Last week we looked at the LSE Pulse project and what had emerged since its completion. This week we do the same with Punchdrunk. I caught up with Peter Higgin, enrichment director at the immersive theatre company, whose project aimed to connect real-world and digital experiences in a performance space. He told me about the importance of having a digital specialist in a project like this, something they didn’t have the luxury of when it ran.
“Doing it again I think we’d place a digital specialist within the Punchdrunk team,” he admitted. “It would mean we could deliberately break the rules and conventions that we adhere to in the physical space when creating online experiences. We’d also be able to explore the option of creating a bespoke piece outside of Sleep No More.”
There were other lessons as well, particularly with organisation: “We would definitely restructure our scheduling and protect the time set aside for beta testing.”
But what the project did get right was the technical logistics of it all. As Peter told the Guardian back in May 2012, “The physical installation of the project saw us run over 8,000 feet of CAT-5 cable around the site, linking a 100MB internet connection to our control hub within the building with individual runs that broke out to 24 access points. This allowed us to create a network across the building to live stream sound and audio content to both live and online participants.”
The project used a mix of 10 RFID readers and 50 Bluetooth devices, as well as 10 physical portals, “which allowed participants to communicate” said Peter. “These included a poltergeist-like book that online participants could cue to flip a real book off a shelf when their participant was nearby and a typewriter that allowed online participants to type direct messages to their real-world companion.”
Earlier this week I asked the LSO Pulse project and Punchdrunk to offer what they think other arts organisations can take from the projects they were part of. For Punchdrunk, it was about rethinking how audiences and companies digitally connect with eachother, and for the LSO project, the lessons were purely mobile.
For the Happenstance project it was instead about how organisations think about their digital offering and makeup, and how they go about embracing technology.
“Rather than trying to use technology to fix a specific problem or answer a particular need, the aim was to see how technology (and specifically, technologists) could transform the arts,” said Katy Beale when I caught up with her. “In a way, our aims were similar to those of the Government Digital Service: how could the arts become digital by default, rather than digital as an afterthought?”
Katy admitted that Happenstance has helped make the arts organisations involved more visible to the digital community, “both in the immediate vicinity and through national showcases such as Future Everything or TedX. Digital innovation is inherently social, and the residents instinctively drew on their existing networks and constructed some new ones, which the arts organisations will benefit from longer term. We can also see that Happenstance has application outside of the arts world, into the wider public sector and commercial organisations. And while the legacy will be different for each of our initial participants, the learning from the project has the potential to make a radical, longer-term change in the way that arts and cultural sector embraces technology.”
As part of continuing series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…
Last time we heard from the Dero project, and what the team would have done differently had they had another chance at it – this week we ask the same questions of Katy Beale from the Happenstance project…
If you could do the project again, what specific things would you do differently and why?
“The programme may look deceptively simple, but actually there’s a huge amount of organising that goes into running it. From recruitment, to trouble shooting to establishing a common language and expectations across the organisations. Even though, on paper, Site Gallery, Lighthouse and Spike Island are similar organisations, they are each very unique and had different concerns and practical issues to consider before we got going. There was a lot more preparatory work than we anticipated, but this was beneficial because it built relationships and began to get everyone to a shared understanding of what the project was about.
“We worked closely with the three organisations to place complimentary pairs of residents into each of their teams. Although we attracted great candidates and residents, for future iterations we would expand the recruitment process and make sure we were clearer about the residency roles and what sort of skills we were asking the residents to bring.
“The benefits of integrating digital technologies into the everyday working culture of the arts organisation include better internal communication, greater tolerance for risk and failure (because when technology fails, it doesn’t signal the end of the project) and a more collaborative, open culture. Something we didn’t anticipate is how much the residents changed the non-digital aspects of the host organisations: at Lighthouse, particularly, they influenced the wider team culture and this might be something we would put more emphasis on in future iterations.”
As part of the next series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…
Previously we heard from Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra, and Claire Harvey, one of the digital bods behind the Dero project at Sage Gateshead. This week we ask the same question of Pete Higgin, enrichment director at Punchdrunk, and find out about what he thought was the success to his project.
Question 1: What do you think the key to success has been with this particular project?
“The key to success has been good communication between all teams involved. The challenge was always to co-ordinate a project in New York, which was being conceived and built in London, Boston and New York. Undoubtedly the support, resource and opportunity offered by the project team in New York was key to making the project successful too.”
We’ll be asking this question of the other projects in due course, and finding out their answers to some more. In the meantime, have a listen to the latest Arts digital R&D podcast, the third in the series. This one is all about using digital channels and technologies to distribute arts and cultural content and reach the widest possible audience, including new and international ones.
The LSO Pulse project is the London Symphony Orchestra’s discounted ticket and loyalty scheme for students – they offer £6 tickets for 10 (thereabouts) on selected concerts throughout the LSO season at the Barbican to students aged 18 years old or more.
I caught up with Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra to find out how the Pulse project was coming along…
“We wanted to update the technology we used to run the scheme and to give it a 21st century feel,” explained Jo, which is why LSO chose to use an app to reach a younger audience. “The app lists all the events included in the scheme, allows the students to share their attendance on their social networks and enables them to buy tickets for themselves and their friends directly from the app.
“It means that they don’t need to leave it in order to call or book online – this also means that they don’t have to pay a booking fee, which would usually be up to a third of the ticket price again on top.”
Jo explained that the tickets are delivered to the app as a QR code, which users can bring with them on the night for scanning on entry: “Students also collect points in the app for completing actions such as sharing with their friends, buying tickets for themselves and their friends and for filling in short surveys after the event. Points build towards a tiered series of rewards, such as CDs, free tickets, free drinks and meals, Amazon and Spotify vouchers – at the end of the season we reward the person collecting the most points with a trip to Paris with the LSO.”
Jo was keen to mention that, overall, the project has gone very smoothly: “We were delighted with the initial take-up of the app by our existing LSO Pulse members and pleased to see that the transition was pretty smooth for them. We haven’t had too many bugs surface in the app itself, and have had a smooth ride on the scanning hardware side, with no on-the-night disasters or total tech failures (aside from a couple of minor Wi-Fi problems!).
“We have been surprised by some of the ways in which the students have used the app – for example, a couple of users without smartphones used the mobile website on a desktop computer and then printed the QR code ticket to bring with them on the night, something we hadn’t considered as a possibility. Luckily this worked just as well!”
Because LSO are yet to do all the data-crunching, Jo didn’t have any concrete numbers but revealed that early indications show that awareness of the scheme itself has grown, with more first-timers attending LSO concerts.
“Our main challenge was related to the scanning process in our venue, the Barbican Centre,” admitted Jo. “When we sat down with them to explain what we wanted to do, they raised an issue with their auditing process – paper tickets were a required part of this and entry to the hall was not permitted without one. They were also concerned about their stewards having to decipher more than one type of ticket quickly when large numbers of people were entering the hall together.
“As a short term solution we decided to set up a dedicated desk for scanning and printing off the tickets that had been purchased in the app – stewards could then hand the purchaser the corresponding ticket after their QR code ticket had been scanned. This also meant the stewards didn’t have to be trained to use the scanners.”
Jo also mentioned another work-around they had considered: “We also thought about a solution whereby we purchased a ticket printer which printed a ticket when the QR code was scanned, but we discounted this solution as the Barbican could only accept tickets printed on their own stock.”
Despite this change to the initial plan, the app team have been working with the Barbican on future implementation of mobile ticketing, and Jo said she’s delighted that their test project has been able to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of this method: “We have however still been able to test the full solution twice at our venue, LSO St Luke’s, with stewards scanning the phones and without handing out paper tickets, which we were pleased to see went smoothly.”
Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture