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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