Interview by Alison Bowie
I am working with a project called SpiderWebShow.ca as Associate Dramaturg. This volume of the project (which runs from October 2015 to February 2016), we have been working hard to define what we have created and what we are as a service, as an organization, as a constantly evolving organism. Mess and Methods with Dr. Darren Wershler provided the perfect opportunity to push that conversation even further by asking us to define ourselves in terms of space and knowledge production. I asked six of my colleagues to respond to a series of questions:
Sarah Stanley (Co-Creator & Artistic Director), Michael Wheeler (Co-Creator & Editor-in-Chief), Adrienne Wong (Artistic Associate & Head Researcher), Laurel Green (Artistic Associate), Camila Diaz-Varela (Digital Production Manager), and Clayton Baraniuk (Associate Producer). We live across the country and all work for various theatre organizations. We all come from different backgrounds. We meet weekly via Google Hangouts. The introduction of these questions into the digital arena of our meetings (and email inboxes) has caused confusion, stress, excitement, anxiety, and illumination. This is an ongoing process and an ongoing conversation. The following are responses from three of my colleagues. As more come in I will be adding additional content. These questions have struck a cord and will be sticking with us well beyond the end of term and this class. For more information about our team and our work, please visit SpiderWebShow.ca.
1. What is the SpiderWebShow space?
Clayton: The Spiderwebshow space is a virtual playground for people trying to sort out how a virtual playground is different than a real playground. It is a place for artists to take risks, experiment, try on new technologies and express themselves in new ways with new mediums. It is a meeting place online for people interested in Canadian theatre in almost any aspect – but particularly for those who make theatre to be inspired or gain insight. The spiderwebshow is also a space in the brains of each of the makers, who define what the spiderwebshow is within their own space.
Camila: I would describe the site to be a portal into contemporary Canadian theatre. Especially into the minds of contemporary Canadian theatre makers right now.
Laurel: SpiderWebShow is a website that acts as a moving, living compendium of projects from artists across Canada. It is a web that reaches out and catches collaborators intrigued by the possibilities of digital space. SpiderWebShow explores what it means to make performance work right now, today, in our country. This space is limitless.
2. What are the daily, or weekly, practices in this space?
Clayton: The biggest practice is the sharing of work, ideas and perspectives. This goes on daily through the social media commentary, sharing of information. Weekly through the projects and articles.
Camila: A daily practice, for me, is clicking around the site to find which nugget of gold I can feature in the day’s social media post. It’s also responding to any comments or communication or engagement with the SWS audience on our social media profiles. Weekly, the makers meet to take steps forward with the work, and I make clear notes on the action points to completed for the next week. We’re always seeming to make baby steps forward, which is awesome.
Laurel: SWS features projects that are updated idiosyncratically by their creators – some are daily, weekly, monthly installments, depending on the vision. SWS includes a bi-weekly magazine called #CdnCult, an opportunity for discourse with contributions from theatre artists across Canada and edited by the SWS team. SWS is also active on social media: Instagram, twitter, facebook – not only using its own channels to promote conversation, but engaging the nation with hastags #cdnopening and #cdncult so that the activities of others can be included in the SWS feed. Once a week, the SWS team – curators and editors, makers all – get together for an online meeting.
3. Describe your involvement with this space? What is your role?
Clayton: I act as a semi-supervisor, watching the content roll out, noting the makers, monitoring the budget and contributing to the ideas, development of new aspects and angles on the site, and lately, providing content to fill the practices of the space.
Camila: I think my role is to be a bit of a third party. I’m actively engaged in showcasing the work of the Makers and showing it to our audience through social media, not necessarily creating my own. There’s so so many cool projects living and growing on the site, so I pluck something from the site and present it on a public platform in a way that’s faster and a bit easier to grasp than looking through the site. I also consciously create structure in a space where all the team members are on different schedules, in different geographical locations, with different priorities. These elements are vital to feeding the work that SpiderWebShow does, but negotiating them requires some agreed upon routine and structure, so my role is to make that by hosting and scheduling meetings, creating action points, and holding Makers accountable.
Laurel: My role as Artistic Associate is to support the vision of our Artistic Director through the curation and dissemination of SWS projects. My primary interest is SWS sound and gallery projects. I liaise with artists, shepherd projects, source new artists of interest, and I contribute as a creator of a sound project myself. I’m also the “Western Correspondent” for SWS, as a member of Calgary’s theatre community.
4. How is knowledge produced in this space? What form does that knowledge take?
Clayton: Knowledge is produced through weekly sharing of ideas, monitoring of growth, depth and span of the work. The knowledge takes form in the entries of the Theatre Wiki, in the projects that take place, though the development and sharing of cdncult. It is also produced through the seeding of ideas within the brains of those passively contributing by watching listening and reading the content, which may inspire them to contribute their knowledge.
Camila: Knowledge is produced because SWS provides opportunities and platforms for theatre artists to engage in questions they wouldn’t normally be asked. There are a wide variety of projects on the site that ask questions like “what do our community elders think?”, “what if theatre artists played with recorded sound?”, and “what are you thinking?” (in the case of Thought Residency), and ask artists to respond to the questions with a medium that is usually not familiar to them. Theatre artists are usually not invited to play with tech + digital mediums so SWS provides a safe place to experiment, because even the Makers are experimenting. It’s a collective push to explore something new.
Laurel: SWS offers readers/viewers/audience a self-directed experience of the knowledge we offer, which takes multiple forms. You can visit the website and engage with sounds, images, and texts at your leisure. In creating a layout for the page overall, we attempted to design an accessible and open space where material was able to speak for itself, often without editorial comment. Our framing devise remains the ‘spiderweb’, every shifting, changing, and growing. I think that this dismantles traditional expectations of expertise, and opens our material up to interpretation. We find that many of our articles or pieces are accessed individually and on their own according to the interests of the viewer. Material can become more or less topical or popular depending on the current conversation.
5. How would (or would it) be different if SpiderWebShow had another space?
Clayton: If the space was not in a virtual world, it would not be at all the same. If the spiderwebshow was in a different virtual world, it is feasible that greater limitations may apply restrictions or censorship. If the spiderwebshow was not so diverse in the space of the many maker-brains, it would not have the reach, breadth of perspective or attitude that it does have.
Camila: By ‘space’ I’m thinking the online, digital space where it lives. If it were not digital and online, it would be in person I suppose. And we wouldn’t be able to get input for artists across the country in real time – the collaborators would just be those who are lucky enough to live close to the initial founding Makers. And the product would have been presented in one community only. And certainly not archived, so it would have disappeared rather quickly, as opposed to now when I can search through the archive to find still-relevant work to feature on social media.
Laurel: If SWS attempted to occupy a physical space it would be part newsroom, part rehearsal hall, part café, part theatre venue, part darkroom, part recording studio, part lounge. The kind of place that we’d all want to visit. Having to pick the city where we would build amazing building would be too challenging and inevitably lead to the exclusion of most of the country’s practitioners. Because we occupy web space, we can be a point of connection for everyone who is in the digital neighbourhood.
6. How do institutional relationships affect this space and the ways in which knowledge can be produced?
Clayton: Institutional relationships can foster great focus and depth in the scope of content and lend specificity. From my own perspective, the NAC Institutional relationship brings a focus of national knowledge building and collective national creationism. These can also hinder and impose limitations or narrow fields for exploration by giving too great an emphasis to one avenue – like the Theatrewiki becoming the performancewiki.
Camila: I’m really intrigued with how SWS works with universities and colleges. One reason I can see for this is because students are exclusively focused on building their skills, gaining knowledge, and considering the future (theirs and their industry’s) and can be a great motivator and instigator for new thought in the digital + art realm. If the Makers share what they’re learning about this new fusion of theatre + tech, students can learn from it and run with it after they graduate. Institutions also provide structure and financial support to this project, which is very amorphous and grows with every Volume. For me personally, I’m being financially supported by Theatre Ontario to work with SpiderWebShow for this Volume. This relationship provides me with financial support, and provides SWS with administrative support. It allows for an emerging artist who would normally not be able to dive into a mentorship so completely (because financial strain and lack of guidance) to engage with more experienced artists who are willing to share their knowledge. So the institutional connections that I see SWS having connect them with a younger generation of thinkers from both artistic and technical backgrounds, as well as financial support.
Laurel: Each member of the team brings their institutional relationships to their work with SWS, and this has mostly offered some fabulous opportunities like additional funding and a place to hold group meeting IRL. Being aligned with these institutions also lends cache to our project as it continues to evolve, while SWS lends indie cred back to the institution. It has been rare that we have encountered limitations or any conflicts of interests, however I will say that the regional balance on our team and the institutions they work with do lean very Eastern in our country. There have been moments where, because of the institution I work with being located in the West, I approached a topic with what felt like a very different, and sometimes irreconcilable, perspective to the rest of the team.