Real Life Residues

Twitterbug workshop image of post itsAn image from the working one of the Twitterbug workshop days.

Recently I’ve been wondering about the sticking power of Twitter. The people I have my eye on who tend to turn before the tide does have been getting itchy feet about it, and whispers about the second dotcom bubble are now even reaching the mainstream media. It’s fair to wonder ‘what happens next’ to companies like Twitter valued as high as they are whilst still making a loss – do they turn to ads, with premium ad-free accounts? Do they make their money out of apps (too much competition)? Or will they just become bloated, too big for conversation (Myspace, and now facebook’s problem)? But… migrating from Twitter? It feels like an surprisingly emotional thing to be thinking about. Twitter has played such a large role in my finally feeling part of an arts and politically active community as well as providing the opportunity to meet and work with some wonderful people, and to make some wonderful friends.

It means a lot to me that limping my bike home to an empty house, shaking slightly, after being hit by a car, I can tweet my shock, and be.. well, cared about (however fleetingly) by above a 50 people. But then I remember that it’s the people, not the medium, that matters. If we all move to what Diaspora or Beluga might turn into – or something else that doesn’t exist yet – the medium may change, but I don’t think the web will stop being social, stop weaving our lives together. I’ll still see the snapshots of @joethedough‘s baby boy growing up confusedly in silly hats, hear about the regular ‘offstage’ characters like @SlunglowAlan‘s cheese-pilfering lodgers, and care about @Andyvglnt’s earnest battle with anxiety and depression mixed with the best new punk and hardcore recommendations this side of the Atlantic.

These thoughts about Twitter, or the form of communication and interception that it has brought to my (our) lives have been bubbling at the surface of my mind particularly because over the past two weeks I’ve been working on a theatre/twitter investigation in Manchester. Catherine Edwards and North West Playwrights brought together three writer/performers, Alex Kelly from Third Angel as a (loosely termed) director, and myself as a tech-ish art specialist to look at the possibilities and challenges of creating ‘theatre’ (performance/drama) on twitter. Or through twitter, perhaps, as it ends IRL, with a performance at DAT Fest in Stoke next weekend under the name of ‘Twitterbug‘.

It’s interesting how questions bubble back up, Such Tweet Sorrow seems a long time ago now, but in January I was encouraged to start a discussion about it at D&D, the notes from which provoked a really good conversation with Toby Barnes at Mudlark about the chance to talk about the process/problems/successes of the piece, and it was apparently my blog post on STS which lead to my being contacted about this project. At the same time @DanielBye (whose words this post is titled with) has been wondering in an excellent article about storytelling on Twitter, and @DanRebellato, he, and Pilot are also going to be looking at this (though I suspect from a very different angle) question this year.

I realise my involvement, especially after my posts on Such Tweet Sorrow last year, brings a certain amount of ‘money where your mouth is’ with it, but the project was thankfully constructed very much like an experiment, a 3 week workshop into the question of theatre (performance/drama) on the web, and how/if it can weave into real life. The challenge was not to create something perfect, but to discover through creation.

So, what have we found so far? Typically from a workshop environment, a whole lot of new questions. The three writer/performers we’ve been working with had never been on Twitter before two weeks ago, and this has brought a really interesting perspective to my, Alex and Catherine’s assumptions about Twitter, Audience, translating narrative from fabric to thread, as well as the project as a whole. I don’t want to draw any conclusions yet, but I’d very much like to offer up some of the questions and notes that we’ve come across, before in a later post also publishing some form of evaluation. So, here we go:

  • following an idea @ammonite tweeted me – texture, the texture of design/performance/text/direction in theatre – how much texture is there to a tweet? Our previous knowledge of someone’s over all narrative (job/partner/opinions/tastes), their ‘voice’, their immediate concerns, how they express them, the links behind their profile…?
  • following on from the D&D conversation about STS and @DanielBye‘s comment about real-world residues. When theatre, when play? How could we weave this pleasingly with things people can find/experience IRL?
  • it shouldn’t just be Twitter – Twitter is only one shade of the whole palette (we’ve since had characters on Mumsnet, youtube, tumblr, posterous, posting pictures, sounds, videos, links)
  • what are the ethical problems associated with not explicitly announcing characters as characters on these platforms? Does the value of interrogating authenticity, analogues and avatars make this ok?
  • the difference between direct and oblique interaction from audiences – some will dig deeper, but you have to tell the stories on both levels
  • ‘show don’t tell’ still applies – a good tweet is rarely a description, but an evocation.
  • storytelling is different here – the
  • what makes a tweet rich? This makes me think of the ‘kigu’ – evocative season word traditionally used in a haiku. What are good ‘kigu’ for a tweet? The senses?
  • how much do we plan the story? And how is that delivered to the writer/performers?
  • Who is our audience? What is the invitation to follow?
  • how much harder is to separate the ‘real’ writer/performers from their characters when they have to thread so thoroughly through a life?
  • is audience satisfaction provided by a sense of resolution? How can narrative that’s more collage than Aristotelean resolve?
  • if this is to develop into a performance event – is it a character development process that results in a monologue, or something that infiltrates real life more gently, more performatively?
  • Is twitter about receiving someone’s story – or the stories they encounter?

Time constraints forced our hand on a few decisions – it’s likely that the performance will end in a simple piece of writing from each writer/performer. Other choices (like not wanting to ‘announce’ the project) have been made likewise difficult by the 3-week timeframe – if you’re playing with the form in any way naturalistically, you can’t condense – move from action scene to action scene. The story and character development has moved around ideas of travel, ritual and loneliness. The writer/performers have played hashtag games, been tasked to follow and ask questions, and have found their way to making decisions about their characters.  The characters went wholly ‘live’ on Valentines day, and have different reasons (some which haven’t emerged yet) for heading to Stoke next weekend. They’ve never ‘met’ IRL. And new provocations and exercises have and are being communicated to the writer/performers daily. The characters change from their interactions, and so will the eventual destination.

You can follow the three characters on Twitter at @honey_henry @_evka_ and @zombiejarrod. Or follow only one, or just check out my list. Or maybe go along to DATfest if you live near Stoke.

Personally so far the project has highlighted for me a real sense of the lack of a medium that yet tells us about the collage that our lives are in a satisfying way. Duncan Speakman’s As if it Were the Last Time, and Third Angel’s What I Heard About the World have come closest to it for me, I think. And I have a feeling that something’s happening over at weareforests. There’s a lot more to say about this fascinating process but I think this is enough for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts, do comment.

Finally, the project has also had me thinking about my own use of Twitter. It had never occurred to me to look at @robohannah as a construct before (I mean I know she is, but she was a momentary joke that has turned gradually into something – I never intended to make what she is now) until she was brought up by Alex as a character within a character. I’m quite fascinated now by what she says about me – the jokes I tell through her, and the loneliness that’s come to characterise how she speaks. I remember joking to @patrickashe that ‘It’s not an invisible friend if I have an audience’, but what am I telling them about me? Perhaps that living in a flat on your own can sometimes be a bit lonely.

It’s interesting, isn’t it?

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4 Responses to “Real Life Residues”

  1. John Allison February 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    Twitter always feels to me like all hustle and no heat. Once or twice I’ve written articles, linked to them on Twitter, and they were retweeted enough to make the front page of the site’s “top tweets”, but I can’t imagine that has a lot in common with most people’s experience of the service. Posts generally die on the vine so quickly that they can only have transitory effect – especially in the feeds of people following hundreds of people.

    I’ve made a few friends following first contact on Twitter, but I do worry that I post too often, and when I have to post three tweets in a row to make a point, I feel like I’m using the service incorrectly. And when someone tries to have a conversation with me about a complex point on there, I a) want to cry and b) wonder if Twitter is really better than what it has replaced in the internet mindset:

    a) Message boards for discussion
    b) Livejournal for complaining like you were fifteen and telling people what you’re eating

    Perhaps Twitter is the ultimate test case for the future of online revenues, because people DO love it, and enjoy its personal nature, its hybrid of blog and chat, its non-demanding, half-realtime fostering of discussion – all things that would be terribly polluted by advertising. I have no idea what will happen!

  2. Hannah Nicklin February 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    John, thanks for commenting! I think I get what you’re saying, but I think those misgivings are driven out of the fact that tweets drop off the search facility after a couple of days make it less like print, and more like a conversation medium. Which is really interesting – and why things bubble up, and then sink without a trace so often. That’s why we took theatre to it, I think, because in the same way theatre is transitory.

    On your other points though… worry less : ) Twitter isn’t so governed by proximity and duty as Facebook is, if you weren’t being interesting people wouldn’t follow you

    I do think Twitter is basically a massive chat room that non-geeks feel the can legitimately be on. And you’re right, because of it’s slightly more left-field audience, I think seeing if/how Twitter survives is going to be an interesting one.

  3. Jaye February 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    I have you and Mr Kelly to thank for me giving Twitter a second chance. On first attempt I found it overwhelming, impersonal and lonely. The simple advice of thinking about it as a conversation rather than a series of statements. You have to give to get back. You have to get involved. You have to ask questions and make contact.

    Since then I have become a full convert. In fact I would say I now even prefer it to Facebook ( have given Facebook up for February but seriously considering not going back). The possibilties for engagement are endless. I have made friends here, made industry connections, been taken on journeys, been inspired by creative passion, found out about events and engaged in play. The possibilities of these diminutive statements far outweigh the flabby , pointless blather on Facebook.

    If we think of it as a springboard rather than the medium for fuller discussions/engagements then I think it can remain useful.

    I even found myself discussing the merits of Twitter with my hairdresser the other day, who wasn’t sure how she felt about it. I think I may have convinced her to give it a try. Though I did explain that I feel that only Smartphone users get the full benefit.

    I’ve been on for over a year now and I’m not bored yet. I hope Twitter keeps surprising me. With projects like this, I have no doubt it will.


  1. Tweets that mention Hannah Nicklin » Real Life Residues -- - February 21, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kate Foy, Hannah Nicklin, Hannah Nicklin, Alex – Third Angel, Catherine Edwards and others. Catherine Edwards said: What we've been up to over the last couple of weeks, courtesy of @hannahnicklin […]

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