 weeks would be enough time to record a song and film themselves singing it - or film their window, if that was the instruction for the song. With the holidays, that wasn't enough.
2) There wasn't a large enough incentive. I mean this in payment - I was clear from the beginning that I couldn't pay anyone on this project, since it was for class. But I also mean 'satisfaction' in terms of satisfaction for the actor's performing itch. Does a digital project give a theatre actor the same rush of adrenaline that they get performing the same song on a stage? Additionally, as points out, 'An actor's success in this digital environment is also dependent on how much they are required to do on their own' (Passante, p. 13) I know I had trouble keeping up my own motivation as the creator on the project, so I imagine a singer would feel the same. This leads me to my next lesson learned:
Don't do it ALL Digital.
...But it's a digital project, for Events in the Digital World - what do you mean, don't do it all digital? Pieces of this project are very easy to do remotely- writing and editing, namely. However, I think the biggest reflection I have is that some things really do need to be done in person, even on a digital project. To be in the room with the actors while they were filming and recording would have saved loads of trouble, gotten me a video that was a lot closer to what I had intended, and held everyone to a stricter schedule. Something about a real-life meeting sets a higher expectation for everyone involved- myself included. Emmett Costello, one of Passante's interviewees, had a similar feeling regarding digital vs. real-life engagement between collaborators: “It's much easier to ignore or forget to respond to an email, rather than telling you something in person. Most people do not intentionally ignore an email/text, but just forget, and that makes a show much harder to be involved in” (Passante, p. 14.)
Where to next?
I'm still really excited about developing this project! I've got several ideas about where The Alley will lead next.
-Kaleidoscope: Song where someone is looking out a stained-glass church window. Contemplative.
-Waiting: Song where a guy has parked his car in the alley, waiting for his partner to come down so they can go somewhere. They're going to be late. Funny, patter-ish.
While Stornaway is a very cool interactive platform, I had some creative limitations. Next time, The Alley is going to be housed in a single-page website, which is a map, so you can 'walk down' the alley, click on the various 'windows' as you go by and listen to the songs. Think Google Earth's Street View combined with the non-chronological function of Prezi. While I'm hoping to make it moveable (rather than a static picture of an alley), I've done a preliminary version of this here:
I'm hoping the videos can be housed inside the project's web page, instead of redirecting to YouTube.
With this redesign on the project as a world map, I could, theoretically, link ANY video into the map. So if someone in Bangladesh makes a TikTok duet of 'Incurable Strangers' that's really great, I can link it into the map. That way, The Alley becomes a community- which is the whole point.
Thanks for coming to The Alley!
Passante, A.R. (2021) 'A New Normalcy? A Look into the Future of Collaboration: An Examination in Online, Digital Theatre' Music, 2. Available at: https://scholarsarchive.library.albany.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=honorscollege_music (Accessed: 13 January, 2022)
Wang, G. (2021) 'Digital Reframing: The Design Thinking of Redesigning Traditional Products into Innovative Digital Products' Journal of Product Innovation Management 00: 1– 24. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpim.12605 (Accessed: 13 January, 2022)