Theoretically, every Adventurer (audience-participant) who navigates through the journey (google form) of Within These Walls actively engages in their own performance of the piece. Therefore, it is difficult to speak definitively about the project in performance because I am not able to witness every performance event that every Adventurer undertakes. However, I would like to focus on three specific adventurers’ experiences of Within These Walls version 1.0 as they directly affected the changes made to the second iteration.
I personally journeyed through Within These Walls three times and created three very different crumbs: a movement piece, a poem, and an audio track that could arguably be termed “music” or “soundscape”. My experiences with each adventure were very different, although the first two “trips” shared a common desire – to create material that I could use as an example to promote the form on social media and target audience engagement. While I did find that each trip began with an impulse to make something, I could not have predicted the end-result product.
I had just finished creating the form and decided to get up and play with it immediately to both stretch my legs and test the navigation of the form itself. Perhaps because it was my first time through, I noticed that I did every exploration suggestion on the first page of the form. Interestingly, I found the desire to “root myself” created an obstacle to creating a movement piece. Perhaps sitting for so long to create the form coupled with the comfiness of my couch made it difficult to overcome inertia. However, I was committed to testing out the journey and quickly found that increased contact with the creative process created a momentum that allowed me to continue working on this journey for about an hour.
The actual process of creating the crumb did not take very long at all. The initial exploration phase lasted no more than 5 minutes even though I performed every suggestion offered to explore the room. The first crumb I created was based on observing the ceiling fan above me move. I created a circular motion with my whole body by rooting by feet on the floor and then shifting my weight clockwise around me.
After creating this first crumb, I wanted to build off of a prompt that would take me further through the space of the room. I navigated my way to the Embodiment prompts and utilized the suggestions to take the least direct pathway around the room and to play with speeding up and slowing down as I felt the impulse. I found that by layering the initial crumb (Rotating on an Axis) and the secondary crumb (Least Direct Pathway) together I had created a movement piece in response to the room, which can be seen below.
The initial exploration phase helped me to adapt and draw inspiration from the room itself. For instance, there were cables that I could have tripped on as I pass by the table (0:19) and I decided to incorporate those responsively into the movement I created. Also, I noticed an impulse to repeat the Rotation on an Axis movement as a encountered the large window in the room (0:59). Overall, I felt an incredible sense of play and freedom as I allowed myself to continue a creative conversation with myself based on a “what if I…” prompt as I worked on my feet with the form’s options.
The second half of this first trip focused on filming the nugget I had created. Being alone in my house I had to engineer different viewpoints that I would place my computer camera at to record me. I started off with four angles:
- from the hallway into the room
- from the top of the couch focused at the dining table
- across the room focused on the couch
- on the coffee table focused at the loveseat
Once filmed, I quickly cut these together to create an edit of the whole sequence and discovered that there were other perspectives of the journey that I had felt as a performer but were not visible in this first edit. For instance, I knew how important the computer cords were to the experience of the choreography, but this initial edit did not include that angle and therefore the viewer could not even see anything below my chest in the shot. Thinking back through the choreography I identified a few more angles to shoot from to get a better sense of the whole sequence. I also shot some first-person perspective moments using the camera to mimic what I was seeing and responding to in the choreography.
The filming editing process of this first video prolonged my journey by about 40 minutes, making the entire adventure last for about an hour. I found it quite fun to create and was so excited to put out the tool that I didn’t care how I looked in the video (I had just come back from a hike and hadn’t showered or put on any makeup). The momentum and excitement that this experience generated really jazzed me. I felt a sense of accomplishment in putting out the work and completing the initial design of the form.
Later that I day I decided to do another journey with the form. This time I had two goals in mind: to go on the shortest journey possible and to create something that I would easily translate to Instagram or Twitter. I decided to let inertia lead me. I was sitting at the dining table and didn’t really feel like moving around too much. I also didn’t get caught up in doing every exploratory activity suggested. Rather, I did the ones that jumped out at me. I quickly noticed a humming or buzzing sound and decided to focus on that as the stimulus for my crumb. When prompted, I decided to write about the sound and it’s perceived source.
I should disclaim that I am NOT a poet, by any means. However, I found that the words flowed out of me and while I wouldn’t necessarily argue that I created a great poem (which I edited during the refining phase), what I did make and post on Instagram delighted me.
When I decided that Instagram would be my method of sharing, I thought I would pair the words with three poses (one per picture) of me sitting at my table. The poses came from a prompt off of the Google form as I decided to grow my crumb of a poem into a nugget. However, as I began to post my poem as an Instagram Story I decided that the three pictures of my poses didn’t really do justice to my poem or communicate the mood of it at all. Instead, I decided to chunk the poem into bite-sized bits of text and pair an image or video that would layer better with the desired impact of the text.
After the second trip, I felt even more invigorated by the tool I had created. I felt a genuine sense of adaptability and creative flexibility by bending the prompt to my own creative needs as I responded to sharing my work in this particular online setting.
The impetus for this trip differed from the previous two. Initially, I wanted to do a long-form exploration by creating one small nugget a day over the course of a weekend and devising a more nuanced performance as a result of my journey through the form. However, time got away from me and I didn’t get started till Sunday evening. Earlier that day I had spoken with a friend who also happens to be a director, Alyssa Edmondson. We had been speaking of other things and she had walked me through a Tarot reading she had done on herself. As we talked, she mentioned how the arrangement of the Tarot cards reminded her of staging or blocking actors and that each card felt like its own character – their placement on the table shaping their relationships both to each other and the greater world of the reading. As she spoke, I immediately wondered what might happen if Alyssa used her tarot cards as a stimulus to explore while playing Within These Walls. We decided to each devise something based on a journey separately and that we would share our creations a couple of days later and direct each other to see if there was a possibility of co-creating based on our discoveries with the form.
That night I went through the journey with less pre-meditated direction than my previous trips. I decided to play in my bedroom and quickly gravitated to my yoga space. I noticed almost immediately the sounds that my yoga mat makes when I step on it. I hardly registered the inital prompts. In fact, the only one that really resonated was the suggestion to observe textures. I noticed that my yoga mat has ridges and began to incorporate it’s texture tool in creating sounds. My yoga mat became my instrument and my feet and hands became the musicians. After fiddling around and discovering what different sounds I could make, I decided to set up Garage Band on my computer and hit record. I created a track with several distinct sounds and rhythms and then cut that track into separate segments based on the consistency of each chunk. Essentially, I used the yoga mat the way a foley artist would and named sounds based on what they reminded me of. I found that process enjoyable enough to repeat it with a nearby metal trash can.
After creating the little segments of each sound chunk and labeling them, I began arranging them in separate, layered tracks within garage band to build one long soundscape track. I didn’t really have any story in mind – the sounds ranged from ones that evoked rain storm elements, to zippers, to ice skates, to drums. While editing I simply arranged tracks based on a sense of feeling about the visual look – in a way choreography the visual aesthetic of the tracks and the negative space surrounding them. Once I reached an arrangement that I liked, I played the track and then reorganized the sound chunks if I didn’t like the sound they created.
The process of creating “Duet for Mat & Can” lasted about two hours. However, direct contact with the form was even more limited. In fact, I didn’t even complete the journey to hit “Submit”. Instead, I started the form, created this initial nugget (from the two crumbs of yoga mat sounds and garbage can sounds) and thought I would finish the form after Alyssa and I shared our nuggets.
While each of my encounters yielded very different creations, all three journeys transported me to a more focused place of sensory listening and observation. I found great delight in experience them and developed a genuine curiosity in translating performance elements from my comfort place of the rehearsal hall into digital spaces that I am less familiar with.
A former student of mine, Neal Davidson, eagerly volunteered to be one of the first to play with the form. A young professional actor, Neal was curious as to how Within These Walls might help him to generate new content for his website and YouTube channel, particularly given the abundance of time coronavirus imposed shelter-in-place laws had gifted him.
We sat down to chat for a blog series that I do on former students and our conversation veered into his experience with the form. His immediate response to his experience was, “I want to go do it again.” “Within These Walls is a great, do-it-yourself, theatre/theatrical devising creating exercise that can reach a lot of people.” Neal was the first Adventurer to post on social media and give me permission to view his creation. The following excerpt from our interview highlights the experience of his journey.
I went up in my childhood bedroom. I explored a lot of other things that were in there. It’s been a while since I’ve looked around and I rediscovered a couple of fun toys and totems, and I thought, “Oh great! Those are going on the top of my dresser now that I’m reorganizing it.” And then I felt a lot of textures. It was wonderful, just the exploration. I was like, “I want go down the whole list, I want to do it all.” At every step. And then it was ‘what did I hear’ was the sense that I went along with after all the other sensory explorations. At first, I was listening to, which I also thought was really fun because I went with ‘what can I hear’, I could clearly see the fan over my head and I could hear it, and I was like “Great. I can hear it.” But the question you ask was, “Close your eyes and imagine what you’re hearing.” And I was imagining a different object making the sound of the fan and that was exciting. But in listening to the fan, suddenly there was another sound that crossed my field that I became very interested in listening to. And then moving onto the next step, the question was about imprinting what you heard and the question that stuck out to me was, ‘how far away is it?’ or ‘the distance the sound had to travel to get to me’. And the prompt was to ‘move about it’, ‘dance about it’, ‘do something about it’ and I really wanted to write about it because I was kind of in a quiet space. So I wrote a poem about it.
When I connected back with Alyssa after a couple of days to check in on our plan to direct each other, I found her in a very different frame of mind. She had leapt into the adventure and even though she had every intention of playing with the Tarot cards as a stimulus, her initial interactions with the form led her down a different path. Prior to encountering Within These Walls, Alyssa had been experiencing a lot of general anxiety on account of coronavirus stranding her in Tennessee. The uncertainty of the situation and particularly when she might return home negatively affected her ability to engage productively with work or creation. However, her journey through the form seemed to unleash her creativity and she generated not only a poem about COVID-19 and her anxiety induced by the situation but also was inspired to continue writing on the subject. She wrote a lengthy essay about measuring human success based on the country’s economy.
Upon discussing her experience, Alyssa mentioned that when she encountered the prompt to share her creation on social media she felt unsatisfied. She hungered to discuss her experience and wanted an option to reflect on her journey. The desire for a human connection within the experience form intrigued me. Through this conversation, Alyssa identified a couple of key concerns or components of the experience as a director that directly contributed to the adjustments in the 2.0 version:
- Option for a response via reflection
- Understanding the difference in the Adventurer’s relationship to the form vs. the relationship to their creation
- Concerns over trusting social media at this particular moment in history
- Building a sense of empathy into the form
As Alyssa and I talked, it became clear that the crumb she had created still felt vulnerable and raw – unready to be shared widely on a curated public platform. However, she found a lot of value in sharing her experience of the journey and stated that “I needed to monologue about the work.” In this way, the conversation about her experience became its own performance. This conversation led directly to installing the “Path Begins to Clear” section of the form which provides multiple options for Adventurers to enter into dialogue or monologue with me about their experience.
This key revelation was reflected in the conversation that I had with Neal as well as my own desire to share my work with anyone I thought would listen and in fact led to a significant understanding about the tool itself.
Through the journey, Adventurer’s develop two relationships – one with the form and one with their creative output. The form, particularly version 1.0, while helpful, has no distinguishing personality or clear human connection. This lack of connection makes it easy to walk away from the form once the creative momentum picks up. As a tool it was effective, but as a continuous engagement strategy, it lacked the necessary empathy to encourage the Adventurer to stick with it and make it to the end of the journey via the form.
On the other hand, the relationship that the tool helped an Adventurer achieve with their creation proved to be very strong in these three particular cases. I found similar feedback with Version 2.0 that five PARticipants (members of my Performance As Research class) completed. Interestingly, out of 56 Adventurers who completed journeys through Version 1.0, 16 were willing to share information about their preferred form of social media, but only half of that number selected that they would post their creation and only three of those willingly shared their social media handle with me so that I could view their creations.
While much more limited in participants, I found that the small test audience for the initial launch of Within These Walls 2.0 helped me to gain specific and targeted feedback about the efficacy of the tool and the user experience within the more playful and immersive structure of the form. Adventurer’s consistently commented on the introductory video, the autonomous nature of the journey, the consent checkpoints, and their own creation.
It seems that my hypothesis was correct, changing the introduction of the adventure to place me in-role as a fellow Adventurer helped to model the playfulness of the journey through the form. Adventurer’s raved about the video generally:
- “Your video is amazing and I will watch it forever.”
- “The opening video made me laugh again and again (I’d list ways, but spoiling other people would be to deny them so many surprises.”
- “Your invitation video is stellar.”
But more importantly, several commented on the efficacy of this video to set the adventurer into the necessary mindset to continue on the journey.
- “the humor in the piece…primed me to explore my own space without overburdening myself with doing it ‘right.'”
- “The video is so fun and makes me feel right away that I am a capable participant to complete the adventure you are asking me to go on because I have you as my trust guide demonstrating discovery while in confinement.”
- “I really appreciated the silly aspects of the opening video. It definitely helped me get into a playful frame of mind.”
- “I was instantly captivated by your video introduction. It was incredibly engaging, creative, and fun. I was ready to embark on the adventure!”
Several participants noted the flexibility of the form to allow Adventurers to lead themselves through the journey. Notably, the balance between offering a wider variety of exploration options that an Adventurer could complete at their leisure and a limited number of options for culminating creative actions seemed to keep this choose-your-own-adventure format engaging:
- “As someone who gets overwhelmed with lots of options I also appreciated the slower options you included to go simpler or back off of a prompt.”
- “I valued the elements of choice. I can make smaller, safer choices or I can go full in to a create a light, sound spectacular of my adventure.”
- I love the nature of “Choose your own adventure” because I get to be in control of how much or how little I want to do in this moment, but I can return to it another time and have a completely different experience in my same tiny apartment.”
Interestingly, the adventurer’s I spoke to all mentioned the intention to have a repeat experience with the form, which would emphasize an overall positive engagement with the form.
In the initial design of the form, I wanted to make sure that there were clear “off-routes” on this journey. This desire sprang from two impulses. The first impulse evolved from my director-brain which wanted to create the safest environment for participants possible, especially given the absence of my physical presence that would normally sense any wariness or hesitation in the room. The second impulse was driven by a desire to still collect data from adventurers who wanted to abandon their journey “early”. Having an option that would easily navigate them to the “Submit” screen could help to ensure that I received the results from as large a participating audience as possible.
“I…appreciated the various ways of engaging — the different ways to opt in or out. It feels like there are hundreds of paths to take, and that’s just through one’s house.” –Experience of a PARticipant
From a quantitative data standpoint, perhaps the most significant finding is the ratios of engagement at each level of the journey. Using the data from Version 1.0 which has a more robust data set, a clearer story about engagement over time begins to emerge. Out of 56 participants who submitted forms, 87.5% make it through the first exit ramp and elect to take the journey itself. Of the 87.5% who make it through crumb creation and nugget shaping, only 13 participants (or 23.2%) continued on into the documentation phase. 10 participants (17.9%) engaged in level three and/or four of the form which offers Adventurers to play with another sense, in another room, or with technology. Of the remaining 13 adventurers who indicated an interest in documenting their creations, only 6 indicated that they did post their work to social media and half of those attempted to grant me viewing access by sharing their social media handle or a link to the post. However, I found that accessing the posts this way was impossible, perhaps due to privacy settings or because they posted via a “story” feature which erases content after 24 hours online.
While ideally, as the designing artist, I’d prefer for the audience to stay and play longer, Version 1.0 shared some valuable information about the amount of attention span that a majority audience wants to yield to this form. I also think that overall, the exit ramps initially built it communicate a sense of respect for participants’ time, but another part of me wonders if their presence doesn’t challenge my audience to persevere through experience a little more? While I think there is merit in this thought, I am not sure this tool or the wide and diverse audience I tried to capture would benefit from the sort of resiliency I would theoretically encourage in an in-person devising context.
The only shift that I made to the “exit” ramps in Version 2.0 was to re-direct those selecting “I’m done. Thanks.” from the “Submit” screen to “The path begins to clear” page. This will allow participants to share about their experience rather than put them on the spot to showcase their creations. It will be interesting to see the results of this change to study whether continued contact or communication with the artist is valuable to the audience of the piece.
Featured Creations or Feedback from other Adventurers
While this post highlighted some key creations and feedback that contributed to my process of iteration and evolution of Within These Walls, I also wanted to share the breadth of communication (either in the form of shared creations or monologues about the experience). Below I’ve included a few samples.
A writing “snippet” from another PARticipant’s creation: The desk’s name is Harry. He’s not particularly cool, but he can seem that way until you get close and perhaps beyond that moment if you’re not paying attention. Beneath his cool exterior and suave delicately overbrushed ivory surface lies an insidious sticky film of not-ever-to-dry latex paint, a flaw he’s hidden admirably since rolling off the production line. If you curl up underneath him you can still catch a whiff of it. Let’s offer him a little grace; he’s doing the best he can here under the window.
Click here to see Garbage Can – The Musical, one PARticipants’ creation.