Why Is Chris Elam Smiling?

A choreographer wins big for virtual steps

People who visit the Misnomer website may be moved to make contributions or buy tickets to a performance. If they happen to be where one is taking place. The third tool that Elam and his colleagues plan to develop will enlist potential audiences to help make a live performance happen. “We’re trying to make a form where people will put in their zip code if they want to see us come to their hometown. Then we make an interactive Google Map of the country, and each time someone from a zip code says, I want Misnomer to come to my town, a little number will show up at their zipcode on the map, and once you get 150 people from any zip code who have said ‘I want you,’ a big red dot happens at that zip code.”

You see where this could lead. A dance company can then contact a theater manager and announce that it knows of so-many hundred people living in or near that zip code who’d like to see it perform there. What’s more, some of those people may also have indicated they’d be willing to get the word out to friends and neighbors. Elam’s voice fairly crackles along the phone lines when he considers how many sectors would benefit from a tool that could facilitate this process. “It empowers audience members to be able to bring the art that they want to their hometown, and it helps presenters to be able to make an assessment. Often when I talk to presenters, I find there’s a real concern about ‘how is my audience base going to respond to this? Is it going to sell tickets?’ So it will help take a little of that mystery out. And it could enable dance companies to create local audience bases around the country.”

Choreography is Elam’s passion, and the fact that he’s a networking maven seems to me to fit right in with the kind of dances he makes. Anyone who’s ever seen Misnomer, whether live or on the web, remembers the extraordinary ways in which people thoughtfully tangle with their own limbs and the bodies of others. “The nature of my work,” he says is that I love the way people try to connect and negotiate with each other and understand one another. That’s what I put on the stage. And how does that connect with an audience inside a theater and how does it connect with people outside a theater? This type of work is really meaningful to me, and it also matches my background in computer science and public policy and the cultural anthropology research I’ve done. I mean, this is not the art. This is a different thing. It’s a building of audience education, of marketing, of outreach, of communication exchange. It’s very nice to be in a merge just now.”

Not all artists are able or ready to swim in this multicurrented virtual flow. But the possibilities are seductive as well as productive. There’s a big choreography of shared information out there. Why not find a score of partners and join the dance?

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