In development

Still

Written and directed by Paul Hodson

Creative Technology by Russell Bender and Henry Garner

Ovalhouse, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, The Old Market, Brighton
November 22, 2016
-
March 2, 2017

Still

Written and directed by Paul Hodson

Creative Technology by Russell Bender and Henry Garner

Ovalhouse, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, The Old Market, Brighton
November 22, 2016
-
March 2, 2017

Still

In 2015, Potential Difference were approached by The Future Is Unwritten with a brief of devising a way of giving audience members the impression that they had been hacked as a key part of their production Still. Clearly, the approach had to be legal and ethically responsible and to tie into the questions of privacy and images that the play was tackling.

We spent a few days in workshops with writer/director Paul Hodson and production manager Chris Umney while they were in the early stages of developing the script for Still. During that time we proposed a few different approaches we could take, what effect they might have on an audience, how likely they would be to work and what the technical challenges would be. At the end of this process we decided settled on the approach of developing a smartphone app for use by audience members. We made a prototype to accompany work in progress performances of Still at Ovalhouse in 2015. This was then developed a full version for the finished production.

About the show

In 2009 (reallife) Vivian Maier died lonely and alone in Chicago. Among her possessions were a treasure trove of photographs- now becoming acknowledged as the best street photography of the 20th century. Yet Maier lived a “reclusive” life - working as a nanny and taking photos in her spare time - never speaking about her, let alone wanting her work exhibited. Yet now her outstanding work is shown all over the world, books of her photographs have been published and a play is being made about her life... She would have been aghast that her privacy had been invaded.

H is a (fictional) hacker from London. She H “procures data” for big companies and governments and her workload and lifestyle are doing her in. On the verge of a meltdown she finds herself in Chicago encountering the work and life of a dead photographer...

Still is a magical realist imaginary meeting between H and Maier. Set in a gallery space it’s funny, edgy, emotional experience: celebrating Maier’s work and exploring what we give away - knowingly and unwittingly.

Cast

To be announced

Creative Team

To be announced

What did the app do?

Still app was available for iPhone and Android. When audiences arrived at the performance, they were invited to connect to the show WiFi network and download the app. On running the app, they were presented with a privacy policy which clearly outlined what data The Future is Unwritten would be collecting with the app and how it would be used. Unfortunately, not many people read privacy policies.

Once they had accepted the privacy policy, the app gave a brief history of Vivian Maier's life and examples of her work for audiences to read before the start of the performance. Once the show started, audience members were encouraged to use the app to take photographs of the promenade performance.

In the background, as soon as the audience member had accepted the privacy policy, the app looked up their email address, the name of their device and several recent photographs they had taken. It would also take several photographs of the audience member out of the front-facing camera. All this information was sent securely across the show WiFi network to the stage manager who cross-referenced it with publicly available information about the audience members online to be used during the production.

During the performance, audience members received pictures on their phones and, at one point, a personalised message pupportedly from one of the characters.

At the end of the performance, audience members were given an information sheet explaining what they had agreed to, what had happened and who to talk to for more information about their data.

How did it work?

The technology to deliver this consisted of the Still App used by audiences and the Still Server used by the stage manager to receive data and control the app.

The Still App was an iOS and Android app written in Clojure using the React Native framework. It only functioned when used on a device that was connected to the WiFi network used by the show and when it detected the Still Server was running with the correct security certificate on that network.

The Still Server was a light weight nodejs server written in javascript. It ran on the stage manager's computer. Once the privacy policy had been accepted, the app made a secure connection to the server and sent data directly to the server (ie going only over our local WiFi network rather than over the internet). It also established a websocket connection to the server allowing it the stage manager to cue pictures and messages to be sent to the app.

We worked closely with The Future Is Unwritten to go through the legal and ethical issues presented by the app, as well as devise a way of managing data being sent by the app, work out how to load images into QLab to be projected during the show, and ensure it could be safely deleted at the end of each performance.

The source code was released open source so that anyone who wishes can look at the approach we took or use it in their own work. We are always happy to try to answer questions about technology we have developed so please feel free to get in touch.

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