Art of With



Bebo is changing its strategy for web drama as it becomes clear that the format is flawed. An article in C21media includes an interview with Kate Burns of Bebo who describes the success of the format with programmes such as Kate Modern and Sofia’s Diary.

The commercial success of the format has its parallels with the original Soap Operas, broadcast on radio as commercials for soap powder. Bebo’s web drama embeds advertising in its content as did Procter and Gamble.

“We do not fund the programmes ourselves anymore. They are 100% ad-funded. We don’t take the risk”

So it may be profitable but is it drama? A third series of Sofia’s Diary is reportedly on the way but it is clear that despite this format’s success and that of KateModern, Bebo’s enthusiasm for scripted online drama is perhaps on the wane. “Narratives are challenging because they don’t encourage sharing too well unless you’ve followed the story from beginning to end, or unless you can have each episode stand on its own,” and this in itself creates challenges for writers and producers.”

Of course. The collaboration in drama is around the production of the work – writer, actors and the creative team who make the mise en scene – director, designers etc. The power of theatre and broadcast drama comes from the action of telling a story. And the creative vision comes from the team who tell and encact this story and engage us, the audience, in a collective experience as they do so.
So collaborative web drama is flawed as a format.
It can work where the audience influences the story by selecting discrete elements – like the endings
But to suggest that the whole drama and its all its elements can be the subject of mash up, crowd sourcing and the like will only be a dilution at best and mess up at worst.

The collaborative world of web 2 offers real opportunities for the arts as the rules of creative engagement rapidly change.  The rere are opportunities for all of us to participate in creating art, to collaborate on programming and to personalise our consumption.  Through crowdsourcing we can give birth to new creative experiences. We can carry our preferences in own clouds.

But the heights in drama are those created by a brilliant story, brilliantly told, enacted and put into a scene in a collaborative production process.  And for those of us in the audience, in the room with the actors to share in the collective experience as the drama unfolds.

So what does Web 2, the world of The Art of With, offer for all of us in theatre?  There are certainly opportunities to use digital technology in the way we put plays on stage.  Audiences can collaborate on reviewing, we can encourge tweeting during a play, blogging, participation in programming, voting on repertoire.  We can encourage micro-investment, mini angels supporting a production by a small on line donation.

But the creation and production of theatre itself may prove itself unadaptable for the web 2 world.  Lets hope that some of the evolutionary measures will be enough for it to thrive in the 21st century and not become a dinosaur.