WiredArts Fest: Theater With Video Streaming and a Social Media Twist

PHOTO: The WiredArtsFest is the first live streamed performing arts festival.
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The show is about to start. You fire off that last text message, tweet or Facebook post about how excited you are. You silence your phone and put it in your pocket or bag.

That's all standard practice for theatergoers. But not at the WiredArts Fest. At this festival the creators want you to use your phone during the performances. They want you to tweet, share photos, and use their own app. You also don't have to be in the physical theater to share your impressions of the dance, musical and theater performances.

While the festival is taking place on a stage at a small theater in Long Island City, New York until March 2, it's also live on the Internet. VisualArtsTV, the company behind the event, is streaming all 24 performances on its website and UStream.

An Infinite Number of Seats
The seats never run out at the WiredArts Fest: every performance is streamed, and while the tickets aren't free, they are very affordable. It costs $2.50 per performance and $35 for the entire festival. You can stream it for free on UStream, but then it will be interrupted by video advertisements from time to time.

For your money you get more than just the feed from one camera in the back of the theater.

Watch Video: Theater Gets a Tech Twist

"We take the in person performing arts experience and translate that into an online video experience," Kathryn Jones, the CEO and founder of VisualArtsTV, told ABC News in an interview at the theater. "We don't want anyone in our audience to feel like they are sitting in the back of the theater."

The whole operation is shot with four HD cameras, which move with the movements of the performance. If a dancer gets low to the ground, so does the shooter. A director cuts between cameras. There have long been broadcasts of performances, but this is tailored to online users.

"We cut very very quickly and we tend to shoot in tight shots because when you are online you are always leaning forward and looking for something else to do and someplace else to go," Jones says. "We are trying to shoot this like you would shoot an online video so it feels very authentic."

A Connected Audience
VisualArtsTV is encouraging its online viewers to talk about what they are watching, just as they would about any other video they see online. Next to the online stream is a chat room; you can easily tweet and share the stream.

And that connected experience doesn't stay only on the Web. Some of the comments are projected in the theater. And in the theater the connectivity doesn't get cut off either; members of the audience in the physical theater are encouraged to join the online conversation.

"We do everything we can to make our online audience and our theater audience a very social experience, and to make sure both those audiences are viscerally aware that they are watching something global," Jones said. "They don't just have this community around them but there is someone in Barcelona and someone in Sweden and Arizona watching what they are watching."

To promote the conversation in the theater, there is an app. The VirtualArtsTV app, available for the iPhone and Android phones, has information about the festival, includes social media streams and also allows you to share photos.

"It's something that's very controversial, but we want you to take pictures, we want you to post to Facebook, we want you to post to Twitter, we want you to do anything that's going to make you feel excited," said Jones. At the theater they give out nametags, encouraging people to write out their Twitter handles so they can communicate online.

An Experiment with a Purpose
While the event is a testament to how technology is invading all parts of our lives -- even something as non-technological as a dance performance -- Jones and the VirtualArtsTV team say they hope the festival will fuel growth and excitement for the performing arts generally.

"The industry as a whole is figuring out how do we increase demand for the performing arts, how do we deal with the fact that our revenues are declining," Jones said. "I am very, very certain that the audiences aren't in decline, the audiences are online."

Jones says this isn't about replacing traditional performing arts, it's about providing an alternative, especially to the generation that is connected and obsessed with social media.

However, as is the case for any show, you never know how the audience will react. Jones and her team say they realize not everything may be a hit.

"We will definitely fail at some things, but the only way to figure out what's going to work is to try all sorts of things. The photographs might be a disaster, the Facebook might be a disaster, the nametags might be a disaster," she said. "The only way we will discover what works is by failing."

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