Since the growth of social media and platforms for collaboration, theatre artists and venues have attempted to keep abreast of the trend and offer their take on how these tools could be used in performance. No one can forget, and rightly so, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s attempts at mapping a performance of Romeo and Juliet through Twitter. Whilst Such Tweet Sorrow failed to ignite my enthusiasm, it offered a bold and adventurous leap into the unknown by a prestigious company who had until this moment never ventured into the digital-sphere. Such Tweet Sorrow paved the way for other companies and experiments to take place learning from their initial mistakes.
So much of the Internet and the digital tools that are emerging, along with the way in which audiences are interacting with venues and the performance work itself, is unknown. We’re constantly experimenting, failing, and starting again. There is everything to play for, which is why Battersea Arts Centre’s new online platform, ScratchR, goes some way to offer the playground environment that is needed for big ideas to be scratched (and as it happens ‘itched’).
The notion of scratch performances, coined during the artistic leadership of Tom Morris at BAC, gives artists a safe and supportive environment to show work-in-progress pieces in front of an audience. Feedback is given, ideas are tested, and ultimately work is progressed to the next level. Until now this process has been purely an ‘offline’ experience, taking place in BAC itself in front of a live audience. ScratchR however aims to bring this experience to a digital audience, anywhere in the world.
Working with Native HQ (the folk behind some of National Theatre of Wales recent digital work, think: Brandley Manning and The Passion), and supported through the first round of NESTA and Arts Council England digital research and development funds, ScratchR aims to bring artists and audiences together to collaborate and experiment during the initial idea phase. With a focus on ‘Itches’, that pesky little itch that won’t go away making you want to scratch something, or in a performance sense the initial idea you’d like to explore before you begin to scratch something in front of an audience, ScratchR is a platform for collaboration.
Built on WordPress, the project is currently in Beta phase and is seeking artists to experiment and play with the functionality before it begins to evolve over the next year. As an artist (or even audience member) you can register for the project, which gives you a profile and the chance to experiment and explore the projects being ‘itched’, essentially a mini-platform with a blog, project description, collaboration list, and video support. BAC producers are also on board ready to offer constructive feedback to participants, and with a pot of money waiting to be used, take certain projects to an official scratch level.
ScratchR is essentially a collaborative platform for artists. It offers a playspace for big ideas to be deconstructed, reworked and using the skills of other artists explored in a practical sense. From an ‘Itch’ participants can set a Scratch date (be that online or in a real space) where the project will have a public showing, discussion or bringing together of the collaborators. In its essence ScratchR brings together the various aspects of social media, the vast power of the Internet and offers a tool for artists to find collaborations, give their initial ideas some space for development, and it is hoped, the first steps towards new projects emerging in a real time and space.
The possibilities for the platform itself are relatively unknown, but during these early Beta stages this is fine. Native HQ have declared the project the scratch of what ScratchR will eventually become. It’s really easy to register, and is certainly worth keeping an eye on in the coming months for future developments. If there is one problem BAC and the Native HQ will struggle with, like any initial platform for users, is the uptake, but given BAC’s mission of pushing boundaries, and a NESTA/ACE grant over their heads results will be pushed for.