We’re building a tool for live audience engagement

We want to hear from you

Cellphones at the theatre are often seen as a distraction. But what if they could be used to better understand and engage ith the performance?

Since 2016, Plank and Repercussion Theatre have been piloting a live translation web app for text-based performance. At its most basic level, it’s surtitles on your phone, but that’s just a starting point.

A hand holds up a smartphone showing the app prototype

Some Background

In May 2016, Plank held a Hack Day — a free day of work from their team — to help solve a digital problem for a cultural organization. Repercussion responded with a challenge to help them better serve their francophone audiences with an alternative to traditional surtitling.

“We tour Shakespeare in the Park in English, but want to make our shows as accessible as possible to people who don’t speak English (specifically francophones, but others as well.) I’d love some sort of mechanism whereby an audience member could follow along with the French text… We’d love some help!”

The result was a web app prototype containing the full French text of that season’s show, Julius Caesar. It allowed the backstage team at Repercussion to push a notification at regular intervals to people following along to alert them to the most recently updated position in the text.

Hand holds up smartphone with Live Translation App Start Screen
App navigation screen
App text view

Designed with an outdoor setting in mind, it used very little data, and muted background colours to minimize the impact on other audience members.

We are now in our third year of providing this prototype for Repercussion audiences. We’ve added some basic features based on user behaviour and feedback, such as scene synopses in addition to the full text, character avatars, and allowing the user to navigate the text freely, rather than pushing them to the most recent point. We know that users access the app before and after the show, which tells us there’s potential to use this platform beyond the live show experience.

Repercussion Theatre navigation

What’s next?

We see great potential in this platform. We want to build something flexible, open source, and user-driven, that gives performing artists the opportunity to reach new audiences and engage with them in new ways.

The first step is to build a Content Management System to give artistic companies direct control to upload and edit their content, including text, images, and alert points.

We’re looking for feedback from the performing arts community

We’re excited to hear how performance groups want to use this tool to engage their audiences. Some things we’re imagining are: supporting multiple languages; adding sharing, commenting, and feedback functions; using the platform to give supplemental information in addition to (or rather than) text and synopses; sharing texts with other groups, etc.