CONGREGATED CHATS: Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre

Organization Name: Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre

City: Los Angeles


Time of Program: CONGREGATED CHATS occur at the same time as the live performance, and therefore the time of day is at the company’s discretion.

Program Length: Each CONGREGATED CHAT lasts approximately 20-40 minutes longer than the performance that is streamed online.

Goal: The goals of the CONGREGATED CHATS, or remote audience events, are three-fold: - Use live streaming technology to provide a shared, social bonding experience for remote audiences. - Explore how the traditional Q&A model can be expanded and reformatted to provide additional opportunities for meaning making within the dance field. - Facilitate conversation amongst audience members about the differences between online and live performance place-making.

Time of Year Offered: The program is offered when there are performances occurring.

Program Description:

CONGREGATED CHATS are organized remote audience events, or ‘engaged viewing parties,’ where participating individuals experience the Q&A during the live stream of a performance. The simultaneity of the program invites audience members at both locations – the actual performance site and the CONGREGATED CHAT – to engage in an expanded experience with the performing arts and their communities. Site-specific dance company, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, explored this event format during the Engaging Dance Audiences Program, Round Two. Titled From Time to Time…At the Oasis, the engagement project brought a travelling, site-specific performance created for a 1961 Oasis trailer to four California State University campuses. While the live performance was occurring on one campus with Artistic Director Heidi Duckler and the four cast members, Managing Director Emily Wanserski concurrently hosted a CONGREGATED CHAT at the previous campus on the journey.

Crafted for the college student, the CONGREGATED CHATS during the EDA project opened with the primary facilitator (Managing Director Emily Wanserski) giving background on Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, Dance/USA’s Engaging Dance Audiences Program, and the actual performance. The facilitator encouraged the students to follow the ‘live-tweeting’ that was pushed out by the Line Producer Shaya Mulcahy, who was nestled inside the trailer giving a ‘backstage pass’ to those viewers online, on their personal devices. The causal opening to the event provided a calm, welcoming atmosphere, which created an open space for conversation. Artistic Director Heidi Duckler delivered a welcome speech on site that opened the online broadcast, which was projected onto a large screen in the CONGREGATED CHAT room. By instantly putting a face to the name of the company, the remote audience attendees again continued to feel comfortable and informed. Rather than instantly initiating conversation with specific prompt questions, the facilitator allowed the audience to digest the information in both opening speeches while watching the first few moments of the performance. Students naturally began asking a wide variety of conceptual and logistical questions nearly instantly in all four sites. After initial thoughts were aired, the facilitator then guided the conversation to revolve around the goals of the program.

CONGREGATED CHATS reframe the online viewing experience by debunking the traditional movie-theater-style collective screening with the inclusion of a facilitator and Q&A conversation. Stimulated by the desire to gather audiences together to engage online rather than watching videos/live feeds alone behind their personal computer screens, CONGREGATED CHATS combine familiar technology and shared experience to inspire unique arts participation.

Number of Participants: Depending upon the number of facilitators and physical capacity of the space, CONGREGATED CHATS can host up to 45 audience members. Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre discovered that two primary facilitators with 30 audience members is the ideal size.

Target Audience: For the EDA Round Two program, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre targeted college students at four California State University campuses throughout the state – Los Angeles, Dominguez Hills, Fresno, and East Bay. The company worked with professors on each campus to ensure students who would be most interested in the concept of the program were invited. The events were free and open to the public, but the majority of the attendees were students who had received a specific invitation and/or an incentive to attend. Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre found that more college students were willing and able to attend the CONGREGATED CHAT if the event was folded into their existing class schedule or a campus-wide break. At the campuses the company worked with, afternoon classes were ideal for both involved departments and student constituencies. Looking forward, the flexibility of the program provides an opportunity to cater to many types of audiences and individuals. Elements including the conceptual content of the work, geographic location of the performance, and logistical/administrative capacity define the ability to reach a specific audience. Time of day and time of year will be contingent on which audiences and demographics the company is aiming to reach, and Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre recommends specifically inviting people to attend CONGREGATED CHATS to manage audience numbers, expectations, and informative marketing.

Is the program for kids? While this program could be crafted for kids, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre believes that audience members 18+ are the ideal fit for the program, for much of the conversation steered towards how dance translates to the screen. The further developed eye of a young adult will inspire more extensive conversation and engagement in the content of the work. The primary purpose of the program is both instructional and self-expression. The facilitator provided background, guidance, and instruction, while the ongoing conversation provided an opportunity for the audience to expand their thought process and meaning making of dance.

Private/Public Public

Nature of Audience Engagement: There are four levels of engagement involved in this program. First at the most primary level, the individuals choose to attend. Second, CONGREGATED CHAT audience members engage in the conversation during the live stream of the performance by asking questions, providing answers, and/or expressing their opinion. Ideally, the conversation remains focused on the content of the work, yet tangents and explorations to other topics should be welcomed, and then guided back to the vision and artistic content. Third, the attendees are encouraged to participate in the involved social media outlets primarily including twitter and instagram. Fourth, individuals take action after the CONGREGATED CHAT is complete by either specifically expressing their opinion on the event or commenting on the media pushed out via the ‘live tweet,’ or generally engaging with the company online.

Location: CONGREGATED CHATS take place in interior spaces that have access to the internet (hardline Ethernet connection is best!), a large projector screen or television, and comfortable seating. Ideally, food and drink are also allowed in the room, and the space is geographically close to where most attendees are coming from and/or live. The most effective set up for the room is a circular seating format where all attendees can see the live feed well, while simultaneously feeling part of the collective to inspire conversation. The actual performance site is required to have an active Ethernet port to ensure the live streaming technology works. Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre highly recommends conducting a speed test while connected to the Ethernet port that will be used on site in advance of the event date.

How Many Staff: During the planning process, including performance logistics (which are increasingly complicated for site-specific work!) and negotiation with university campuses, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre dedicated nearly two full staff members to the implementation of the program. Full time staff member Managing Director Emily Wanserski served as the primary liaison between the California State university campuses, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, and Engaging Dance Audiences Program. Line Producer Shaya Mulcahy handled the implementation, technical, and production details for the live event. On the day-of, Artistic Director Heidi Duckler and Line Producer Shaya Mulcahy were at the performance site, while Managing Director Emily Wanserski and the company’s Administrative Assistant hosted the CONGREGATED CHAT. The company’s professor contacts attended the CONGREGATED CHATS and live performances at all four locations, yet each participated in the event as attendees rather than taking on a leadership role in the room.

Program Cost: The expenses broke down to approximately $10,000 per campus for this specific performance and program. Looking forward, the company anticipates the ability to both increase and decrease the expenses based on geographic location, target audience, partners involved, length of the work, and content. Specific costs include but are not limited to: administration, artists, travel, live streaming technology, and marketing.

Marketing for Program: Due to Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s decision to engage college students, professor partners at each campus, social media, and campus newspaper announcements primarily recruited the audience. Grassroots marketing techniques including Facebook event invitations, on-campus flyer-ing, and workshops taught by Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre proved to be very successful. Each campus community communicates with their students in different ways; therefore, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre purposefully fit the CONGREGATED CHATS into their existing channels of marketing.

Cost for Program Participants: The program was free for attendees to participate.

Attendance To Date: 100

Past Iterations: This program occurred four times during Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s Engaging Dance Audiences project timeframe.

What works? Three specific elements of the CONGREGATED CHATS are recommended: First, audience members’ experiences at all types of events are defined by the facilitators’ ability to connect not only with them individually, but also to each other. Having a recent (3-5 years) college graduate host the CONGREGATE CHAT instantly created an atmosphere for productive conversation, for the undergraduate target audience related to the facilitator. Ensuring that the facilitator is approachable is essential to the success of the program. Second, the technical requirements of live streaming were provided by 2ndLineTV. Outsourcing that portion of the project was one of the best decisions Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre made during the duration of the program. The management of the partner relationships, travel, and conceptual structure of the CONGREGATED CHATS was more than enough to direct, and subcontracting the technical piece provided the time to do so. Third, developing strong partnership with each campus defined the success of both the live and online experience. Individuals within each community understand their constituency’s nuances and tendencies more than Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre could have ever uncovered; therefore, the company highly recommends working with strong campuses and active professors. Advance planning, specifically with the co-coordination of the campus calendars is suggested.

What doesn't work? Understanding the ideal timeframe for the target audience is essential. Reflecting back, the CONGREGATED CHAT with the most attendees was during two professors’ normal class time, which allowed for 40 students and 2 professors to join. The evening CONGREGATED CHAT at CSU East Bay had much lower attendance with 10 students and 1 professor, for this school is a majority commuter campus. The students who do live on campus are freshmen/sophomores, who were not initially involved in the program. Additionally, the evening CONGREGATED CHAT took place at 8:30pm, which is very late for the Hayward community. Hosting the event either during or right after dinner around 7pm would have likely inspired more attendance.

Performances Where Offered: This program was only offered with From Time to Time…At the Oasis during the EDA grant period due to the funding available to cover the live streaming and travel costs. Looking forward, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre anticipates a long-term relationship with 2ndLineTV ( and is very open to hosting a CONGREGATED CHAT in association with a future performance.

Past Research on Program: The information collected during the four CONGREGATED CHATS associated with Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s From Time to Time…At the Oasis is the extend of the research thus far.

Continuing Program? 2ndLine also provides the backend support for companies to host events online by streaming edited archival footage. While this platform eliminates the simultaneous live-online connection, this event structure provides an opportunity for individuals around the globe to experience and engage with each other from behind their own computers. Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre expects to host a CONGREGATED CHAT with a vintage online screening.

Resources & Links:

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Target Audiences College Students General Audiences

Online Engagement Both online and in person

Social Bonding Aspects With dance experts - professors, critics, etc. With peer audience members