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Shift Happens because of digital development (does Seattle Opera miss the opportunity though?)

Remember the “old” Shift Happens video? Its been updated, and makes the old 2007 version seem ludicrously out of date – watch here:

And check out Seattle Opera’s Confessions of a first-time movie goer: sorry existing opera goers, you are not young or cool or “fit” according to Seattle Opera’s latest ambassador, Cassidy. Seattle Opera say:

What is opera like to a newcomer? This art form definitely has certain stereotypes associated with it, and it can be intimidating to a newbie! So what happens when we take an opera neophyte, show them the ins and outs of what it takes to put an opera on stage, and then expose them to the Mount Everest of all operas, Wagner’s Ring cycle? We are capturing those experiences with our video production partner, Reel Grrls, in our new reality-style video series titled “Confessions of a First-time Operagoer,” in which we are chronicling a young adult’s adventures attending the Ring. The host, who was selected via a public online vote (over 6,500 votes cast!), is exploring Seattle Opera from the inside out, taking a behind-the-scenes peek into the creation of the Ring, meeting some of the Ring artists, and receiving advice from Ring veterans, all of which culminates in attending her very first Ring cycle. How does a young opera novice respond to Wagner’s monumental, epic cycle? We’re going to find out, and we are documenting every minute along the way!”

I say, this project unfortunately does more for Cassidy’s media profile than it does for the profile of Seattle Opera, and the notion of opening up opera to newbies; but that’s been quite a big risk for Seattle Opera, I imagine. Perhaps there is a longer-term view on the relationship with this group of film makers, and the content certainly has a high programme making quality and aesthetic. This digital format of exploratory/behind-the-scenes programme agrees with digital natives: I’ve tested it on my Being Digital students at Edinburgh Napier University (average age 18) – they like the format, they now know a bit more about opera and how its made and who makes it, and they like Cassidy as an up and coming broadcaster – “she is good at “mocking” the establishment”. But they still don’t want to go to the opera – they feel that they know what they like already, and that they wouldn’t fit in. I wonder if it may have been a better bet to get lots of young people in, and have given them tools to help them appreciate the music and the action – perhaps by allowing them to send and receive tweets in their seats, and think of things that might help them not feel awkward in the foyer. I’m just not sure that this project achieved its aims if the aims were to extend new and young audiences: sure it used digital media, but perhaps it did not land quite as well with the target market in terms of end message (go to the opera, you’ll like it and it will feel OK). What do others think?

5 thoughts on “Shift Happens because of digital development (does Seattle Opera miss the opportunity though?)

  1. I think the premise that digital media stands alone in shifting audiences is flawed at best. The Confessions project was part of an integrated approach to developing young adult audiences, so to watch the videos out of context with the other in-person and “live” experiences is not seeing the entire picture. We sometimes forget that we are a live artform and replication through digital means has many great merits, but never approximates the live experience.
    Our approach involves in-depth engagement in the classroom for high school students culminating in a live experience in the opera house with online feedback and discussion mechanisms. We have an opera group “Bravo!” that is 700 strong of young adults 21-39. They are growing in numbers dynamically and their focus is on in-person and live experiences. Confessions was meant to challenge some stereotypes for a certain demographic and to personalize and demystify something as enormous as the Ring cycle. We were at a sold-out status when this project started, so the goal was to extend the reach of the experience when a live experience would not be possible. Hope that helps put the project in context.
    Kelly Tweeddale, Executive Director
    Seattle Opera

  2. As a Seattle Opera staffer who worked on this project, I want to add a few comments. We have had great response for this project. We had over 5000 views of the short episodes released over the summer. We also tested this project out in a recent focus group. People who purchase single tickets and come on and off thought it was an excellent introduction to opera. Many were excited to either go home and watch the entire series themselves or show it to their kids that they wanted to introduce to the artform. Our subscribers, both young and old, were not overly enthusiastic by the project and the video. But this is not surprising because they are already opera-lovers. Even while this style did not appeal to everyone, they all understood the value. We were happy with the outcome. I love your ideas about tweats in seats and it is something we have discussed here but haven’t yet tried out. Maybe in the future. Thank you.

  3. This video was just one of many projects Seattle Opera has produced in order to garner new audiences. You specifically mentioned the use of Twitter and the generic and nondescript “things that might help them not feel awkward in the foyer;” Seattle Opera is already active on Twitter, and during the Ring, Twitter users planned a Tweet-up/Meet-up in the lobby so they could all further interact with one another. If that’s not building community among younger patrons, I don’t know what is. Also, since you don’t seem to have any original ideas of what makes people not feel awkward in the foyer, you may be happy to know that Seattle Opera had two different projects in this area: touch screen kiosks where users could watch clips of scenes from the opera, then either email the clips to friends or even post the video to their Facebook page. The second project included flat screen TV’s stationed on all lobby levels that displayed a feed from backstage activity so everyone could catch a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes pre-show and during intermissions. I think you should check your facts – or at least gather more comprehensive information before you blast an organization over just ONE of many projects they’ve undertaken. Even if each project isn’t perfect in the consumer’s eyes, I wish more arts organization would even begin to reach new audiences in such creative endeavors.

  4. Thanks Kelly and Kristina for your further contextualisation and insights which help us understand the positive impact of the project more holistically. And I agree with you, opera fan, Seattle Opera’s creative endeavours are certainly reaching new audiences, even if each project wasn’t considered perfect in every consumer’s eyes. However my post certainly wasn’t blasting Seattle Opera – it was a critique of, and provocation for discussion around one specific project: thanks for joining in with thoughtful and detailed comments. As consumers and audience members, we’re not looking for perfect projects (although this particular website focusses on critiquing good digital practice specifically amongst an audience of cultural organisations interested in the topic) we’re looking for arts organsiations that are porous enough to engage in debate and show us their aims, which is exactly what Seattle Opera has achieved, and has proven through this conversation.

    Finally, Scott thanks very much for the link to Did You Know 4.0!

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