‘Insight Journalism’ in NYC

Insight Journalism

Take one British Theatre company. Add one American Media research LAB and a pinch of seasoning in the form of a small grant from UK funding Councils and stir.

This is the recipe for what NESTA and the AHRC call ‘Audience deepening’ – measured by good old fashioned bums on seats or more interestingly, by levels of audience engagement.

That is where Punchdrunk Theatre came in. Punch drunk is a British theatre company, widely regarded as the pioneers of ‘immersive’ theatre. NESTA will be pleased to read that their current production, Sleep No More is merrily engaging audiences in New York night after night.

The MIT Media Lab is a US based corporately funded research centre focusing on the convergence of design, multi-media and technology.

In 2011, NESTA brokered the relationship between Punchdrunk and MIT funding UK arts organisations to develop links with technology partners. Simultaneously NESTA invited UK academic researchers to partner with these new collaborations to explore, harvest and then share knowledge that grew out of these relationships.

Punchdrunk has a reputation as an immersive theatre company, pushing the boundaries of theatre and the expectations of the audience creating new experiences with each piece. Founding director Felix Barrett says “I would still call Punchdrunk a theatre company, because I suppose everything we do is inherently theatrical.”

Their relationship with Media Lab is creating new sparks of innovation. Media Lab are currently trying to adapt their immersive production Sleep No More for an online audience connecting two physical worlds using some off the shelf technology and a high-tech mask worn for the performance.

Insight Journalism, developed on the Digital Economy ‘Bespoke’ project, is the method being used by all parties to gather data and feedback from audience members, performers, technologists and everyone involved in delivering Sleep No More in New York. The Insight team included:

Dan Dixon is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Technologies at the University of the West of England where he is programme leader for the BA course in Web Design. He has worked in the web industry and had roles as a senior consultant with social software company Headshift, as well as working for BBC’s online communities and as production director for new media agency Syzygy.

Paul Egglestone is director at the Media Innovation Studio. A former independent TV producer working for BBC, ITV and Sky on regional and network programming, he now focuses on digital storytelling. In 2010 he was identified as a leading innovator in journalism and media.

Jon Rogers is a lecturer at the University of Dundee – employed on the newly established IPD Product Design course, jointly run by the School of Design and Division of Mechanical Engineering. Jon has a PhD from Imperial College London, on neural networks and visual perception.

During a week of testing a series of video, audio and text stories were edited by the Insight Journalism team who produced a daily newspaper exclusively for Punchdrunk.  The final results – to be presented as a further series of news stories highlighting the specific insights drawn from the original newspaper stories – will be handed over to Punchdrunk and used to develop and deepen the virtual experience of the online audience participating in Punchdrunk’s unique immersive theatre production.