An interview with e-Geaux (beta)’ s Joseph Price and Amy Couchoud
Believe it or not, groundbreaking technology is making its world premiere at Capital Fringe. And Steve Jobs is nowhere to be seen.
When e-Geaux (beta) producer Joseph Price told us he and his team had developed a brand new audience interaction app, linked to personal Facebook data, manipulated live in front of the audience, naturally, we had questions.
Describe what it is the audience will experience at e-Geaux.
Joseph and Amy: Audiences attending the show are greeted with a link to visit our mobile app and opt into e-Geaux with their Facebook account. Once you’ve logged in, you’ve loaned us your Facebook data for two hours and can expect to see, say, your profile picture and status updates inside the show. In exchange, you can acccess personalized, interactive app features from your phone (including your own 3-step action plan for fixing what’s wrong with you) as the show progresses.
And, not to say too much, but if you tweet during the show, you might be able to unlock a very special “badge”.
It’s a potentially distracting experience–the user can choose to focus on the performer, the projection screen, or their phone–but it’s one we’ve decided to embrace. So far, so good.
And, of course, we’ve got laptop stations available at the start of the show for luddites to opt in so their data can be a part of the show.
Now, tell us what’s happening behind the scene.
Opting into our app grants us access to a subset of your Facebook data* including your status updates, photos, Likes, and basic information like Relationship Status.
We’ve developed a dashboard that displays all of this individual and aggregate data for our crack team of “data improv analysts.” They work behind the scenes to identify audience members with data relevant to app features behind the fake product demo that’s the conceit of the show. It’s a rush to meet deadline after deadline as they remix the audience’s data and update slides in real-time before the next feature comes up in the performance.
*More information about data privacy is available from at pepysinc.com. We take it pretty seriously.
What first inspired you to create this technology/theatre infusion? And how long have you been working on it?
We were interested in how people, us included, document their lives online and how that documentation is tracked and interpreted. We wanted explore online identity vs. real life identity, issues of boundaries and privacy, and the validity of online connections. The idea to use mobile technology evolved as we discussed how to best explore these themes. The concept of the show took a lot of twists and turns before we finalized the concept in late April. Since then, it’s been a non-stop sprint to get to realize it.
What does the audience need to bring to take part?
Their Facebook password and an open mind!
How is the audience reacting to the experience?
The audience reaction has surprised us in a number of ways. We couldn’t find any other examples of performing artists asking for, and using, audience data to build a show so we had no idea what to expect. In talking up e-Geaux, prospective audiences have reacted strongly to the idea of having their Facebook data on display with reactions split pretty evenly between being a) excited or b) creeped out or c) personally creeped out but excited to see everyone else’s data.
Our performances tell a different story: over 75% of attendees opted into our first two shows (we were expecting 20-30%). Of course, our audience might be self-selecting.
We are also lucky to have a high level of engagement with our audiences. They tweet and send us e-mail responses to the show and several have posted TwitPics or e-mailed photos. There’s something about asking people to share with us that has democratized the audience-performer relationship in a way that is really exciting.
Do you see this developing into some future applications for theatres?
We hope so! We’re still feeling our way around this technology and learning a great deal as we do. At this point, we don’t have enough information to say exactly what applications it may have. We do see a future for this, and we would love to see other artists from all disciplines using it in multiple ways.
Is this something you are looking to investors for help with?
We’re not looking for investors at this time. We’re hoping to explore a longer run at a local theatre post-Fringe and we’re also curious about open-sourcing the show and technology so that — in the same spirits as our audience sharing themselves with us — others can build off of e-Geaux.
Honestly, it was such a Herculean effort to get the script, technology, and performers in sync that we’re only now able to take a breath and ponder the future of e-Geaux. We’re excited about it.
With commentators and researchers recently coming out against Facebook and other forms of social media, referring to them as vain or insincere mediums, do you feel that social media has the capacity to convey who a person is, as opposed to who a person is presenting as?
There’s no denying it has the capacity to convey a person’s true self. The tension arises when we embrace some of the idiosyncrasies of the medium–the anxiety over a status update with no comments; the act of accepting every single friend request because it increases our friend count–without reflection.
Our shows presents the opportunity for audiences to judge for themselves what they’re conveying to others. The show mines comedy by taking our audience’s data out of context, but it’s the same process for a random observer who stumbles across a Facebook account. We’re hoping audiences leaving our show will take a moment to consider the person they’re presenting to the world through their online presence.
What is the future of mobile technology and performance?
In the short term, a lot of experimentation. We’re happy to be a small part of it and we know that there’s a lot more to come (including from us).
Our show, and most uses of mobile tech in performing arts, have been about interaction. But we’re curious about how the technology can be used aesthetically. For instance, what if we used audience mobile devices to create a soundscape or lighting effects? Imagine a theater house full of audiences on their phone, with those devices each having a different sound or light color projecting out from it. (Actually, we should do that.)
So – what’s after mobile tech?
Good question! If we knew, we would be investing in it.
But it’s clear that the mobile revolution has barely begun. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what we can do with devices that are always on, always attached, and always connected. A few decades after we started to use the term, we’re finally beginning to understand what “personal computing” really implies.
What kind of experiences can we cook up, now that we have devices that always know where you are, and that are sensitive enough to measure your heartbeat? We’ll find out. It’ll be a) exciting and b) creepy.
e-Geaux (beta) has 3 more performances at Goethe Institut – Main Stage at 812 7th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Thanks to Sarah Ameigh for her help in developing the questions.