Today I am thinking about the indivisibility of story and audience. Which comes first? In May 2010, Hello World and I return to the Big Lake. I’d like to start with a more robust social presence than the project had in 2009. WordPress and Twitter apps on the iPhone were swell, but there hadn’t been much outreach before the launch.
Could we start this May with a robust and attentive audience of say 5000? If so, who would they be? Who should we invite? How should time be balanced between building a following and building the story?
That last question is a doozie, it scares me. Scan back through the posts from July – August 2009 and you’ll see how much preparation was going on. That’s where I am now, just two months from launch. Do I have time to build an audience? Do I want an audience if I am ill prepared for performance? What’s the point of having an incredible performance that nobody sees? What does an auspicious balance between audience building and story building look like?
Let’s back up and look at who the audience might be. Content attracts an audience that can relate to it. Context diversifies the audience. Both content and context flow from my story, so what’s my story? Story -> content + context -> audience. This might all seem abstract, so here’s an example.
A guy is going to sail a small catamaran around Lake Michigan. If that’s the story, then the content would be sailboats, water, beaches, maybe some interesting weather. This content appeals to folks familiar with Lake Michigan, sailors and some outdoor enthusiasts.
Add more story and the content expands… This guy believes he can fathom the future of the human race, he thinks he can figure out how we will radically reinvent our planetary presence and avoid environmental apoocalypse. Now the content includes encounters with all manner of kooky folks with clues about the future – rocking chair philosophers, garage scientists, mad prophets, sincere visionaries, hard working fanatics, angels in brown paper bags, irascible recluses and so on. The audience now includes folks who enjoy debate, new ideas, all the friends and family of the kooky folks, folks who are themselves somewhat kooky and anyone who thinks the human race is in big trouble.
Now comes the lovely magic of context. This guy who is going to sail around Lake Michigan likes science fiction. Not the watered down low octane Hollwood fluff, but the hard core, straight to the vein hard core. Science fiction from books. His shelves are sagging with ragged paperbacks from the masters – Bradbury, Wilhelm, Le Guin, Clarke, Dick, Lethem, Swanwick, Stephanson. He’s steeped deep. We explain this to the audience and suddenly we get this guy a little more. Poor dear, his brain’s been fried from too much reading! He’s projecting his imagination into the real world, he probably thinks his catamaran is the space shuttle. What will happen to this sap, will he end up drowned after being knocked off his boat by alien Asian carp? Now the content includes the guy’s history, scenes depicting his heartbreaking literary obsession – moments that make a connection to him. The audience may not agree with who he is or what he believes, but they can relate! He is every man, every woman. He becomes a placeholder for all of us. A 21st century Don Quixote on an impossible quest. If context is pulled off properly, the audience includes all, whether or not they like boats, philosophy or give a rats ass about the earth.
So I guess the question of balance didn’t get resolved here. Hmm. I’ll be back.