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Hacking Theatre With LIFT

We're big fans of LIFT, the London International Festival of Theatre. Taking place every two years, it brings some of the most interesting and intelligent works from all over the world to London as part of a 4-week jamboree of theatre in all its forms - to quote their website:

"Established in 1981 with a mission to throw open a window to the world, LIFT brings global stories to London, transforming the city into a stage and celebrating the experiences of the many individuals, cultures and communities that call London their home. LIFT has presented pioneering new forms of theatre for over 30 years and has set the benchmark for internationalism in the arts. LIFT curates a year-round programme of work - building to a pan-London festival of shows, special events and talks every two years".

One of the most interesting things about LIFT is its commitment to developing new techniques and practices around what theatre is, and how LIFT can work as a festival. To that end, last Sunday (9th June), LIFT held their inaugural Festival Hack at the ICA Studios on the Mall, bringing together 25+ people from the worlds of theatre, performance, arts administration, coding, art, video, games and more besides to spend a day thinking about how we can use technology to make the Festival better - and create brilliant work.

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It was an incredible - and LONG - day. We kicked off by examining what challenges LIFT faces as a festival, many of which are to do with the sheer size and scale of London as a place to try and create a coherent, unified festival feeling, and LIFT's unusual status as a biennial event - how can digital technologies help create a sense of community and cohesion to the festival, whilst making the whole experience better for theatregoers - and perhaps creating new opportunities for storytelling and unexpected moments of theatre themselves? And how can digital help maintain the excitement of LIFT throughout the months when it's not live in London - and make the best use of all the amazing content (we all agreed that we hate that word, but it's the only one which really seems to fit here) that the Festival, and the works it commissions, produces?

Ably assisted by LIFT staff and a few helpful volunteers we split into groups and tackled individual problems, brainstorming creative solutions which would address some of those issues using digital technologies - not just social media (we decided we didn't like that term either, by the way), but RFID, AR, open source data, game theory, mobile broadcast...we quickly found the best and most fruitful avenues were those which worked at the point where digital and physical intersect.

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After a slightly chilly lunch in the ICA gardens, we reconvened to have a think about the city in which we all lived, and what makes it special - and what additional insights and ideas this could help us bring to our idea generation (we also learnt that a disproportionate number of cyclists seem to live in North East London). We then broke into larger groups to look at creating particular solutions to three specific issues - using the LIFT archive better and more creatively; taking the idea of the London map as an inspiration for technological solutions to bring audiences together; and ways of using digital to make the festival more socially connected. Each group pulled together a proposed execution based on these themes - which were then shared with the wider group at the end of the day.

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We can't tell you what the individual ideas were - because we're now going to go away and work to try to make them real. What was amazing and inspiring, though, was the amaount of collective creativity and inspiration which was released, and the variety of individual ideas and projects which were born over the course of an admittedly grey and chilly June - from ways of bringing people together at the end of a show and creating small communities within LIFT, to the frankly bonkers Byrne David Byrne, to reactive sound installations seeded around the capital, to the possibilities of integrating social media into the live theatrical experience within a production, the conversations and connections at the hack day were incredible.

Events such as this are valuable not just for the ideas which they generate which can have a real impact on the form, function and success of the Festival in 2014 - but for the connections they create, the partnerships they can engender, and the fresh thinking which they can bring to an established event. More than that, the day was an exciting reminder of how new technology is so much more potentially useful when looked at in multidisciplinary fashion - and that it's not just about being on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by in Performing Arts, Culture.Tags