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SHARING A STAGED PERFORMANCE ACROSS THE WORLD - PART 2


Jaki Levy
7/27/2009

OVERVIEW

Over the past year, I've produced several webcasts for dance companies. I've included a few insights and considerations for producing your own webcast. In addition to my efforts with Misnomer in December and April, I also worked with DanceBrazil in March to produce live webcasts. Two of these webcasts were done in conjunction with a season, whereas Misnomer's performance in April was a work-in-progress showing. All of these webcasts were done with a few goals in mind:

  1. Diversify the company's audience by building new audiences online
  2. Expose current audience members and their friends to the work and company, thus broadening the company's current reach
  3. Give audience members who already saw the work an additional mode by which to experience the work and deepen their experience

Additionally, I considered these webcasts as exclusive web events. These webcasts were successful because they were conceived as web specific pieces. Online audience members were excited to chat with each other and experienced a unique event. Before each event I prepared online media (photos, blog entries, interviews, slideshows). I asked myself, "What would a hyperlinked program contain?" and went about publishing and sharing those materials online.

TECHNOLOGY

The technology required for these webcasts was not too complex. For the Misnomer webcasts, I signed up for a free account on UStream.tv. For DanceBrazil's webcast, I partnered with Dance-Tech.net, and used Mogulus (now LiveStream). LiveStream and UStream.tv are currently very popular solutions for producing webcasts. Both services offer many broadcasting options, including overlays, pre-roll video, and even a webchat. All of these options were great additions to the webcast. However, the webchat proved to be one of the more engaging experiences. While you are doing your webcast, you can also record the video and archive it online. This webcast can also be rebroadcast and embedded on other sites and blogs, if you wish. In short, it's like YouTube, but live.

To produce a good webcast, you will need to ensure your video quality is optimal. Invest in a good cameraperson, and practice. Just like you would do a tech rehearsal for your stage performance, you should do a tech rehearsal for your webcast. You will be connecting your video signal from your camera (or video mixer) to a computer, so you need to make sure the video looks excellent.

In addition to a videographer, you should also secure at least one solid person to handle all things online. While the videographer is focused on the image quality and overall video shoot, the online moderator will be focused on the web experience, webchat, and quality of the streaming experience. This person will be responsible for ensuring your internet connection is optimal. I would not recommend doing a webcast with a wifi connection. To get the best quality and the highest speed, make sure your laptop or computer is connected to the web via an ethernet cable.

After you secure your team (and good internet connection), you will simply connect the video signal to your laptop or computer. UStream.tv an LiveStream both have a fairly straightforward interface. As long as you have your video signal connected to your computer (via firewire), and you are signed into your UStream or LiveStream account you can start broadcasting.

MARKETING

To get the word out, we created a Facebook event for all the webcasts. Misnomer also produced promotional videos advertising the events. I also reached out to bloggers across the world, and offered them the ability to embed the webcast onto their site, essentially giving them the ability to feature this live event on their site. Deborah Friedes from The Winger.com, Nichelle Strzepek from DanceAdvantage.com, and Marlon Barrios-Solano from Dance-Tech.net were among the people who were excited to feature the webcasts and help promote the events.

RESULTS TO NOTE

The webcast did not take away from ticket sales (the run of the show was actually sold-out at full capacity). I was chatting live with the online audience; I did not encounter any online viewers who opted to see the work online instead of in the theater. In fact, several people who were watching the webcast had already seen the work live in the theater earlier that week and were watching for a second time. Also, some viewers of the webcast were not able to see the work in person, so this was a nice alternative for them.

There were many viewers from different countries. All three webcasts were produced from New York City. However, for Misnomer’s December webcast we had visitors from over 19 countries including Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Spain, England, Canada, and Germany. For Misnomer's webcast in December, we had over 2,000 viewers. This means that Misnomer had more viewers online in one night than they had during the entire eight-night run of their New York season with a 72-person seating capacity.

More people came to the websites after the webcasts. I archived all three webcasts online and offered viewers a chance to see it again for a limited window of time after the live streaming. Many viewers were not able to make the performance or the live webcasts, so they came to see the video after the fact. In the case of DanceBrazil's webcast, more people visited DanceBrazil.org the day AFTER the webcast than on any other day of the year, including the night of the live webcast.

Not only did we see a spike in traffic, but many people also subscribed to DanceBrazil's email newsletter as a result of the webcast. Simply stated, the webcasts provided a great experience for current fans and audience members. They were able to connect with the company in a new way, and on their own time. For many new fans, the webcasts gave them a unique way to experience dance and ask questions about the work while it was happening. Several viewers had never seen the company's work live and this was their first encounter with the work. While the experience was very positive for many, some people did find the video quality inferior and did not like watching the performance online.

As video quality continues to improve, and audiences continue to diversify, performing arts organizations will have to diversify their methods of presentation. Providing a high quality experience online and in the theater are equally challenging, yet an essential component of any company working in this new age of economic challenges and technological promise. Producing a webcast for your audiences is a great way to reach new audience members across the globe and deepen your current audience's experience online.

SUMMARY

  1. Test. Test. And Test. Testing is critical. Just like you would tech a show before premiering, do a few tech rehearsals with your streaming gear.
  2. Hiring a good cameraperson is essential.
  3. Make sure your venue has a fast internet connection. Don't use wifi to stream.
  4. A webcast is markedly different from a stage performance.
  5. Prepare online content for your online viewers.
  6. Make sure you have an online chat moderator who understands the company and the work. And finally... feel free to contact us with any questions.

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