The Financial Times has been experimenting with telling its stories through theatre performance, aiming to see if creative, live approach to storytelling can engage audiences in new ways.
Through the Contemporary Narratives Lab, an ongoing research project which explores the future of storytelling, the publisher teamed up with People's Palace Projects, an independent arts charity at Queen Mary University of London, and performance space Battersea Arts Centre, to hold early work-in-progress, scratch performances of its stories on stage.
“We weren’t sure about the subject matters that would work and that wouldn't, so we just tried to find excited journalists that were willing to try it,” said Robin Kwong, head of digital delivery, Financial Times, in a debrief discussion on the performances at Queen Mary University on 2 July.
"Sometimes, journalists' notes are really important to them, but they were really generous in sharing with the artists.
"The journalists found that while they may have approached their story in a particular way, seeing it presented in a different way was quite illuminating, and it was gratifying to find out that actually a range of different stories could work in different ways."
The five 10-15-minute shows performed by a range of artists at Battersea Arts Centre on 29 June took on a mix of stories, from those within its Work Tribes series to an investigation into the relationship between Uber and its drivers, and aimed to create a focused space where those watching could grapple with topics they wouldn’t necessarily engage with.
“We are hoping that when people enter the performance space and give their time, they can become a bit more curious about what is going on, and start forming their own questions about the issues,” Kwong told Journalism.co.uk.
“Journalism then becomes not just a means to give people the answers to the questions they already have, but a means to spark new questions for them to explore.”
André Piza, producer and theatre director, People’s Palace Projects, said there is a similarity between how journalists and artists work: to put information in a coherent form for an audience who doesn’t have the opportunity to engage with all of the source material.
“When you have different opportunities to engage with people in a variety of formats, which is what both artists and journalists are doing, it gives the audience a much better rounded, and even poetic, perspective about the stories that they are having contact with – the narratives come through in many different ways,” he said.
“The meaning that these stories end up having in people’s lives is so much more interesting, and they end up having a much bigger impact."
However, as a cross-border organisation with an international readership, The Financial Times is now wondering how this live storytelling format can practically work in the long haul.
“We are asking how we navigate the lines between having something that is very important to be physically there to experiment, versus trying to reach an audience all over the world,” Kwong said.
“There will now be a lot of going back, thinking and consolidating the feedback that we have got, and our own experiences.”
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