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Creating a Top Performing Website

Performing Website

We were recently asked by Dancers Group in San Francisco to write a Top Ten Tips for building out a well performing website. We’ve worked with many arts organizations (including Dancers Group as of 2012), so this was quite fun to do. Especially because we were writing for artists. Below is the full article, as published in the “In Dance” publication. To learn more about Dancers Group, visit http://dancersgroup.org.

Think back to the last dance performance you saw:

  • How did it inspire you?
  • What feelings did you have after you left the performance?
  • How did you hear about it?
  • If it was truly amazing, did you share it with others?
  • Perhaps you posted about the experience on Facebook or Twitter?

What did it take to make those projects happen? Grants. Rehearsals. Years of training. A dedicated group of people. And, of course, an audience.

Now, think about the last website you saw:

  • Did it inspire you?
  • Did you like it (or hate it)?
  • How did you hear about it?
  • If it was truly amazing, did you share it with others?
  • Perhaps you posted the site on Facebook or Twitter?

Great performances are thoughtful, well-rehearsed, elegant, and help build community. Websites do the same thing. When I started producing websites for dance companies, I was still in grad school at NYU. I applied all the skills I learned in theater school to the online projects I worked on. Because of my theater experience, I thought about all my projects with a target audience in mind. And all those projects went on to be successful because of it.

It didn’t take me very long to realize that great websites contain many of the same components as great stage productions :

  • solid technical team
  • consideration for the audience
  • a planned outcome

So as you plan for your next web project, try approaching it like you would a stage production. And think about how you can incorporate the following items into your process :

1. Develop Passion and Vision – Without passion and vision, a great project simply can’t happen. Once you are able to communicate this passion and vision, the rest of the process will flow much easier. When starting a project from scratch, we often start with a creative brief. This brief works like a blueprint, enabling us to specify what we’re building and why.

2. Create a Production and Rehearsal Schedule – A solid schedule in place leads to accountability. Before diving into a project you must plan milestones, as well as outline the deliverables. While things are subject to change throughout a project, you will always have the initial plan to fall back on.

3. Designate a Stage Manager – A reliable point-person keeps everything running in an orderly fashion. Good productions need a point person to call the shots. Likewise, a good website requires a project owner on both sides; organized people who can move the project forward. While the artistic process can stay flexible, dedicated project managers keep things in order.

4. Assign a Producer – a solid producer will help with the budget, finances, and managing the overall team. While day-to-day operations are handled by a project manager, a good producer can help manage finances and the scope of work. By having someone regularly checking in on the budget and overall resource allocation, the project can easily stay on course financially.

5. Assemble a Talented Team and Supporting Cast – ultimately, great shows come together with fantastic performers and a great collaborative team. A solid front-line of people doing the work will help the product shine. Work with talented people that you connect with.

6. Get Your Tech Team in Place – surround yourself with a knowledgeable tech team that can bring your vision to fruition. Like a great lighting designer, a great web development team can make your basic pas de deux look like a pas de deux grand.

7. Think About Your Audience – know your audience. Survey them. Talk to them. Learn what they want. Take time to observe how they use your site. Do user-testing. You wouldn’t open a show without a dress rehearsal. Why would you launch a site without previewing it to others?

8.  Make it Beautiful  – without great design and solid visuals, your project can very easily blend in with others. And good design comes from understanding your audiences. Dance translates very well to the web. Invest in good photography. It matters.

9.  Communicate – your project should contain different kinds of media. Text, visuals, video, audio, and photos appeal to different people in various ways. Communicating through multiple media will help you reach a broader audience.

10.  Find a Secure Venue – without good infrastructure in place, the project you just completed can very easily stall. Invest in solid web hosting, not a cheap alternative (a $5 GoDaddy account just won’t cut it).

Now that you’ve got all your pieces in place, don’t forget to Plan for the Future. Consider how the site will be maintained after launch.

What grants are needed to keep things moving? Who will keep the site running in the future and manage the show going forward? We can write a whole article on support and maintenance, suffice to say, make sure to have this conversation with your web developer before you start the project. Don’t worry if your tech to goes wrong. It usually does. The key here is to have a good team in place when it does go awry. With the right people and a solid plan, your next website project (and dance performance) will be fantastic!

Critics, Bloggers, and PR in the 21st Century

Last night, a group of bloggers, producers, artists, choreographers, and critics gathered to discuss a very important question – in a shifting world where the role of print media is shifting, what is the role of the critic (particularly in the world of dance)?

In the arts, press = $. If you get good press, you get more bookings (from presenters), more donations (from patrons and board members), and more people come see you. So the (basic) formula goes. So, Press is important. Duh. But press does not equal critics. And critics do not exist for the sole purpose of generating good press for art. Critics write to generate dialogue. Is this still the case? More importantly, will that be the case 2 years from now? Probably. It should.

But can bloggers actually fulfill the same role that the critics from the New York Times (and other reputable publications) have filled for the past X amount of years? And what were those roles to begin with?

You’re welcome to debate these questions in the comments. But for the purpose of this particular post, I’ll focus on the role of bloggers, and what I see as an evolution of publicity, audience development, and general discourse around art work. To grossly generalize and simplify things, I’ll break it down into 2 camps. Bloggers are bad, and bloggers are good.

In his book, The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen takes the position that bloggers and “the crowd” are diluting our culture. In a NYTimes review of his book, Michiko Kukutani writes

“what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”

Essentially, he takes the position that the wisdom of the crowds essentially creates a popularity contest. Google search results, he claims, are based on popularity and not relevance. On the other hand, Dan Gillmor has a more optimistic and positive view on the publishing revolution. In his book, We the Media, Gilmor writes:

The rise of the citizen-journalist will help us listen. The ability of anyone to make the news will give new voice to people who’ve felt voiceless — and whose words we need to hear. They are showing all of us — citizen, journalist, newsmaker — new ways of talking, of learning xxix

Many writers have lost their jobs as critics for reputable publications. If writers who have been laid were to publish on a blog, would their word be valued any less? If Elizabeth Zimmer published a critique or piece on her own blog, is her writing any less valid? I trust we live in a world where this is not the case. So why are we not seeing more writers who have been laid off blog on their own sites?

We still believe in mainstream media. Mainstream media still serves a purpose.
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Producing Live Webcasts

OVERVIEW
Over the past year, I’ve produced a few webcasts for dance companies. I recently wrote an article about these webcasts, asking questions – mainly – is it worth it?

For this article, I’ve included a few insights and considerations for producing your own webcast.

The examples I will look at include Misnomer’s webcast in December, DanceBrazil’s webcast in March, and another Misnomer webcast in April. 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 Audiences (Build New a Audience, online)
2. Expose current audience members and their friends to the work and company (Broaden our reach)
3. Give audience members who already saw the work (Deepen the experience of existing audience members)

Additionally, it was quite important to consider these webcasts as a web event. These webcasts were successful because they were conceived as a web specific piece. Online audience members were excited to chat with each other and experienced a unique event. In preparation for all events, I prepared online media (photos, blog entries, interviews, slideshows). While preparing these materials, I was conceiving a unique online experience. I thought, “What would hyperlinked program notes look like?” and went about publishing and sharing those materials online.

TECHNOLOGY
The technology required was not too complex. For the Misnomer webcasts, I signed up for an account on UStream.tv. For DanceBrazil’s webcast, I partnered with Dance-Tech.net, and used Mogulus (now LiveStream). LiveStrea and UStream.tv are currently very popular solutions for producing a webcast. 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 video, and archive it. 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 camera person, 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. You should also ensure your internet connection is optimal. I would not recommend doing a webcast with a wifi connection. To ensure the best quality and the highest speed, make sure your laptop or computer is connected to the web via an ethernet cable.

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.

After you secure your team (and good internet connection), you will simply connect the video signal to your laptop or computer. UStream.tv + LiveStream both have a fairly straight forward 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. Like a good videographer, it is imperative you have someone onsite to monitor the online experience, moderate the webchat, and ensure the web experience is optimal.

SURPRISES
The webcast did not take away from ticket sales. I was chatting live with all the online, I did not encounter any online viewers who opted to see the work online instead of in the theater. Many people who were watching the webcast had already seen the work. Also, some viewers of the webcast were not able to see the work, so this was a nice replacement for them.

There were also many viewers from different countries. All three webcasts were produced from New York City. However, 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 1200 viewers. This means that Misnomer had more viewers – online – in 1 night than they had during the entire run during the New York Season.

Another surprise – more people came to the websites after the webcasts. I archived all 3 webcasts online, and offered viewers a chance to see it again. Since many viewers were not able to make the performance or live webcast, they came to see the video after the fact. With DanceBrazil, more people visited DanceBrazil.org the day after the webcast than any other day of the year. Additionally, many people 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. Several viewers had never seen the company’s work live, and this was their first encounter with the work. On the other hand, some people found 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 and essential. 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. For all webcasts, we did a few tests.
2. Hiring a good camera person is essential.
3. Testing is also critical. Just like you would tech a show before premiering, do a few tech rehearsals with your streaming gear.
4. Make sure your venue has a fast Internet connection. Don’t use wifi to stream.
5. A webcast is markedly different from a stage performance.
6. Prepare online content for your online viewers
7. Make sure you have an online chat moderator who understands the company and the work.

And finally…
Feel free to contact me with any questions.

RELATED LINKS
Article 19 did a nice overview of Misnomer’s webcast in December.
You can take a look at the article here:
http://www.article19.co.uk/06/written_feature/live_on_the_internet.php

Misnomer’s Webcasts can be found here:
http://misnomer.org/live

DanceBrazil’s Webcasts can be found here:
http://dancebrazil.org/

Live Webcasts for Arts Organizations

One of the more exciting developments this past year (aside Obama’s Inauguration, the stock market crash, and Twitter – yes there are other things in this world aside from twitter), has been the proliferation of live online video.

Websites + companies like UStream.tv and Mogulus have made high quality live web broadcasts a reality.

This past year alone, I produced live performance webcasts for Martha Graham Dance, Misnomer Dance, and DanceBrazil. All of these webcasts featured live webchats, and a global audience.

These unique online events brought in more audience members than the theaters could hold, and generated more online buzz than any of these companies could have hoped for.

Simply said, more people saw their work online than in the theater. Not only that, but the online audience loved the performances and were highly engaged, updating their facebook statuses while the performances were happening. Many came back to the website long after the webcast was done to see the archived video. All of this was not too surprising for me. People love interacting online, particularly around live events.

Just think back to the past few Oscar Parties, Superbowls, and Elections….

What was surprising to me – many people who were watching the webcast had already seen the company’s work before live – in the theater. However, countless others had never had the opportunity to see the company’s work and lived in places the company had not yet toured.

I thought I’d share a little more insight and answer some common questions I’ve received since then:

  • How do I do a live webcast?
  • How much does this cost?
  • Is this for me?
  • Where’s the money?
  • Will it take away from my live audience?

Before I start answering these questions, I’m wondering – why aren’t more companies doing this?
Bars in New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale have webcams and webstreams.
Why aren’t arts organizations and companies doing the same?

I’m convinced this is the year companies will start putting their live work on the web.

Am I wrong?

LINKS:
Watch Misnomer Dance‘s webcast
Watch DanceBrazil‘s archived performance

Dance Videos made for the web

Why is “dance made for the web” an important topic?

Elizabeth Zimmer wrote in December 2008, “The past 20 years have seen the proliferation of cheap video equipment, and rare is the downtown stage not shared between dancers and video projections…some of these artists are as savvy as they are gifted, and they will figure out a way to cross over and enter the consciousness of a critical mass of viewers.”

As audiences for dance grow through the web and stage, so does the opportunity to create and share work.
Some it is completely choreographed, others are more improvisational.

I’ve compiled a few videos that give us a peek into the present + future (or death) of dance, art, technology, and the surrounding community dialogue on the web. Please feel free to add links to videos you’ve seen in the comments section.

Also – for a nice overview of videos focused on Ballet, take a look at Doug Fox’s post.


http://dancetech.ning.com/profiles/blogs/dance-tech-episode-1
I will be showing + starting at 12:13


Maybe we all dream to be………? from T.A.G.San Francisco on Vimeo
Dancers: Drew Jacoby and Rubi Pronk
Choreography/art direction: Brian Gibbs
Shot and edited: Mattew Taylor
The piece was shot on a rooftop in Williamsburg Brooklyn

There are many more videos available “below the fold” –
See the full post

Click the MORE link to see the rest of the videos…

Read more

Artist Salon at Chez Bushwick, March 25th

[via Move The Frame blog]

At the next Artist Salon on March 25th at Chez Bushwick, I will be looking at dance work created specifically for the web. Dance on Camera has already established itself as a viable medium for showcasing dance + performance. However, there is a growing trend of artists creating and adapting work specifically for the web. For example, New York City Ballet’s Tragic Love series, or more recently, Cedar Lake’s  Project 52 – all videos made specifically for the web.

Like site specific work, these (web)site specific pieces are showing that these new constraints are creating short format work, with new possibilities for distribution, creativity, and collaboration.

You are invited bring in your own examples of web-based videos to show at the Salon. 

The Artist Salon series happens on the fourth Wednesdays of the month at Chez Bushwick and features dialogue across disciplines around various artist-chosen topics. Anyone can bring questions, stories, artifacts, or material to add to the conversation.

ARTIST SALON

“Dance for Web” moderated by Jaki Levy

Wed. March 25, 2009 @ 7pm $5

Chez Bushwick
304 Boerum St., Buzzer #11
Brooklyn, NY 11206
718.418.4405
Directions
•L TRAIN to Morgan Avenue
•Exit the BACK of the train
•Turn LEFT outside the station
•Turn LEFT onto Boerum Street
(Chez Bushwick is roughly 80 steps from the station)
Google Map

We’ve launched Daniel Gwirtzman’s site!

I’m happy to say we’ve officially launched Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company’s new site!

Actually, I’m quite impressed with the final product we put together for the Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company. With the help of great media all around, we were able to piece together a photo gallery, a video gallery, a new subscription system, and even an SMS delivery system for his audiences.

It’s really been great working with Daniel and his company. They really did a phenomenal job in gathering their assets, organizing their content, and creating compelling videos. Congratulations, Daniel! It’s exciting to know I’ll be able to continue to help you communicate your wonderful work!

If you like this, take a look at my other work.

[screenshots follow]

http://gwirtzmandance.org/

About Page | Features: Large Image on each page, drop-down navigation, links to video gallery, customizable sidebar navigation

http://gwirtzmandance.org/

Home Page | Features: Slide show, customizable footer area, drop-down navigation bar

While launching the site, I found this guide to be particularly useful:
http://codex.wordpress.org/Giving_WordPress_Its_Own_Directory

I initially setup this wordpress site in a subdirectory ( /wordpress ) so that I could develop things without affecting their active site. After the wordpress site was all setup, I needed to make the switch. The article above did the trick for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – share your ideas and leave a comment!

New Site Launch | Time Lapse Dance

With the help of many, many people and some great teamwork, we officially launched this site for Jody Sperling : Time Lapse Dance

The original redesign was put together by Paris Marashi, while the site design and content management system was executed by Sam Marx

Jody’s upcoming work, Ghosts, will feature a wearable costume assembled by ITP folk (Jenny Chowdhury & Alex Kowal)

The site features a full content management system (run on Drupal), a full media player managed through brightcove, and some nice graphic work provided by her colleagues.

Check out the customized media player here.

During the process, we spent great care taking a look at the works page.
We wanted to make sure we could feature individual photos, videos, and text – all in one area – so the content management system had to be flexible enough to handle all those elements.

During the process, we also setup a facebook page, a blip.tv page, as well as a pro flickr account. The goal of setting up all these sites were simply to allow Jody to extend her reach beyond her site, while still providing a homebase for her work, and image.

In addition to visiting the new site, make sure you check out Ghosts, premiering in October!

Dance USA Winter Conference | Broadening, Deepening, Diversifying

This weekend, Chris Elam, Kristin Sloan, and myself are at Dance USA’s Winter Forum. Together, we’re leading a workshop for dance organizations, helping them develop strategies for video.Â

To open  the conference, Jerry Yoshitomi led two workshops. The first workshop dealt with developing a plan for audience research. Both workshops were very informative. This post will cover the second workshop which focused on the question of broadening, deepening and diversifying your audience.
electric lodge friday check in

Deepening involves communicating with your existing base in new ways.

Broadening entails reaching new audience members who are similar to your current audience.
Diversifying means developing an entirely new base.

Traditional marketing tells us that diversifying your audience, or reaching new customers, takes 6 times as many resources than broadening or deepening. Nevertheless, this is an invaluable opportunity.
BROADENING, DEEPENING, DIVERSIFYING
So you want to diversify your audience. How do you do this? Does your organization reflect the kind of diversity you are looking to view your work?
Jerry Yoshitomi mentioned U2’s Text Message Campaign. NexGen audiences are more likely to send text messages than communicate by email. U2 recently launched a txt2screen program, where fans could send text message to the projection screens during the concert. After the show, Bono sent a text message to all the fans, thanking them for coming to the show.
Green Day did something similar where fans could send picture messages during the concert, viewable by fans during the show.  What would a dance performance look like if audience members could leave their phones on, putting them on vibrate? Â
If this number was publicized before the show, audiences around the world could send messages to the live audience without actually being there.Â
Golan Levin, a multimedia artist also created an interesting cell phone performance, called DialTone – A Cell Phone Symphony, where audience members left their phones on. During the performance, different sections of the audience received phone calls, generating a sea of rings.
Let us know if you have seen any other interesting methods that have successfully broadened, deepened, or diversified your audience!