Supporting creative work by women
by Cindy Cooper
The first-ever WiredArtsFest may be the future of theater — live performance on stage in New York, captured by four film cameras, and simultaneously broadcast over the Internet to people everywhere by live streaming technology.
And if this is the future, it’s finally looking good for women. Thirteen performing companies are participating in the WiredArtsFest, running until March 2, 2013. Of the seven plays, 60 percent of the playwrights and 85 percent of the directors are women. Six of these theater companies have women producers, as does an additional youth program, and women choreographers lead three of the four participating dance companies. One even uses original music from a woman composer, who also plays viola on stage.
I didn’t know this when I signed up to bring Words of Choice, my social-activist theater company about women’s rights and reproductive freedom, to this experimental forum. But I had met the founder, Kathryn Velvel Jones, at events supporting parity for women in theater, and I had a good feeling. I was intrigued by her concept of opening a vibrant presence for theater via live streaming. I also knew that, while Words of Choice had traveled to 20 states, costs were mounting, and it was difficult to reach remote communities where we especially wanted to take positive pro-choice stories. The Internet could go everywhere. We signed up for March 1 at 7 pm and March 2 at 3 pm — an opportunity to kickoff Women’s History Month.
The WiredArtsFest, started by Jones’ VirtualArts.tv, offers a new and revolutionary direction for theater, building on our interconnected electronics, but retaining the richness of a collective audience experience. The shows are all performing live before an audience at The New Media Center of The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, Queens. Broadcasting is accomplished via a special linkup to Ustream.tv, a platform like YouTube but for events in real-time.
In this form, live theater reaches out through the computer screen — this is no talking heads webinar. During the live streaming, electronically-connected audiences may interact by Twitter, instant messaging, photo sharing, and Facebook posting, creating an ongoing conversation on the side of the “stage” on their device screens. People who are watching live at The Secret Theatre are also encouraged to use their Smartphones — in fact, the theater programs are contained on a free App from the WiredArtsFest. (Even the App designer is a woman; oh, and so is the camera director.)
Although Jones, an actor whose day job is in digital media, had previously presented her own work virtually (and she is in and co-produces a piece, Abstract Nude, in the WiredArtsFest), the idea of creating a festival opened the doors to a variety of artists willing to step out of the box. “Think of a fringe festival, but online, where the audience is global, seating is unlimited and viewers can participate in live chat discussions while the performance is happening,” Jones said.
That women are at the forefront of this movement to expand the arts in new directions, and that women are taking the lead in participating, is one of the more hopeful developments in the whole shape of gender parity in the arts. Join us in New York at the theater, or online at the Wired Arts Fest. More information: Words of Choice or or WiredArtsFest.