I’ve been carrying this platform paper around with me for a couple of months. It’s only a slim book, so it hasn’t been a great burden. There’s just alot for me to think about… and that’s why I love it.

There’s a row of platform papers in the bookcase in my office. They stand with black or brightly coloured spines in rainbows on my shelf. Regardless of the date on the cover, they are a timeless contribution in my thinking about art, practice and culture. At times I have felt challenged, or confronted by the papers- but mainly engaged and stimulated and I always look forward to seeing what comes next. On this occasion, a paper on Digital storytelling by Dr Shilo McLean. I first met Shilo when I was working at the then NSW Film and Television Office (now Screen NSW – a telling transformation as the industry shifts from “film” to Screen, don’t you think?). I had always considered Shilo’s interests in digital media/effects and my own practice in theatre was utterly opposed. In fact, I found myself cringing, repelled by the idea that the theatre would be usurped by cyborg avatars- Amazonian women and rippling men whose flesh-selves were pale, anti-social, nerds hunched over a mouse or control pad, pecking away at a keyboard as blue light cast shadows of flickering action over a cluttered bedroom. My fear that reality would become substituted for fantasy. That the digital would ultimately be more satisfying to the general public than a live event- lingered as a fear all the time. My life’s passion and work in the theatre trampled by a storm trooping digital boot attached to the impossible thigh of a woman I could never hope to look like. The fear- huge. And upon reading Shilo’s paper- ridiculous.

Strange that I should not make the correlation to Sontag’s writings especially Plato’s Cave. Strange that I felt threatened by the solitary image- for in a theatre, we may be sitting in a group- but we are all experiencing the event alone. Strange that a topic such as digital media is bound in the seemingly antique tradition of a paper-back book. Strange that I, a theatre practitioner and occasional reviewer so easily engage with an online site (web log) with ease. Strange how the innovative and unusual is the focal point of fear, then acceptance, then common exploitation. The internet- once reserved for the rich and nerdy is now, in our Western culture- an assumed right. Strange that my fear made me ignorant of the tools and devices, the ethics and the issues, the possibilities and the practices. As Shilo states:
“There is something about art and performance that draws upon our fears, and perhaps tis is what incites our desire to control, to regulate to mediate and yes, to censor. Whatever the medium, be it images, live performance or literary narrative, the aim is the expression and communication of emotions and ideas”

A relief that Currency House has commissioned this paper from McClean- to drag me out of an ignorant quivering fear and into the light.

McClean tracks the development of digital tools through filmmaking, addresses the nay-sayers (like the former me), the critics, the conservatives, the censors and the content taste-makers. She speaks of storytelling as “one of the cleverest, most important things we analogue creatures do… [which is a] means of passing on knowledge and wisdom.” She talks of the technological revolution which put professional level equipment in the hands of novices and created a DIY culture of creation and a culture of identity-creation… where by people are actively engaging in creating stories and being a part of the mythology of the story through it’s gaming incantations, through the creation of their own versions of their favourite films, creating T-Shirts online etc. She speaks of the blurring of the professional and the amateur- the independent filmmaker and what access to equipment and technology has done to the creation of art. It is a fascinating book which references the hybridisation of storytelling- the audience as maker- and the potential of audiences to be high involved and creatively evolved participants in creation. She talks about the role of censorship in art- in copyright issues surrounding sampling, mash-ups… she talks about the politics of broadband access, usage… It’s a thoroughly engaging and rollicking read..; even if it is in the ye olde format of paper and stitch binding.

Check out her website: http://shilomcclean.com/2010/07/08/the-digital-playing-fields/

Check out also Currency House: http://www.currencyhouse.org.au/