Orchestra Storyworlds

StoryworldsAs part of my responsibilities as a conductor for orchestras and Opera in the 21st Century, I have a specialised interest in developing and creating digital storyworlds.  I use the word ‘responsibility’ specifically to indicate the extent to which I believe the role of an orchestra/opera conductor needs to evolve and change in our contemporary world.

These storyworlds, designed to be accessible to everyone, are part of an ongoing exploration in audience immersion and engagement strategies for the classical music industry beyond the the live concert hall or broadcast experience.

With my work for the Australian Discovery Orchestra (ADO), we have, to date, designed and created a number of online storyworlds which significantly move the classical music experience beyond the simple activity of attending a concert as the only means in which our audiences can participate.

Our audiences are global through our streaming and pay-per-view offerings, so anyone in the world can share and engage with what we do. But the technology of streaming (or other broadcasting) itself is not a panacea to geo-boundary constraints of limited audience capture for orchestras and performing arts organizations.

Overly localized thinking in audience capture strategy limits organizational growth potential through inadevertently diminishing relevance to the larger world.  Through the advent of the Internet-of-Things, audiences are now attuned to ‘following’ and engaging with events, trends and happenings beyond their own geographical borders, and, therein, they have become the primary catalyst for triggering participatory engagement.  If nothing else, the work of the ADO has proven this to be an unassailable fact.

One of these digital projects, for the 2016 ADO concert season, was created to help us explore the extraordinary world of Puccini’s 1904 operatic, Tosca.


Rather than thinking of designing a single experience on a single platform or within one application, it is usually more productive to consider the strengths of different platforms and software tools and then build experiences most applicable to them.  The overaching determination nonetheless remains to keep all the experiences consistent with the intention of the interaction design as opposed to just building artefacts because the tools allow it.

So, to build further aupon Tosca we all utised the effective features of an application called MapsAlive to add to the overall interactive strategy of the project.  Notice the illustrative consistency between the timeline walk-through above and the topographical approach below.


The above is a reasonably simple example of what can be done by almost anyone. I won’t tell you that it is quick to do, but the reason it is not quick may surprise you.

Time.  Asset building takes time.  If you look at the three tabs of separate map views in the above example, and count up the number of individual assets that had to be created, it becomes clear very quickly that the time spent is not in learning how to use this digital platform (it’s very straightforward – which is why it is an appropriate tool) but in the labor of collecting all the required information.

The richness of the experience created is directly proportional to the effort made to create a rich, immersive, storyworld. Conversely, the greatest challenge remains: if you do not drive percipients to the storyworld created, then its impact is diluted and scalably disproportionate to the richnes of the experience created.

And each project imagined needs a different Storyworld approach.

Two_PartsSo there are two separate issues that need to be simultaneously addressed – and this is, in my opinion, where it all starts to become unstuck from the Orchestra, Opera and Classical Music organizational perspective.

It’s not so difficult to design an engagement strategy, as it is to sell the strategy.  Whereas selling the ‘strategy’ is a totally viable process, it necessitates interfacing to the built storyworld across non-conjoined digital dissemination channels.  Further complicating this challenge is that you need to effectively distribute the different (not the same) components of the storyworld over these multiple, synchronized, platforms in a carefully calculated time-frame with precise timings between the delivery of the separate components.

This part of the puzzle is separate from accessing and exploring apposite digital tools to build storyworlds which I hope, so far, I have encouraged organizations to explore in-house. Nonetheless, the entire process, as observed time and time again, is commonly hampered from not being able to maximize the reach of what has been built.

Effectively, from a consultancy perspective, this is where orchestras need guidance.  Orchestras and opera companies have a responsibility to imagineer their own work, but assistance is often sorely needed to tie their projects to their performance plans and the storyworlds they want their audience to share.  Interestingly, most, if not all, performing arts organizations leave this process too late to effectively make the desired audience engagement impactful and measurable. But, and this can’t be understated, measuring impact is critical!

It is a brave new world for orchestras and opera companies going forward and the need to adapt and accommodate new forms and means of communicating and engaging with audiences is now imperative for survival.