Monday, March 13, 2017

Five or So Questions on Meet Diana Danko

Today's interview is with Jakob Schindler-Scholz about the Kickstarter project Meet Diana Danko, a live-stream interactive vampire tale. When Jakob emailed me with the Kickstarter link, I was immediately intrigued - interactive performances are fascinating to me and I wanted to hear more! Check out the interview below and see more at their press page and Kickstarter.

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Tell me a little about Meet Diana Danko. What excites you about it?

The aspect I'm most passionate about is that we are creating a truly open experience, while still maintaining a strong narrative. The project is heavily inspired by "choice and consequence" games like the Walking Dead Series by Telltale or Life is Strange, but with limitless possibilities.

We achieve this by having four amazing actresses perform live and reacting to the input of the audience, who is watching via live stream. They can type anything they want at any time while they watch. It has elements of tabletop RPG, LARP, theater and FMV video games, but I don't think there is anything like it currently out there.

Example of the process of the show.

How did you come up with the idea for Meet Diana Danko?

The setting, characters and basic concept were created for a local short theater festival in Vienna. The audience found themselves trapped in a room with a vampire trying to get in, discussing different strategies to get out. The inspiration for this was the classic horror movie trope "heroes have to fight their way to freedom", and I thought it would be a fun way to engage the audience - which it was. There were lots of intense discussions and great interactions with the audience, sometimes resulting in totally unexpected outcomes, for example people occupying the vampire's coffin - which was exactly what we hoped for.
We then discussed how to take the concept even further, and came up with the idea of turning it into an online performance, but without losing the direct connection with the audience - which is an immense challenge because people are not physically present. So the story, setting and mode of interaction will change, but the heart of it all - the characters - will stay the same.


How does the event work technically, from receiving input from viewers to making it happen?

You watch the show through the eyes of the protagonist (wearing a head mounted camera), who sort of stumbles into the whole thing, and bit by bit learns about the characters and the backstory. In the interface, you can also type anything that comes to your mind, at any time. The idea is that you provide us with the thoughts of the protagonist - and as is the nature of thoughts, some are only brief flashes, some are more present, some are concrete and some obscure. We employ a sorting algorithm to visualise all thoughts at once, sort of like multiple word clouds put together. This visualisation will be available for all to see.

So the visualisation is handled by a program, but the crucial part - incorporating these thoughts into the story - is not. We have a person dedicated to that who watches the visualisation constantly and has a voice link to the protagonist. So this person gets an impression of how the audience feels, what ideas are there, and uses that information to give commands or suggestions to the protagonist. So it is kind of an inner voice, but one she takes really seriously.

The important thing is: With this procedure, most of the actresses have to worry about anything going on outside the performance. The protagonist gets input from outside, but all other actresses can concentrate on their characters and react authentically to what is happening. This is why we came up with this quite complex process: To ensure that the improvisation can be really focused, because we believe that's what it takes to create a fascinating experience.

Word clouds!

What do all of the people involved bring to the table to make the show happen?

First I have to say, I am really honored to have a team where everyone is extremely invested in the idea and not just focusing on their respective area. Denise, who does the design and communications is excellent in finding the right way to get across what we're all about, which is especially important because there are so many aspects to this. Adam and Gregor are very passionate developers who will not be satisfied until the algorithm and UI are so well-defined that you'll forget about them while being drawn into the story, and Philipp has the intuition and experience to get what the audience is looking for and translating it into actionable hints for our protagonist.

That being said, I have to highlight Julia, Stella and Paula, the actresses (we will cast the fourth actress, the protagonist, with the help of our backers). Because their contribution is what makes the show: Usually, when you have a piece of fiction, there is a writer or a writing team, they create the characters and tell the story. But this way, it is extremely likely that some characters will be extremely well written and others will be weak - and there is only so much even a talented actress can do with a bland character.


When you talk about the performance, what do you really think makes this format help the fiction to really shine?

I think we have extremely well-developed characters. Because we don't know what will happen, it's not enought to know how they react in a handful of specific situations. We already spent a lot of time getting to know the characters for "Diana Danko in Concert", and we will do a lot more development for this piece. It's a very collaborative process: We discuss the fears, secrets, and desires of the characters together, explore them in improvisations and make sure we create characters who are complex, with nuances and little quirks and secrets that may not come to pass every time we perform, but they are there, ready to be discovered and adding to the experience.

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Thanks so much to Jakob for the interview! Meet Diana Danko sounds really interesting and definitely worth learning more about. Check out the Kickstarter if it tickles your fancy and share this post with anyone you think might like it!

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