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The WiredArts Fest: High Culture Meets Live Online Video

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That first live series Jones did was called 35, and it consisted of 10 10-minute episodes streamed live over 12 nights (with a 2-day break in the middle). Jones learned a lot during that production. For one thing, she learned that 10-minute segments are too short for a live event.

“Live is clearly a different medium, and 10 minutes is way too short. When people make an appointment to be online to participate in a live event, they want to be there longer than ten minutes,” Jones said.

An old-model TriCaster Studio helped Jones pull the event off, as did the 200 feet of Ethernet cable she needed to connect to the internet connection next to the performance space.

By creating a performing career based around online video, Jones sees herself as accomplishing two important goals. One is educating herself and creating her own opportunities. While she wishes she didn’t have to play so many roles behind the camera, she’s ready to do what’s needed.

“I’m very tech savvy. In fact, I built our website. I do it all,” Jones said. “I discovered in my thirties I still loved the work, but I was not willing to wait for other people to give me opportunities, which meant learning everything. I edit when I have to, and I built our website because our budgets are so tiny. I look forward to the day when other people are building our websites, and other people are doing all of our editing. But in the meanwhile, I learn. This is the world of Google. There’s nothing you can’t learn. I’m tech savvy, and I’m also passionate about streaming and video and the technology that powers it, because to me it’s a means to a really important end.”

But more than that, she’s bringing technology to the performing arts world. While that world is creative and always evolving, it’s not always open to technology.

“The performing arts industry is historically resistant to change. This is also an industry that has been suffering for thirty years. The revenues are in a steady decline, audience participation in live events has been on a steady decline,” Jones said. “I needed to prove a model, but also reach out to an industry and say, ‘Hey, look! Look what we’re doing. You, too, can reach an audience all over the world and do it without compromising the live performance experience.’”

The Future of Performing Arts

At the end of its 12-day run, the WiredArts Fest was a success. The festival had entertained more than 60,000 unique visitors and had received a good amount of positive press. It was the reactions of individual audience members, though, that Jones valued most. She wants to pull the audience into the experience. One way she did that was by projecting some audience comments onto the set itself.

“We had a group of people from Ireland watching one of our shows, and when they saw their names actually projected onto our back screen, they started chatting more: ‘Oh my God! That’s us! That’s us! We’re so excited! Now we’re part of the show,’” Jones said. “One of our goals is to have our audience feel like they have a creative ownership of the shows they’re watching.

“In the same way that people who go to YouTube will sometimes send in video responses, or the chat beneath YouTube videos can become vibrant because people feel like they have ownership of the show, we are trying to make our online audience also feel like this show is theirs and that they are a part of it and that there’s something special and that they were there live. No one else can be there live. None of their friends were there live. Only they were. And their comment became a part of the actual production.”

The natural question then is will there be a second WiredArts Fest. Definitely, says Jones.

“There will definitely be, within the next twelve months, another festival,” Jones said, adding that she’d like it to become a semiannual event.

“One of the goals of what we’re doing is helping other performing arts companies understand that your audience does not have to be restricted to geographical boundaries, that you are not limited by your 99-seat house and your 3-week run,” Jones said. “The fact that we could reach people in Mexico, in Oregon -- One of my favorite comments was someone who wrote, ‘I live in a town of 300 people, in the middle of the woods in Oregon, and I am watching live New York City theater. Do you understand what you’re doing?’ The possibility to expand your reach, I think, is just incredibly important for any arts organization.”

This article appears in the June/July 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "High Culture Meets Live Online Video at the WiredArts Fest."

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