Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tube Tuesday: Terrific Transmedia

Transmedia storytelling shares a narrative across multiple platforms, with each channel making a unique contribution to the story. Done well, transmedia content creates an immersive experience and brings characters to life in new ways. Occasionally, reading through a fictional Twitter account or Tumblr post, I find myself momentarily forgetting that these people are not, in fact, real. It's a wonderful, if fleeting, return to childhood.

I imagine it's a rush to have one of your favorite characters reply to you online too. I don't know personally because I have thus far been only a passive participant. I am what online community managers might call a "stalker" for the transmedia channels of my favorite webseries. I rarely create content or participate in discussions, but I read it voraciously. The cool thing about transmedia storytelling is it is as engaging for readers like me, as it is for artists, fan fic writers, and people who just enjoy chatting up fictional characters on their favorite social media platforms. That, and like the webseries themselves, it's hours of entertainment, accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and it's free. 

So, for today's Tube Tuesday, I'm sharing the transmedia storytelling techniques from some of my favorite webseries. The talented creative teams behind each of these examples took different approaches, but all of their content drew me deeper into the world of the show and made me feel connected to their characters' stories in a way that T.V. shows and movies alone rarely do.

The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy 

The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy is a modern adaptation of  J.M. Barrie's novel. The show takes place in Neverland, Ohio where Mr. Darling is the editor of the local newspaper, the Kensington Chronicle. The Chronicle also publishes an online edition for fans of the show to enjoy. In the series, the Darling siblings and Peter all work at the paper at one time or another, and their characters create content for the online edition too. 

Michael Darling currently provides hilarious advice through "Dear Darling," answering questions fans submitted on the Kensington Chronicle's website. 
The transmedia fun extends to Twitter too, where the characters have accounts and fans who want to participate in Neverlandia can register names, job titles, and Twitter handles on the Town Ledger.

Pemberley Digital  

Pemberley Digital (PD) made its appearance as William Darcy's company in the production company's first webseries, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. LBD was my first experience with transmedia storytelling. I will admit to creating a list of all the character's Twitter handles so I wouldn't miss anything. I also followed the eldest Bennet sister, Jane, on Pinterest because I really loved her clothes.

All of PD's webseries have incorporated some elements of transmedia storytelling, but I want to talk specifically about Welcome to Sanditon, the second series Pemberley produced loosely based on the unfinished story Sanditon by Jane Austen. 

The series was set in a fictional seaside town in California in the same world as LBD. The two series were connected through the main character - Darcy's sister, Gigi, and an imaginary piece of technology created by her brother's company called Domino. Think Skype but with a quick and easy interface to record conversations and upload videos. 

Fans were given the opportunity to "use Domino" to record and upload videos as town residents. Unfortunately, it seems that the Domino platform site is now defunct, so the videos are no longer available online, but highlights from user-submitted content is featured throughout the series. The FAQ provides a good overview as to how users could participate and how PD managed the community.

Classic Alice

Classic Alice is an original webseries about Alice Rackham, a college student and aspiring writer, who, after a bad grade on an assignment, decides to seek life experience and emotional growth by living her life according to a succession of classic novels.  Featured books include: Crime & Punishment, Pygmalion, A Christmas Carol, and Macbeth, among others. 

There is a lot of transmedia content for this series and I haven't been following all of it. As soon as I discovered (and instantly fell in love with) Classic Alice, (because I am a #booknerd) I immediately followed the characters on Twitter. I also pop by the website now and again to catch-up on any narrative I might have missed, which the creators kindly archive via a useful social media curating tool called Storify. During a story arc about Alice facing off with a real jerk for a contentious student election, I started following Alice's University, Valeton, on Twitter and checked out the student paper's Tumblr to see how fictional student journalists were covering it.

The fictional Valeton University website.
What I have not done yet (and wish I had/ so now I probably will) is listen to the two derivative podcasts
  • Pens v. Lens where Alice and her love interest, Andrew, sit down and chat about some of their favorite stories as they're told through literature and film. 
  • This Proof is Treble where Alice's BFF Cara, a music major, shares some of her favorite tunes, centered around a theme. 
The creators have also developed a Valeton University website, which I hadn't spent any time on until I started working on this post. The look and feel of the site is certainly close to the university websites I remember from my college days, but the student forums, while an interesting concept, don't seem to see much engagement.

Kissing in the Rain and the Fan-Canon Experience

Kissing in the Rain (KitR) is an original two-part series produced by Shipwrecked, the team that created A Tell-Tale Vlog, starring a darkly deadpan and unintentionally humorous Edgar Allen Poe.

KitR chronicles the stories of two actor couples falling in love as they star opposite one another in project after project, Lily and James and Audrey and Henry. Like Sanditon and New Adventures, KitR encouraged fans to creatively contribute to the show through what the creators dubbed The Fan Canon Experience. After each week's episode, fan's took to Tumblr and wrote fan fiction, song mixes, and one-liners from the characters' perspectives using official tracked hashtags. The creative team reviewed the submissions and reblogged a select few to make them series "canon," meaning those submissions became an official part of the storyline. For more insight into how the creative team managed the experience, take a look at Director Yulin Kaling's detailed description.

Of all of the transmedia storytelling devices I've described here, KitR's official fan-created stories were the most keep-me-up-too-late-can't-put-it-down engaging.

Final Thoughts

More than just sit-back-and-enjoy entertainment, these shows create a personally engaging experience. Why leave home and pay money to see a show when great art is available for you to watch, participate in, and enjoy on your laptop? The problem of shrinking audiences for live arts is a constant discussion in our sector, on blogs, and in academic programs. Online transmedia storytelling provides an avenue for live arts organizations to engage with a different audience and a younger, tech savvy one at that.

Drawing people in with storytelling has an added advantage: That feeling of connection inspires people to give. Classic Alice and New Adventures both ran successful Indiegogo campaigns to fund their second seasons.

My swag from the New Adventures of P&W and Classic Alice crowdfunding campaigns.
I was one of the many people inspired to give to these projects.

So, how can the live arts capture some of the transmedia storytelling magic? How have the arts organizations that have embraced it gone about it? Thoughts to ponder 'til next time.

References and Further Reading