National Student Drama Festival, winners of the 2022 Digital Culture Awards Digital Trailblazer category, tell us their winning story of expanding their reach with digital transformation.
Digital Culture Award Winner case study: Open Sky
In this article
Claire Coaché is the Artistic Director at Open Sky Theatre and responsible for deciding what work they make, which medium or combination of mediums they work in and then leading the creative process alongside creative partner and co-founder Lisle Turner. Claire talks us through Open Sky’s winning story.
Open Sky Theatre is a small, rurally based production company that creates original, high-quality work combining new writing with physical and digital theatre. We’re dedicated to creating new platforms for artistic voices that might otherwise go unheard and removing old social barriers that might prevent audiences engaging with theatre. We believe theatre creates empathy, reminds us that our differences need not divide us and reasserts that what we share is greater than what we do not. We believe theatre should be a two-way street. Some audiences are able to come to us and we welcome them at our live performances. For those who cannot come to us, we use digital technology to go to them, whoever and wherever they may be.
Your winning project
Our winning project, MicroPlays, was a series of five short digital plays written by five great female writers. Kate Attwell wrote Stile, a breathless take on the wealth gap; Matilda Ibini wrote Head Over Wheels, a romantic comedy about dating as a disabled person; Iman Qureshi wrote The Ceremony, a searingly honest take on non-binary marriage with a twist; Tena Štivičić wrote The Importance of Being Honest, a darkly comedic take on culturalist discrimination in the workplace; and Emily White wrote Homework, a horrifically funny take on inter-generational discord caused by climate catastrophe. They were directed by Open Sky’s Lisle Turner and produced by Martina Klich of Wrapt Films who brought decades of combined experience to the process of filming the plays for digital distribution. MicroPlays was funded by Arts Council England National Lottery Funding, with financial support from Wrapt Films and The Elmley Foundation. We were supported by our regular producers, Turtle Key Arts.
What did you want to achieve?
We asked the writers to write about cultural polarisation, how some issues seem to be dividing society. We posited the question of “do our differences really have to divide us”? Otherwise, the writers were given free rein to write about issues that mattered to them. In so doing we had several key objectives:
- Create some exciting new work about issues that are relevant to today’s audiences.
- Provide a digital platform for our playwrights to reach new audiences and demonstrate their talent was transferable to screen viewing.
- To use a conscious casting approach to selecting collaborators, crew and cast so our production was as diverse as our audience.
- Reach audience groups traditionally disengaged with theatre – young people, rural audiences and people facing socio-economic barriers.
- To prove our theory that small companies can make a bigger impact by using digital technology to amplify their output.
We hoped to reach an audience of 100,000 people in 6-months. We actually reached an audience of 600,000+ in just 3 weeks including very high percentages of our target audiences.
Key to this success was:
- Collaborating closely with our writers to tailor their scripts to be delivered via social media.
- Bringing skills into the project from outside the theatre sector including digital strategists, social media influencers, filmmakers, and Digital Culture Network’s own Tech Champions.
- Creating multiple versions of the work to suit different social media platforms and adhering to creative parameters preferred by our target audiences in terms of format, duration, and time of distribution.
- Adjusting our distribution strategy and social media advertising as we learned what worked for our audiences.
As a production, we were 55% female, 39% male, 6% trans or non-binary, 7% disabled, 32% global majority, 25% LGBTQIA+, 40% rural and 36% from a socio-economically disadvantaged background. The benefits of being such a diverse team are self-evident but it also meant morale was high and that certainly helped our mutual commitment to delivering a quality project in the middle of a pandemic!
What have you learned?
- Digital work can transcend social barriers.
- Non-traditional audiences appreciate theatrical work when it’s made available in their preferred medium.
- Small theatre companies can deliver big results.
- Our differences need not divide us.
What was the impact?
The long-term impact of the project has to be our adoption of digital as a fundamental part of our artistic process.
All of our work, including our current award-winning, feature-length digital theatre piece Cold, will now combine live performance and digital technology.
In terms of our rapidly advancing digital skillset, this means we are now seeking out new national and international partnerships so we can share that knowledge and continue to learn and grow.
By increasing our potential audience reach from a few thousand to millions we will be able to make more work, attract a higher calibre of collaborating artists, and share stories with people previously deprived of access to the arts, all over the world.
Find out more about Open Sky’s work
Visit our website: www.openskyahead.co.uk
The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.
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