The WiredArts Fest, running February 19 to March 2, was created to engage audiences who either can't make it to the physical theater space or who haven't yet developed a relationship with the performing arts.
"Audiences for the performing arts are continuing on a 30 year decline," the company's cofounder Kathryn Jones told TheaterMania. "We have to figure out how we speak to the online audience."
The festival, which will present twelve theater and dance companies performing for a live in-theater audience while simultaneously being broadcast to an audience watching live online, is presented by VirtualArtsTV, a company that aims to reinvent the performing arts for a digital 21st century by live-streaming theatrical performances to the internet. Their mission to expand access to theater is reminiscent of programs such as The Met: Live in HD and National Theatre Live.
The WiredArts performers and companies are largely unknown and selected on merit, as with New York City's Fringe Festival, but VirtualArtsTV also considered which works would be suitable for streaming on the small screen when selecting performers. "I think the medium will change, but right now we're looking for scene changes and multiple characters because we need the visual to change as much as it possibly can," Jones said. "We also find that people will come and go, so we're looking for pieces that have sections in them that live alone, that for ten minutes are entertaining in and of themselves."
In an effort to further engage the online audience, VirtualArtsTV has created a mobile app specifically for the festival. The free application will encourage audience interaction with the material and with each other via components including chat, photo submissions, and "Tell A Friend."
In response to those who think putting the performing arts online might cannibalize the audiences of physical theater spaces, Jones explained, "My experience has told me that if you see people online, you actually get to know them and you want to then see them in person. I think it creates a bigger fan base, and I think it creates a greater word of mouth."
"It's like with baseball," she went on. "They didn't want to televise baseball because they thought no one would come to the stadium. But it turned out the opposite was true. The stadiums started to fill out because they expanded their reach and created more fans."
She also sees their product as a unique art form. "I think we're creating a whole new performing arts paradigm," Jones said. "It's like theater and it's like video and it's like live streaming and it's like social media, but it's really a combination of all of them."
Jones is happy to admit that they haven't perfected form yet, but she's chomping at the bit to keep moving forward. "We're the ones who are going to experiment. We're the ones who are going to let people use twitter and let people take pictures of our show and broadcast people's comments right onto our play. We might find out it's the worst idea ever, but we just feel like we have to keep trying and trying."