After much ado about nothing, we were excited to kick off our 4th Plank Hack Day last Friday.

For those of you who don’t know what a Hack Day is, here’s a quick summary:

You put a group of computer programmers, graphic designers, project managers, and interface designers in a room together for a full day to collaborate intensively on creating a digital project.

Plank Hack Day Summer 2016

There are no real rules, but the goal is to try to finish the day with some sort of prototype or, ideally, a finished product.

Sounds like fun, right? It is!

Why do Hack Days?

For starters, it gives our team a chance to break out of their regular day-to-day tasks and be creative in different ways. Oh, and we get to eat waffles!

Waffles for breakfast!

Check out some of Plank’s past Hack Day projects.

Choosing Repercussion Theatre

For our 2016 Hack Day, we wanted to focus on a specific theme. We chose Arts & Culture. Additionally, we didn’t want to solely depend on our own ideas so we offered Cultural organizations the opportunity to submit their projects. As with any Hack Day, we looked for a challenge. So, after some internal review of submissions as well as some input from one of our longest standing clients, Culture Days, we selected Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre.

“We tour Shakespeare in the Park in English, but want to make our shows as accessible as possible to people who don't speak English (specifically francophones, but others as well.) I'd love some sort of mechanism whereby an audience member could follow along with the french text... We'd love some help!”

Repercussion Theatre is best known for its Shakespeare in the Park open-air summer tour. Every summer since 1988, over 13,000 people have gathered in parks in and around the city for these performances. Audiences are comprised of all ages and all economic backgrounds — not only because the shows are offered free of charge but also because the outdoor touring program moves from park to park, making it accessible to everyone.

The Challenge

Repercussion Theatre issued us an interesting challenge — one that we thought we could pull off in a day, if we pooled all of our creative skills together to narrow down the best approach.

Repercussion Theatre Shakespeare in the Park French App Mockup

We quickly identified certain limitations early on. This guided our planning for the day’s work:

  • All performances take place in parks, so access to Wifi is unlikely
  • The mechanism must be visible in outdoor sunlight and darkness, without disturbing other audience members with a bright screen
  • Variety of audience members dictated that it would have to be simple and easy to use
  • We wanted to be able to support as many devices and browsers as possible

What We Did

The concept was clear: Create a tool that could allow the French-speaking audience to follow along with the Shakespearian storyline that was being acted out before them.

We decided to go the route of a mobile-version web app so that the audience could follow along on their mobile phone without having to download a native app.

Repercussion Theatre Shakespeare in the Park French App Reading
Repercussion Theatre Shakespeare in the Park French App Scene Menu

As we broke out into various roles, the team covered a lot of ground:

  • Gathered and inputted French text of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (multiple languages would be an option later on down the road)
  • Designed an interface and implemented JS navigation that would be easy for all types of users
  • Created a night and day mode for better legibility
  • Implemented  a text sizing option for increased accessibility
  • Built an admin tool for the Repercussions’ staff to auto-update the web app to the exact scene that is being performed

By day’s end — and after many pots of coffee — the Plank team had created a working demo of a mobile tool that could allow any French-speaking audience member to follow along through each Act and Scene on their handheld device. Not bad for a day’s work!

Repercussion Theatre Shakespeare in the Park French App Welcome
Repercussion Theatre Shakespeare in the Park French App Act III

When the Repercussion Team showed up at our office at 4pm, we were all happy with the demo and even more excited by the prospect of additional improvements we could make.  

Presenting to Repercussion Theatre

More time please!

There is only so much you can accomplish in one day, so we asked the team to tell us what sorts of things they would have liked to have added or modified to the Repercussion Theatre app:

  • Erin, Plank’s event planner, would have sourced the Julius Ceasar text and related images before the actual Hack Day.
  • Sean, a programmer, reflected on changing the functionality so the user could flip through the scenes at their leisure and not be forced to the current chapter.
  • Stéphane and Jerome, both front-end developers, would have added more animation to the app’s navigation and applied a default auto-contrast tied with actual time of day.
  • Jenn, Plank’s creative director, would have helped the team apply more of her designs and would have also sourced more artwork per scene.

Of course, the one thing that everyone agreed on was — more testing! Not a surprise for a digital studio.

What next?

The tool we produced for Repercussion Theatre for our 2016 Hack Day was a great start of an expandable project. As we really sunk our teeth into the app, we all agreed this tool could be a great benefit to other organizations in the Canadian Theatre Community.

As with any digital project, there’s always an opportunity to evolve and transform, so stay tuned — we might not be done with this one just yet!

Want to see an insider’s view of our Plank Hacks Culture 2016? Read Erin Whitney's on-the-ground report from the day.

The Show

Julius Caesar opens in Mount Royal Cemetery on July 7th. Check it out at a park near you this summer!