Inspired by Rotozaza’s autoteatro master work Etiquette, I worked with Catherine McCurry and Stepan Botlin to create a 2 screen experiment for television and laptop. The work required the viewers to play parts in the television show from home. In this episode the audience played the parts of Data and Capt. Picard of the Starship Enterprise. They each had iPads whose browsers were pointed at a website that changed its content according to the timing of the tv show. So during the show, the audience/performers were given simple instructions to follow and lines to recite. This extended the passive experience of watching an action filled story into the environment of the audience. The episode lasted about 5 minutes and really came off well. The audience/performers enjoyed the experience (mucho thanks to Naliaka and Rhodes for being such good sports) and the class enjoyed watching them perform along side the television content.
I think this method of two screen interaction definitely has room to grow. By pulling the audience into the story, they are automatically required to invest their energy into the show giving them a more rewarding experience. By taking part in the interaction they also recast themselves, their home and even their iPad into something that it was not outside the show, imparting a bit of magic and creating a memorable and unique experience. I feel that extending the show into people’s homes in a performative way is a great concept and could certainly have a future in television, especially as an on-demand show. This way, you could allow the audience to organize themselves and prepare in any way they might want to (read: put on your sweet homemade Picard costume and chug a bit of pre-game buzz makers).
There was some warranted skepticism about how easy (or hard) it would be to get the audience to do what we wanted them to; follow the instructions and repeat lines. I had a good deal of confidence in this since Rotozaza’s work is so successful. I think that once the experience starts, it’s harder for the audience to NOT take part since the ball is rolling and not only is the rest of the audience relying on you to complete your charge but the TV show is as well since nothing would make sense unless you filled that space in the show with the information you are in charge of presenting.
One thing that I noticed distracted from the experience was the tug of war happening for the audience/performers between their iPad and their TV. Sometimes the audience/performer would miss something on the TV because they were checking their iPad to see if there was a new instruction to follow. The opposite was also true, that while the audience/performer was watching the TV, they didn’t notice that a new instruction had loaded onto their iPad. I think to alleviate this problem I would try an alarm of some kind, ie the iPad would vibrate briefly when a new instruction came in so the audience/performer could focus primarily on the TV and know that whenever they’re needed for perform an instruction, their iPad will tell them.
Also, another killer improvement would be actually presenting media on the second screen instead of just simple HTML text instructions. The audience/performers could wear one or both of their ear buds and not have to read off of the iPad screen. Their instructions could be dictated to them over their personal soundtrack. Since each audience/performer gets different instructions, one could also put some information on one audience/performer track that is not on the other track. This way, after the show the participants would have to talk about their experience with each other if they wanted more details. This is really fun to me because I think this allows the show to live outside of the time and place that it exists (waves and radiations) and it transcends being just video and sound into something with hidden information, privileged information. This is an important aspect to story telling for me, that people can have a private experience in a public setting. That’s how we live life but our stories don’t really reflect it and TV certainly doesn’t reflect it since TV is traditionally 100% face value that lives only inside of its box.
Technically, I was mostly impressed with the way that the web page delivery worked. Stepan took the lead and employed a mixture of PHP, HTML and AJAX to create the timed web page interface. I think that the proof of creating a dynamic interface on ubiquitous hardware that is time synced with the entirely OTHER medium of television broadcast is really cool and is probably the most important and useful interface that interactive television has at its disposal. I’m sure it will prove valuable in the future for other experimental productions.