Storytelling is not what it used to be. There is a feeling that this art form falling into mediocrity. TV shows rarely strive for excellence. The success of a movie is based on it's box office draws rather than classic characters and narrative of the past. The book industry is all but dead. People roll their eyes at poetry. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but in general the storytelling trade is on a downward spiral. Through my experiences, theatre has been near the forefront in evolving storytelling for a while now in an attempt to stop being engulfed by the film industry.
Please note that this is entirely based on my opinion of the arts, if you disagree, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I do (despite popular belief) love the arts and want the arts to succeed, and one of the steps towards the future success of the creative arts is to start a critical dialogue about the state of storytelling in our culture today.
This is how I see the future of storytelling. This is how I want to tell stories, and how I see text-based works evolving over future generations.
The first thing to acknowledge is that everything has been done before. Every story ever told falls into either one (or a number of) of Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plot Points, or nonsense. That is not to say that these methods of storytelling are obsolete, rather that we need to take these storytelling devices and make them new. We should embrace the stories told in the past, acknowledge them, and bring them into the future.
I want to talk about two forms of storytelling that excite me, both as an artist and audience member. These styles bring us in to the future, introducing a third dimension to the storytelling experience. Most storytelling that I see is very two dimensional, creating a relationship between artist and audience, however the future of storytelling in my eyes is a conversation between 3 bodies.
Artist – Audience – Author
This is a style of storytelling which I am very excited about, and where I personally see my practice (as a writer and director) heading. The basic dynamic of the artist telling the authors story to the audience is starting to fall on deaf ears. The “new” style I see emerging is where the author has a much more active role in the presentation of the story. There is a second presentational medium, in which the author also provides commentary on the story. People may disagree with this, but complex storylines are on the way out (with a couple of obvious exceptions). What I see coming into the common theatrical vernacular is the telling of more generic, basic stories, with the artist/author's observations being the major dialogue communicated with the audience.
This is a little unusual to the average theatre/movie/television audience member, however I am seeing a trend towards character driven plots serving as a structure for a personal narration of either a critical or reflective nature. A prime example of this appears in the works of American screenwriter Max Landis. His short films, most notably The Death and Return of Superman take a generic, pre-developed, character driven plot, underwritten by personal narration and a mass media influenced approach of viral marketing. In The Death and Return of Superman, Landis plays the role of narrator, telling the story of DC Comics' infamous The Death of Superman edition, whilst action is depicted in a buffon-esque parody styling of viral video fame, all while Landis provides his own personal criticism, analysis and opinion.
I feel as though this style of storytelling empowers audiences to take what they wish from specific stories, whilst not excommunicating the audience. This style can definitely influence how stories are told, especially in the theatre. Theatre is infamous for creating works that “aren't for everyone”, telling stories which larger audiences often struggle to come to a consensus on. I feel as though this style can create works that reach out to a wider audience, as shows would be able to engage multiple contrasting demographics through the use of multiple presentational methods in individual performances.
For example, if a show were to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet, the presenting company could feasibly exhibit multiple different stylistic choices, or even perspectives of the same story. I don't know about all of you, but I love the idea of a show simultaneously being comedy, tragedy and expressionism, with audience members being able to choose what they want from a piece. You can argue that I am making this sound a lot easier than it would be to actually pull this off. I agree, however anything is conceivably possible with the correct approach and a little bit of human ingenuity.
Artist – Audience - Reality
There are forms of storytelling that are only now coming into the realms of reality thanks to technological advancement and human innovation. Bjarke Ingels' video explains his philosophy of taking what is fictional and making it a reality. He explains that there is always a creative solution to any problem, as long as there is enough of a intellectual investment. His projects in Copenhagen have brought what only years ago would have been considered fiction into a reality. The new form of storytelling is reality. Not the reality that we see on television, but true reality.
How does this translate to the theatre? Does it at all? I think so. I think theatre can achieve what Ingels has done to some extent. Obviously the idea of a permanent architectural installation being recreated in a theatrical sense is not entirely possible, however using site-specific theatrical techniques transforming public spaces to bring theatre to everyday life is definitely possible. In 2012, a Belgian television company did this in the middle of a town square in Flanders.
A large scale flash mob which brought theatricality to what would normally be a boring city centre. This is a quite extravagant example, however the works of New York company Improv Everywhere exemplifies what can be done only using the power of creative thinking people. Here is a video of their famous flash mob in Grand Central Terminal in New York. Just like Ingels' work, they take a surreal moment and create it in reality, in the middle of a bustling city. I highly recommend you check out this company, and see how creative innovation can remarkably affect everyday people.
Storytelling is an art form which requires substantial human innovation to continue to succeed. Of course there are more alternatives in the future of storytelling, I could write a thesis on them and still only be looking at the tip of the iceberg. In recent generations, pioneering artists have taking remarkable risks to innovate the way stories are told in our culture. Kubrick, Brecht, Mueller, Kaiser and Scorsese just to name a few revolutionized the way we tell stories in the 20th Century. Now, it is up to our generation to innovate just as many pioneers of film, theatre and television have in the past. I'm excited, now lets get innovating.