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Tag Archive | "Hide&Seek"

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What’s the future of arts venues? Designing the future…

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Jake Orr

Last night, as part of OMA / Progress and The Barbican Centre exhibition, I attended a panel discussion relating to architecture, audience and the arts called Designing for the Next Generation: What’s the Future of Arts Venues? Part lecture, part chaired discussion, the focus of the evening was on how architects are working to design arts venues that impact on future generations of audiences (and artists). It wasn’t quite what I would normally find myself at, but the event was brought to my attention by Rob Harris, Director of Arup, a global firm of engineers, designers, planers and project managers, after he had read an article in Auditora Magazine that I had appeared in, discussing the affect a building has upon young people, notably The Royal Opera House, Barbican Centre and Young Vic (read it here).

Harris’s presentation seemed extremely fitting for A Young Theatre, touching upon the consideration that architects must place upon the way in which future audiences (current young people!) will interact with an arts venue. Harris presented several issues which future venues will be affected by and have an impact on. They were: affordability, sustainability, accessibility, interaction, attraction and participation. Each holds a consideration and challenge for an architect who is designing the future cultural buildings we inhabit. Much of the presentation included examples of arts venues across the world that had taken on aspects of the above, each having an impact upon their audience.

It was saddening, but perhaps not surprising, that Harris spoke of the affordability of future buildings, the costs of designing, consulting, and eventually building a venue in the “current economic climate”. He also spoke about venues having to adapt to suit their financial situations, resorting to hiring of spaces for conferences and functions. These hires mean that the venue was worth more for its facilities than its artistic programming. How would future arts venue thus have the versatility to support their artistic work without falling prey to being a conference centre? The trouble is, what with the recent arts funding cuts, notably Arts Council England and local authorities, venues are already having to make this shift. Only yesterday I heard that Barnet’s artsdepot was resorting to hiring out its spaces in the wake of Barnet Council cutting close to £200,000 funding to the building.

It was of course not all doom and gloom for venues. There was also promise and hope about the way in which buildings will function to allow young people to see them as a place to visit. Harris spoke of the need for venues to become social meeting points, and consequently offer what young people expect (because it is becoming increasingly common) from a venue: free wifi and free Fair Trade coffee with a relaxed and friendy environment. The idea being that if young people wish to meet socially in the venue, they might be encouraged to see the artistic work, too. This, as I mention in Auditoria Magazine, is similar to my opinions of the Young Vic; the bar is the central focus of the building, where actors, directors, technicians and audiences alike rub shoulders as they navigate around the venue. The stage door is the same as the entrance for the audience.

Yet this need for social integration is also about the need for future venues to allow a future audience to interact with them. We’re not talking about social media in marketing as a form of interaction, but of real physical play. As Harris suggested, young audiences want to be able to control their experience. With the ubiquitousness of smartphones and computers, young people want to experience “before they have left home, to continue whilst they are in the space and also after they have left”. It’s not just about scanning codes and tweeting, it’s also about the physical pushing of boundaries and walls, to shape and curate a venue – or as Harris put it “to mess it up”.

At this point I thought Hide&Seek’s Sandpit events at the Southbank Centre, encouraging adults to play games within the venue. Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, later referred to the Barbican’s exploration of performances in its foyer spaces, allowing the building to develop beyond its originally defined spaces. A venue’s structure can be tested and challenged, it can be interacted with beyond its original confines. This interaction is key to how architects should see, or at least question, how they design their venues in the future.

Going back to Harris’s other considerations, he spoke about sustainability – both in an environmental sense and a finanicial sense. Venues are now incorporating far better environmentally sound instruments and technologies, with older buildings playing catch up. Harris gave an example of a gallery (apologies as I forgot to take the name) taking environmental concerns ahead of customer comforts, the heating being cooler and thus less fuel wasting, but less warming for the art goer. In this instance, a simple jumper has be worn to stay comfortable, a short price to pay for a more environmentally friendly building.

Another suggestion from Harris was that sustainability might see arts venues incorporating high street shops, making a commercial investment that sees a new audience drawn into a venue for its other functions than just its artistic merit. Although, as Harris commented, we have to be careful that the artistic programming does not become the “theatre of a high street”, where you “don’t need to worry about seeing a show because you know it will be back the following year, being able to guess the artistic programming”. There is a wider consideration to be made here: what about multidisciplinary venues, such as the Barbican, that become a hub of activity beyond just artistic programming. Should we do away with arts venues altogether and instead install artistic structures/spaces within shopping centres and car parks? This leads into the use of found spaces and temporary structures that has become increasingly common. Kenyon noted You Me Bum Bum Train last year taking over a disused building because the work couldn’t fit into the Barbican, but the artistic vision was worth pursuing. These developments of older buildings, rethinking our ideas towards a performative space, draw audiences to new areas and feats of exploration within a building that they have not experienced before. You would hope that this would add a layer of understanding or at least possibility for audiences who might be willing to look at traditional building-based facilities in a new light.

There was a general tension within the discussions about the balance between creating arts venues that cater to the artist, and those that took more traditional routes of stage, seats and boundaries – especially from Nicholas Payne, Director of Opera Europe with his work on transforming the Coliseum and Royal Opera House. What do artists really want when creating work in a venue? As one audience member noted there is a need for a blank canvas to project ideas onto, whilst there was also an argument for a confined structure to impose the artist’s work into. The answer is that we need both, but I can understand the desire to have artistic practitioners exploring the process of designing a venue of the future with an architect.

As a whole, the topic of designing future arts venues could have been discussed more in a day’s conference than the brief few hours it was given. The depth of consideration that goes into planning and formulating a venue has epic proportions, most of which I didn’t quite realise. There were some interesting points raised by Liaz Foir, Co-Founder of MUF Architects, on the community impact a venue has; how it forms and shapes the local area. Arts venues should reflect our society and values, they should reverberate through our communities and, if done well, should offer a place of play and learning from a young age.

It is my own belief that venues and theatres as a whole have a long way to go before they can be seen as a place that young people happily gravitate towards. There is an intrinsic barrier that needs to be displaced, and this is as much about the programming as it is about the design of a building. Until we do away with the boundaries and allow a sense of openness that allows young people and audiences to feel intimately connected to the work on our stages, we will increasingly discourage younger audiences. Harris made a statement which seemed to resonate with me afterwards, that those older audiences that grace some of our nation’s top venues have to be replaced for venues to survive, the question is: are our venues being designed and programmed to encourage the next generation? I guess we’ll have to wait and see (or encourage younger archetects to develop new practices for designing future art venues).

The OMA/Progress Exhibition continues until 19 February 2012. For more events and information see the Barbican Centre website. Image by Julio Albarran

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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The Show Must Go On: An App from the Royal Opera House and Hide&Seek

Posted on 15 November 2011 by Jake Orr

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I am constantly saying “‘why isn’t theatre doing this?”‘,”‘when are we going to see some digital innovations in the arts”, and a general “I want digital apps for theatre now“. Well my prayers have been answered this week in an app designed by Hide&Seek and commissioned by The Royal Opera House, called The Show Must Go On. It’s a colourful, playful and downright fun game that gets you thinking about the various aspects that make up a production on the stage of the Royal Opera House.

Ever since the launch of Bjork’s digital app that created a digital playground to explore her newest album, I’ve been eager to see something playful and inspiring in the world of digital theatre apps. The majority of current apps available for Apple-related productions (apologies to Android users, I’m not one of them) relate to listings of shows, such as Digital Theatre’s listings app or the British Council’s Edinburgh 2011 Showcase app. There have been slightly more adventurous ideas such as Theatre Ninja’s app that allowed users to hunt down free or discounted tickets during the Edinburgh Festival, often requiring stealth action from its participants to gain a ticket. Otherwise the theatre industry has been slow on the uptake.

The Show Must Go On, however, sets a precedent for any arts organisation seeking to explore the world of apps. Backed by The Royal Opera House and handled with the playful charm that Hide&Seek offer, it’s not surprising that I find myself engrossed in the app’s addictive game play. Thrown into making a production run smoothly after a series of bad luck incidents, you take on the role of the stage manager,and attempt to complete a number of tasks to create an exceptional performance. The mini-games are each tailored towards a particular area of the production, from the composer needing his score (you have to jump across the Covent Garden roofs to retrieve it) to the lighting designer’s frantic need for someone to control the lights.

What makes The Show Must Go On so enjoyable, beyond the actual gameplay itself, is its sense of fun and playfulness. Taking the role of the stage manager is a genius way of looking into the various aspects of a production. Rarely does the limelight fall upon the person who is searching for props, or ensuring the actors have the right clothes on, so to have the game focus on this area within the arts is enlightening. It’s also educational (but strictly fun whilst you learn), allowing someone who has little experience with the theatre industry or how to put on a show to understand the elements that make up a production. If you do well in the game and score highly, the production will run smoothly and you’ll gain a standing ovation. If you don’t do so well, you’ll see a shamble of a production and not a lot of clapping to follow from your audience.

Beyond the gameplay itself, there is a wealth of funto be had from the various aspects that make up the design and running of the game. EMI Classic has allowed for music from some of the popular operas such as The Marriage of Figaro and Carmen, whilst ballet fans amongst you will enjoy music from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker as background music throughout the game. During the development of the game, the Hide&Seek team were given access to the Royal Opera House to record sounds of the theatre which have also been incorporated into the game itself. It’s no wonder the game requires wifi to download as it goes over the 20MB restrictions for 3G downloading.

As images often speak louder than words, enjoy some screenshots from the game below:




I’ve been keen for arts organisations to begin to explore the possibilities of apps in their work, and whilst there are considerable difficulties with this including costs, logistics, and longevity of an app, The Show Must Go On has broken through the void of listings apps and created a game that is fun and inspiring. So it’s not quite as innovative as Bjork’s digital music app, but in terms of an arts organisation working with a game designer such as Hide&Seek (although this doesn’t quite cover the full remit of their work) it’s a huge step in the right direction. What with the Digital R&D fund launched by NESTA and Arts Council England to engage digital exploration of work in the arts by pairing technology-based companies with arts organisations… it almost seems like The Royal Opera House has run ahead and shown that it can be done, and done well.

You can download the app from iTunes here.

Otherwise, be sure to check out both The Royal Opera House blog, and Hide&Seek’s website, or even for that matter the official Show Must Go On website (yes, they have a website and everything!).

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
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