I’ve been reading David Byrne’s book, How Music Works. In the book, Byrne explains and ponders many, many facets of music and music industry. Among them were his observations of CBGB’s and why the club became such a scene.
Amongst the principles he posits are “Rent must be low – and it must stay low” and “Performing musicians must get in for free on their nights off (and maybe get free beer, too)”, “There must be a sense of alienation from the prevailing music scene” and “It must be possible to ignore the band when necessary.” These all made me think of some Austin bars, and in particular the White Horse.
He also mentions how the jukebox at CBGB’s leveled the playing field. It was the music that everyone drew inspiration from, despite how different their own music was from each other. And how backstage was not private and performers were all crowded in and forced to interact with each other. Both the jukebox and the backstage area reminded me of Priya Parker’s idea of “normalizing your guests”. It breaks down social strata and allows cross-pollination.
Somewhere in reading this chapter of the book – which also talked some about the performance and ritual of Japanese tea ceremonies, it occurred to me that you could have a venue not for bands, but for experience makers.
What does that mean?
Imagine two to three people on stage (we’ll call them the experience makers) in a time slot of maybe 15 or 30 minutes. But it’s not a stage in the typical sense. It takes up about half the venue’s floor space. It’s tall enough that spectators can clearly see people who stand on it. But it’s not so tall to be overbearing. In fact, there’s to step up to it, it’s more of a gradual inclined, like a mound.
This mound is the area that the experience makers share with those audience members that want to participate in the experience. The line between “stage” and “spectator area” is intentionally porous so that people may easily flow from participating in the experience to spectating.
What happens here in the arena?
First let’s say what doesn’t happen on the mound: plays, monologues, bands, or other “performances” you might see in another venue. The content of the experience is not aimed at being “art” or provocative.
The force that pulls these experiences into existence is not the need of the performer to perform but the need of creative individuals to serve up novel, fun, memorable experiences for the participants.
So what are some examples of what happens in this arena?
There’s a wide wide world of ideas to be made into opportunity.
You could be invited to have a tea party. Or take place in an olympics. Or read a script. Or chew gum. There might be music involved. Or silence. There might be chanting or meditation. There might be objects to move or people to meet or books to read. There might be things to look at and comment on. There might be art to make or destroy or share. There might be a strange chorus of sounds or action. A dance routine. It could be ritualistic, or chaos, or catharsis, or risk.
Let’s talk about risk. And power.
Participants Are Not Puppets
The best experience makers know that participants are not there to do what the experience maker wants to see them do. The best experience makers know that the participant makers are there to co-create and be served.
This is why everything asked should be proposed as an invitation.
To make this idea of invitation clear, to reinforce it, and to make it as salient as possible, the mechanics of the venue are framed to experience makers as “how long can you keep them experiencing?”
It’s a sort of friendly gong show. You keep giving the participants offers and they choose to take the offers or leave the arena. You, as an experience maker, may have a long tea party in mind but if the participants decide that has become boring to them five minutes in they will leave. If everyone leaves, your experience is over. (Maybe you can solicit feedback from them later to improve it for a future attempt.)
Allowing the participating audience members the power allows them to feel it an invitation instead of a mandate. It is clear who is in charge and who is serving. When framed as “you can leave at any time”, you will encourage more people to take more chances.
No one wants to go to a puppet show and be the puppet. (Well, at least not many people).
The Experience Makers are not there to be enjoyed themselves. They are the to create enjoyment of the participants’ experience.
I also think how the show runs – the mechanics – will need to be workshopped. Here’s just a few thoughts on this.
What if everyone bails on your experience in the first minute? Should you be able to explain what *would* have happened? Can people jump in after it has started or is only jumping *out* allowed? What about bad actors?
Those not participating are the audience. What role does the audience play? Is it a cheering section? Voyeurs? Silent observers? Do they get to contribute anything? I think some experimenting will help this evolve the quickest.
Clearly there should be some limits on interactions. No physical violence, nudity, hateful stuff. What about other limits? How do you set expectations? Are there trigger warnings? Can you opt-in to get spoilers?
Is this a content evening? Say perhaps, everyone pays $10 to get in and gets some kind of tokens (physical or virtual) that they can “vote” with? or spend to keep the show going? Should it be that we create it to build up the strengths – such as you can vote for what you like but not vote “down” something else.