Storytellers and Audiences: Back Together Again

Storytellers and audiences have entered into a new relationship with each other as the Internet continues to reshape our mass media landscape.  Whether it is the ability of a fan to directly fund a creative project, comment on a show, share a video with her social graph or create content that selects from a favorite film, audiences are now more closely linked to storytelling than ever before.

We have a difficult time understanding this process as it seems to be so diffuse and new.  To some content creators, it even seems bothersome, if not down right intrusive.

Steve Coulson argues in his wonderful talk, TEDxSheffield 2012 – From Butlins to Tiki Bars… that:

1. This “new” relationship harkens back to the old days of storytelling and,

2. All storytellers should work to embrace this relationship–not reject it.

He points out that for eons, storytelling was a shared activity, whether around the campfire, watching a Greek play in the round or yelling at a bawdy performance of Shakespeare at the Globe Theater. He even details how Tiki Bars were built as immersive story worlds in which each participant played a role of his own imagination as he “went native”.  Yet Tiki bars came into existence just as a new mass media was taking off and created a “new” relationship between the storyteller and audience.

As he states in his talk;

“Then came Radio, TV and Film.  A technology thru mass media that for the first time really separated the storyteller and audience through time and place.  For the first time, audiences were told to sit down, shut up and pay attention as the storyteller weaved his story, a kind of dictatorship of the auteur.”

Coulson argues further that:

“I think we will look back at the 20th century as that blip in the storytelling history where the audience lost its ability to participate. Mass media will be that small section because things are changing dramatically…”

Coulson then looks at what has emerged in the last five years with the growth of the web, social media and mobile platforms and sees it as much more than a technical revolution. Instead he focuses on:

“the gradual reemergence of the voice of the audience that had been shut down by mass media, as we turn from consumers to producers…and start participating and collaborating in that storytelling process.”

Coulson looks at something “new” and tells us we need to see it as something “old”. He tells us that we are now sitting around a campfire, as our ancestors used to, but we just don’t see it–yet.

He shows us that a new world is emerging that takes us back to older forms of human interaction.  Most importantly, he provides us with a series of anchors, little vignettes, “stories” if you will, that allow us to glimpse this new world through an old lens and thus see it more clearly.

As Clay Shirky once wrote:

“The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor and it isn’t optional, but nor are its contours set in stone. We are a long way from discovering and perfecting the Internet’s native forms…”

Everyone should take the time to watch Coulson’s talk because he has identified a key thread of this new (old) story and helps us see how we can discover its native forms.

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • Steve Wax

    Chris, nice commentary on Steve’s presentation. Here’s two more related references:

    From the great Griffin Farley and Steve Coulson & my partner at Campfire, Mike Monello, this piece on Propagation Planning, or how to craft a story that gets passed on:

    http://www.slideshare.net/griffinfarley/planningness-propagation-planning

    And this is a great presentation by Mike Monello at the London film festival on Transmedia. A wonderful piece: 

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/live/video/540

    • Steve Wax

      The first piece is from Griffin & Mike, Steve is a partner at Campfire. Missing an apostrophe “s” on Steve’s name.

    • chrisdorr

       Steve, Thanks for your comment and for adding these pieces to the discussion.  I will check them out.

  • Love these guys. I learn so much from both Steve and Mike every time I’m around them.

    • chrisdorr

       Mark, thanks for your comment, you are right, they are driving the conversation about storytelling forward in significant ways, in both what they say and in what they accomplish in their work.