Sunday Afternoon in the Park with Will

And so to Brisbane where one of the country’s newest experiments in outdoor Shakespeare had its second, annual 2-day event.  Shakespeare on Oxford in Bulimba Brisbane culminated in a one-off performance on Sunday afternoon of that most satisfying of Shakespeare’s plays, Much Ado About Nothing.

The team of mostly professional actors worked on the project over several months. The development of this project speaks volumes for the determination and talent, not to mention savvy, of Brisbane’s artists and creatives. It feels as though there is a ‘tipping point’ happening in this respect … a critical mass to draw upon to create the kind of diversified ‘independent’ theatre scene that Melbourne has long had. But really … I’m just thrilled to see another community-supported gig start to take a meaningful lung-full of air: as chief sponsor, 4MBS (a community radio station) is committed to ‘classical’ work. Shakespeare on Oxford is also supported by the Brisbane City Council Morningside Ward’s Liveability Committee. Yes please! It’s nice to see local government in Brisbane taking the hint from Toowoomba Regional Council in seeing the point of spending money on optimising the use of their green spaces (and ratepayers’ assets) by supporting public theatre production. Did I mention this was also free? Props to local government, community organisations and all business sponsors.

And the production itself? The word ‘delightful’ springs to mind. The costumes were basic, but worked just fine. The set was … well, IMHO not the most compelling part of the production … but it served. The real winners were the actors who took the old adage of bare boards and a passion as well as a good yarn, and ripped into it with gusto. The story and their skill at telling it lay at the heart of the production’s success … and isn’t that the way it should be?

The inspired clowning under Scott Witt’s direction figured strongly in the success of those (usually) god-awful clown scenes in Shakespeare … I dread ’em like the plague. They are linguistic nightmares, and mostly to be endured between the ‘real’ scenes.  Yesterday afternoon I laughed myself silly … so did everyone around me. They were beautifully integrated with the rest, and totally within the spirit of the play which swings across its arc from sunlight to stormclouds in a beat.

Open air Shakespeare can be a tough nut to crack … and daylight performance even more challenging. It’s a sweet idea at heart, but prone to the vagaries of weather, ambient noise, and distraction.  On the other hand, this is all part of the gig … you bring a rug or a chair, slap on the sunscreen, the kids run around what is a soccer field most of the year, the jets hang a right on the flight path in the audience’s eyeline, traffic revs up and down on Oxford Street beyond the fringe of trees (a lovely green backdrop by the way) … but it’s OK. The action, the story, the excellence of the work up there is sufficiently engaging to keep the groundlings happy. And in the best tradition of groundlings, we laughed, booed, hissed, ‘aaawed’ and generally had a great time egged on by real, actorly engagement with us … and the cheesiest ‘sound track’ which well … just worked.

I was delighted to see how the wriggly little girls suddenly materialised from all over during the second wedding scene towards the end of the play. As is the nature of little girls, they’d been running around the park on their own adventures, but when Hero, Beatrice and the wedding party appeared with basic ‘bridal accoutrements’ they stopped wherever they were and silently, and from all directions, crept back to the front. There they sat reverently, completely wrapt to watch the high romance unfold … . It’s a girly thing of course … Princess Bride stuff … if you get my drift. The boys equally sat still and gaped at the swordplay and knockabout physicality choreographed by Nigel Poulton. All of which proves … if you had to prove it … that the audience itself is a vital part of the passing parade of open-air theatre.

It was a lovely afternoon in the park with Will.  Thanks to all the Shakespeare on Oxford team lead by AD Tama Matheson. Do come back now won’t you.

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Mobisodic entertainment and a new frontier

Guest Post Christopher Hatton is a writer-producer based in Los Angeles and Singapore.  He is currently executive producer of the Sci-Fi Channel original movie “Phantom Racer.”  His company CinePede Productions has produced four made-for-mobile series.

It doesn’t take keen foresight to know that mobile television is the next big thing.  Consider how quickly we went from no mobile phones to global penetration in the billions.  From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to phone games, cameras, web surfing and video conferencing – and you can do it all at the beach!  In the loo!  It’s geektastic!  Of course we’ll all be watching television on our phones.

Some of us already are.  Some of us are producing content for them.

But it’s still early days and it’s not for nothing they’re being compared to the Wild West.  Everybody’s rushing to the new frontier, and while it isn’t exactly lawless, it is chaotic and the rules are being written on the fly.  Just because we know where we’re going, doesn’t mean we know the best way to get there.  Or what will work when we do.

Mobile video has its own set of challenges.  At first it was technical limitations.  The handsets could only handle about a minute’s worth of downloaded material.  And streaming was great, but only if you were into content with a distinctly Cubist presentation.  Most of the kinks have been worked out and now the end-user experience is pretty good.

This puts the creative challenges of mobile video front and center.  So far the arena has been dominated by silly home videos at one end and repurposed television content at the other, probably neither of which is ideal.  Do you really want to watch the latest episode of “Battlestar Galactica” on your phone when you can see it on HD with surround sound at home?

As producers we have to keep in mind that mobile television is different from regular TV and web-based content.  Our venue is small and constantly on the move.  Mobisodes are viewed while riding the bus, waiting for meetings, or in between classes.  Our content has to neatly fit in that limited mind space and still be compelling enough to bring the viewer back for more.  Eventually, somebody will create the first mobile blockbuster, and then the rush will really begin.  Until then, we’re all staking our claims and hoping to hit pay dirt.

Like web content, mobile television has the potential to be an excellent development platform.  A place where you can try out new concepts on fairly small budgets while building a viewer base and – theoretically – generating revenue.  You might just make the case for spinning up to television or a feature.  But lest it sound too good to be true, it’s important to look at some harsh realities, because also like the web, mobile video is no “Field Of Dreams.”  Just because you post it, doesn’t mean they’ll come.

It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of all those hundreds of millions of handsets out there and the nice sounding ring of “revenue share.”  But right now very few independent producers are earning meaningful revenue from mobile television.  From a certain perspective, this is also true of the studios and broadcasters producing spin-offs of hit series.  For them it’s a marketing exercise.  They’re able to promote their brand while “claiming space” in this new arena, biding time for when it inevitably becomes a revenue monster.  Meanwhile, the “little guy” is fighting against the goliath conglomerates for their tiny corner of it all.

Then there are the aggregators who are all too happy to represent your product at a 50-50 rev-share – with no minimum guarantee – which they will then provide to a telcom for a 60-40 rev-share.  By the time the producer gets their piece, it’s pretty small.  (And if you’re still thinking about all those handsets out there, just remember that right now most of them still have limited or no video capabilities.)  Web-based portals provide a platform where the producer can appeal directly to the buyer.  But then we’re back to the Field Of Dreams dilemma.  How do you get the eyeballs?  The end-user won’t find your product unless you market to them, which gets expensive very quickly.

All of a sudden our new frontier seems an awful lot like the old one.

But that’s just today.  As quickly as things have been changing, we can only guess what the landscape will look like tomorrow.  Meanwhile, we can be certain that mobile television is the next big thing.  And for writers and actors and film crews that means one more place to do what we do.

That can only be good.