Analog Crowdsourcing

By: Edrie
February 25, 2010

Sleep No More
Sleep No More

As a part of an artistic entity, I am often gathering groups of people via various social (Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace etc.) and direct digital (email, IM, text message, etc.) media to create onetime, participatory, crowdsourced, actions which result in video, music, performance or physical pieces of art.

But I realized that though crowdsourcing seems to be a hot term tossed around the ether, it’s not really a very new concept. After all, people have been asking other people to be a part of something larger then themselves since we could talk (maybe even before that).

So I tried an experiment of a play within a play.

Sleep No More
Sleep No More

Sleep No More, The American Repertory Theatre’s re-imagining of Macbeth, was an experiment in immersive theatre wherein a crowd of theatre goers was asked to gently share, but not interfere in, a play held within the walls of a disused school building.

Though the play was immersive, it wasn’t necessarily participatory. And though it used the crowd to create interactions in specific places at specific times during the performance (and certainly you could interact solo or in groups with the set pieces), it did not use the crowd as an integral source for the creation of art.

So while waiting in line, I handed out red feathers.

Sleep No More - Line
Sleep No More - Line

I didn’t want to interfere with anyone’s enjoyment and immersion within the context of the play, so I quietly asked how many times the person had been to Sleep No More. If it was more than three, I asked them if they would like to take a red feather and use it to interact with the other audience members. If they took the red feather, the instructions were simple:

  • You can keep this in your pocket as a souvenir for your time in line
  • You can hold it out to other people you meet and see what happens
  • You can use the feather to interact with the set without disturbing the integrity of the play
  • Nearly 30 people took a red feather from me.

    To one participant I gave a blue feather, the instructions to that person were:

  • Give this to a person with a red feather and quietly let them know they must not keep it but pass it on to another person with a red feather.
  • Once inside all forms of digital media are banned, so there was no communication with the other feather carries that wasn’t direct and personal. As the night progressed I stashed a few other feathers around the set. I was given the blue feather once and shown a red feather six times. At least one person went around collecting as many feathers as they could get and arranged them in a pattern on one of the tables. Every time I saw one of the feathers I felt more connected with the other participants, as if their presence and solidarity allowed a level of interaction I would not have experienced otherwise. I felt as if we were creating a meta-play wherein our art expressed itself wordlessly and unobtrusively.

    For those interested in examining digital collaboration and are Austin bound in March, Check out the Panel @ SXSW entitled Indirect Collaboration: Collective Creativity on the Web which will examine the role of crowd-sourced input on the creative process. Joshua Glenn is moderating.

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    Artists in residence archive.

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    Art, Kudos, Spectacles

    What do you think?

    1. You rule, Edrie! I’d like to cross-post this to the Indirect Collaboration blog, if I could. (Thanks for linking to it.)

    2. How incredibly cool! It would be interesting to know how the feathered people felt about the experience. Since you deliberately chose people who had been before it shouldn’t have detracted from their experience of the play, but I’m wondering how they felt it added to it.

    3. @Teru – I know only one of the people, and encouraged him to post a note – I purposely did not talk to any of them after as I wanted my personal experience to remain in the moments that it happened (and to be clear when I was crafting this)

    4. Red feather here! thank you Edrie it added even more magic to a wonderful night in another world! Also the feather brought me to the Army of Broken Toys show @ Church which made me feel like I never left Sleep No More!

    5. Wow Edrie! Way to make a cool thing even COOLER! You would be the one to reach out to many in a dark, dark schoolhouse…but really, fantastic idea! woot analog crowdsourcing! :)

    6. I love this. I love the art within the art and the collaboration for enhancing an art experience without interrupting the Sleep No More performance. Brilliance, woman.

    7. so jealous i never made it to sleep no more, so thrilled mr. niles is in this comment thread, so cool to see what you did you nontroubling trouble maker! non interrupting non participant -particpant adding art to it all! most deceptively clever indeed.

    8. Via tweet from americanrep

      @armyoftoys interesting – thanks for sharing! 1:01 PM Feb 25th from TweetDeck in reply to armyoftoys

      I also got a lovely email – thank you American Rep!

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