Back in May, we held a hack day for cultural organizations. The resulting project was an app for Repercussion Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar, performed in parks around Montreal over the summer. The app allowed Francophone audience members to follow Shakespeare’s text in French, with prompts pushed from the stage manager to alert them to the current scene being performed. We wrote about the hack day and the show in the journal earlier this year.

By all accounts, Repercussion theatre had a great summer run of Julius Caesar. We were truly honoured to have a part in it. Our app was up and running for every performance between July 7th and August 3rd.

With the tour done, it’s time to reflect on our small part.

Reception and opening night

On opening night members of the Plank team and guests attended the season premiere in the Mount Royal cemetery. Warren said some quick thank you words from the stage and the crowd was told if they’d like to follow along with the script in French, they could visit theatre.plank.co on their mobile devices. The instructions were also printed in a full-page ad on the side of the playbill.

Usage

We are extremely happy that, averaged out, we hit our target usage. We didn’t have a lot to go on for what numbers we should be aiming for. Some of us had attended Shakespeare in the Park previously and knew their events drew anywhere from 200-2000 people.

It’s good to have some smart goals — so we pegged it at 5%. This would be people who at least opened the app each performance.

That number seemed high when we first discussed it — but surprisingly was mostly accurate. Truthfully it was a guesstimate as we didn’t have a lot of historical audience data to work from.

On the plays busiest night our app was opened by almost 8% of the attendees.

We saw this as a win!

The technology

The whole project was built on:

  • Digital Ocean droplet
  • Foundation v6
  • Laravel
  • Git
  • Adobe CreativeCloud
  • Paper App / iPad pro for early drawings and rapid prototyping
  • Pusher for websockets 

The script for “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” was cleaned up and parsed using much more mundane methods (BBedit find and replace skills).

Some stats

During the summer run, theatre.plank.co saw:

  • 379 unique users
  • 609 sessions
  • The performance at the Centre Canadien d’Architecture (Tuesday Aug 2nd) saw the most use at 80+ users with the web-sockets keeping an average of 30 or so connections up throughout the night. This event had the largest attendance of the summer.
  • iOS usage came in at 63% and Android at 36%
  • iPhones account for 50%+ of the devices used and iPads at 5%
  • Samsung Galaxy devices led the Android charge with almost 10% of traffic

Surprises

Here are some things we hadn’t considered, or feedback which shed new light on the problem we’d tried to solve:

  • We got word that a few users had been using the app the night before the event to see the dialogue. We had only ever imagined this being a “live tool”.
  • We saw a couple suggestions that offering a toggle to view the English script would be great. Shakespearean dialogue can move fast, and it would be nice to reference the script as the play unfolds. This idea could be extended to other languages, as well as offering a scene synopsis as each scene/act begins.
  • WIFI can be spotty at outdoor events. Shakespeare in the Park takes place in major urban parks, but we still saw issues with this. In particular, some areas at the top of Mount Royal offer known weak coverage depending on your provider.

Challenges

It isn’t difficult to implement proper analytics to track exactly what people are doing with your app but it is tough to get in place in the space of a hack day. There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions — but we simply didn’t have enough time to research and build them in.

Offering methods for the Repercussion Theatre staff to keep the scene up to date was a tough challenge. We suggested they find volunteers who could help “change the scene” — but we think we could do a lot more here. Ideas ranging from crowd-sourcing this task, to automating it (tough in their outdoor temporary environments) were suggested. The best case scenario would be a line-by-line indicator of the dialogue.

Next Steps

This pilot project was a success.

We are looking at different avenues to keep this project going and expand on it. We are looking forward to a continued collaboration with Repercussion to develop the vision for this application.

If you’d like to follow along, keep an eye on continuing development at the permanent home for the project, http://theatre.plank.co.