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December always seems to fly by, doesn’t it?! This time of year I’ve been traveling quite a bit and not around as much for the fabulous Chicago performances this time of year. But I still found myself engaging with the arts through new media and the internet.

Technology really is changing the way we look at performing arts.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t have the arts without people. But there are so many ways technology is giving us more opportunities to be consumers of performing arts.

I’m examining  3 hot, recent examples that are changing the way we think about what performing arts should be.

What do you think has the most potential? What do you think the future holds?

  1. Performing Arts with Google

So this is really crazy to me. I went to open on new tab on google chrome and there, at the bottom of my screen, something like “click here to explore the performing arts.”

Thought #1- “Gosh, google analytics know me well!” Click! Thought number #2- “Yes! The internet is actually working to make performing arts accessible.”

Then I played with it for a bit and investigated more.

There weren’t many full length performances which I was really hoping for. But it was really lovely and a great foundation for what could be with buy-in from cultural giants around the world.

I watched ballet, I looked at archives, I went onstage at Carnegie Hall, I took a tour of the Kennedy Center all from my computer chair.

I was excited when on my travels, I got to take a tour of the Kennedy Center irl.

However, there wasn’t any interactive content from Chicago on google performing arts. It made me question how the site was curated. That was one thing I noticed from my trip to DC is how condensed the Kennedy Center is as a performing arts venue. We are lucky here to have many top notch performing arts hubs, but then our funds and focus can end up a little more scattered.

And what’s next? The fear with technology for me is that arts could be only worth pursuing for a lower percent of people at the top. Since you can listen to the NY Philharmonic perform anytime via performance screening or recording, why would you want to listen to your neighbor play his violin? Amateur art can become more scarce. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to participate in the arts, even if it is not for a career. We need to encourage arts practice around us even more to counteract exclusivity.

2. The Wiz Live

NBC’s 3rd Live production premiered on televisions across America last Thursday night. An opportunity for performing arts to expand by using a different platform, tv.

Common,the rapper, was repping Chicago as the Bouncer. I thought Elijah Kelly stole the show as the scarecrow. A difficult role to play following Michael Jackson’s famous performance in the 1978 film. Altogether a great cast, great performances. Some slow points, but very enjoyable.

Making comparisons to the film is an obvious go to. But I think in particular, “You Can’t Win” shows the modernization while also remaining faithful to the original and passing along an important message about hope and persistence fighting hate.

Then there was the twitter controversy over race and an all black cast. People freak out when they feel their privilege diminished, in this case (…in a lot/most of cases, surprise!), it’s white people.

It’s actually ridiculous! But as a whole, the internet vehemently fought back with amazingly hilarious and truthful tweets and posts show the blatant show of privilege. Not only are so many movies are comprised of all-white casts, THE WIZARD OF OZ, the classic, that came before the The Wiz=all white. Duh!

This quote from the original film director, Sidney Lumet, casts light on the concept “there was nothing to be gained from [the 1939 Wizard of Oz film] other than to make certain we didn’t use anything from it. They made a brilliant movie, and even though our concept is different — they’re Kansas, we’re New York; they’re white, we’re black, and the score and the books are totally different — we wanted to make sure that we never overlapped in any area.”

What is interesting is how people used twitter as a format to ask questions about racism. “Is that racist?” “What if….what would happen?” It seems that inter-race conversations that might not be happening in real life are taking to the internet (in sometimes more tasteful ways than others) to ask questions from the safety of behind their computer screen. Many people live-tweeted the production and twitter became an interesting stage for discourse. Almost like a lobby at a live performance.

This production came at the right time. With race relations boiling, an all black cast with a great adaptation made positive contribution to what is possible when black voices are given opportunities.

But it seems other networks are hopping on the bandwagon after this third production’s success.

-Fox is producing a live version of Grease with Julianne Hough.

-Just announced, ABC to have live version of Dirty Dancing with Abigail Breslin.

Live theater for EVERYONE! C’mon CBS, now it’s your turn. I’m delighted that the thrill of the performing arts and adapting them to new audiences/formats is taking off.

This seems like a way the performing arts are really integrating with television and expanding to offer more roles by taking over the potential of existing formats.

3. Justin Bieber Purpose: The Movement

A couple weeks ago, Justin Bieber dropped his visual album. Similarly to what Beyonce did in 2013, videos accompany all the songs on the album and they came as a surprise on November 13th.

What I think is remarkable about it is the dancing! There are a lot of different styles shown by the groups.

This isn’t just the average music video with a singer grooving around with some back up dancers (…a la Hotline Bling anybody?). The dancers dominate the videos. So much so, Bieber himself only appears in the first and final videos of the series.

One video stood out to me because it is a style of modern dance not often seen in pop culture. “Life is Worth Living.”

Though slightly heavy-handed with the gunshot imagery, the fusion of hip-hop/pop style with modern dance was refreshing.

What is great about the internet is so many people are engaging with content. Views are tracked, thumbs up/thumbs down, and people reveal their thoughts in the comments. The modern dance videos held their own!

What seems certain is that fans like this format of engaging with an artists’ album. With record sales no longer really driving income, building excitement for live performance using videos, is a really smart marketing move. Although, I don’t think any smaller format artists will be on board because its a lot of money to invest in a project before its release. There is no time to test the waters or pull the plug, it is all done in advance.

Is this further pushing the arts practice out of accessibility?

The last thing I experienced in DC was a horn player in the airport terminal playing Christmas tunes, movie music and oldies. It was awesome! I had never seen something quite like it before. Just an average guy lightening the mood in the stuffy, hectic terminal.

They announced him and everybody clapped. The best part was when he played The Addams Family theme song. Everyone clapped at the appropriate parts with him. I felt hope for opportunities for everyone to engage with the arts.


 

These performing arts examples challenged me to think about the ways I use computers in my arts-making practice.

Coding can be a spectacle for its effect on art.

IMG_3452

This piece in the newly re-opened Renwick gallery is lighted with 1s and 0s of binary code.

I made this lovely graph artwork with data of Justin Bieber’s video views, likes, and dislikes numbers.Media art

The pattern has an elegant curve and without knowing that there’s information behind it, a piece of art can present itself. Everyone can be an artist (various levels apply).

Computers make all these things possible, but what will the future for the arts be with the opportunities that technology unfolds?

 

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