Thursday, May 6, 2010

Eastern State Penitentiary Announces 2010 Season with Viral Video

Eastern State Penitentiary
(ESP) has just released this video promoting its 2010 season, posted it to YouTube and is encouraging people to share it as widely as possible. Everyone is going digital, multimedia and viral in their marketing, and this is a good thing.

Figured I would use this occasion as a platform for talking a bit about trends in use of social media for marketing, and about the unique cultural/historical entity that is ESP.

Just in the last couple of weeks we have ESP announcing their new season via YouTube, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia staging an operatic "flash mob" in Reading Terminal Market - very cool - you can view it below:

And also the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia did a "Casting Couch" promotion where they set up a bright red couch in various locations around the City and interviewed "real folks" about their experience with theatre, taped the interviews and posted them to their Web site and to YouTube. See one of the sessions below, but there are many more:

All of this highlights how increasingly important digital content is to promoting cultural activity. There is also the growth of live cultural interaction that surprises us and interrupts our daily life. The Opera's flash mob is very much in the tradition of the "Grocery Store Musical" by ImprovEverywhere I blogged about a few months ago. The "Casting Couch" project created opportunities for "real people" to sit on a couch (in such locations as Love Park and Reading Terminal Market) with an interviewer and talk about the difference theatre has made in their life, what sort of "drama" they are dealing with personally. The hope is that this creates fun media opportunities, produces digital content that can be repurposed on the Web and as PSAs, and also delivers the message that theatre is for all of us. I think we are just at the beginning of how arts groups will be using digital content on their Web sites, in YouTube, on iPhone apps, and in media formats yet to be invented. These new media are not competitive with the arts, but offer new platforms to both engage and inform our audiences and for making our art.

I have to use the release of the Eastern State video to remark on what a unique and wonderful institution this place is. I had no idea it even existed until my move to Philadelphia a couple of years ago.Eastern State Penitentiary is a massive fortress-like prison that looms over Philadelphia from the Fairmount neighborhood. It was the first institution of its kind in the world and visiting it is a great way to learn about the entire history of modern prison incarceration and rehabilitation. Given the huge role the legal system, prisons and law enforcement plays in our lives, in our society, in our municipal budgets, I think that being better educated about the history and issues is essential to civic responsibility. I won't even begin to go into the many fascinating aspects of its design, construction and history - you will go there and learn for yourself (if you have not been already). The enormous facility was abandoned for decades and is preserved and interpreted as a stabilized ruin. It is also used as a setting for site-specific contemporary art installations. Great audio guide tours (narrated by Steve Buscemi, as well as tours with live guides.

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