I love using technology in interesting ways, especially if it creates a digital layer over the real world. Some of the below examples I made for work, and some were just because of my constant need to create things.
(Click on a starred item to expand it)
★ NarraScope presentation about developing and writing for location-based gaming
My presentation at the 2019 NarraScope conference held at MIT about narrative design in gaming and entertainment was one of the few presentations selected for filming. Watch it.
★ The Gray Matter Sodality, a puzzle subscription by mail
I created a subscription where every month I mail you physical puzzles that I’ve made from ordinary objects. These puzzles contribute to the story of a fictional organization called The Gray Matter Sodality (GMS) who are dedicated to reclaiming the stolen pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain (his brain was really stolen).
GMS launched in the summer of 2018 and floundered for a while. I learned some valuable lessons along the way about marketing such a product. Then, the holiday season came and my hard work had paid off. I was flooded with new orders and my poor basement became very crowded with supplies and puzzle-making materials. Now, it’s going strong and I recently hired some part-time help as it’s become too big to handle alone. I hope to soon write a launch post-mortem on the whole thing.
★ Hidden Treasure at the Library
Every year at Traipse we hide real treasure ($1,000 in cash and assorted gift cards) somewhere in Augusta County, Virginia. Over a six week period we partner with local businesses, business associations, and the local radio station to disseminate clues about the treasure’s location. It’s a massive undertaking that has gained quite the following, with a few thousand people participating.
My strategy for managing and releasing a few hundred puzzles and clues over that long of a period of time via a variety of platforms is a lengthy blog post unto its own, but I’m particularly proud of our 2019 hunt, when we partnered with the Staunton Public Library. The final treasure location was a fake book that I made and hid among the shelves. My huge spreadsheet of clues eventually led treasure hunters to the library and then slowly revealed which shelf should be searched. My favorite detail: the library added a label to the book’s spine, completing its look!
A making-of and placement video:
★ Turning Metro's logo into poop with augmented reality
In a bout of frustration with the ever-present disaster that is the Washington, D.C. Metro system, I turned to augmented reality for a cathartic experience. Read on.
★ A Geocaching Twitter Bot
Not all the projects I’ve built have been a raging success. I once built a Twitter Bot and learned a few lessons along the way. Read on.
★ Locative Storytelling using Twine
I was on a quest to figure out a way to tell a location-based story without having to use a special app. I hacked Twine, the storytelling software, to pull in latitude and longitude via a browser session. Read on.
The below projects were from my days as a marketing director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (STC) where I used the art on stage to try out some different ideas.
★ League of Resident Theatres presentation
In 2017 I presented at the LORT conference about my various marketing and audience engagement projects. The presentation was titled, “Digital Audience Engagement Projects or, I have a brilliant idea that makes coworkers look at me in confusion/fear.” The LORT conference is somewhat of a serious affair, mostly being attended by stone-faced theatre executives. I’m very proud to say that I absolutely slayed the room. (Granted, most of the presentations at the conference were about union negotiations and the like, so it was a low bar.) The presentation covers a lot of items you can explore on this page, but is a more-complete dive into the lessons I learned while making them. Explore it here.
★ Augmented reality and The School for Lies
Using an augmented reality app called Zappar, I created an interactive installation in STC’s lobby for the production of The School for Lies which had a gorgeous set, heavily influenced by contemporary artists.
By pointing their phones at this display and activating the augmented reality app, patrons could explore the work of those artists and engage with content like behind-the-scenes photos and videos. The project’s official webpage.
We interviewed the set designer for a series of videos that are part of the content available within the augmented reality experience. He also generously supplied the actual set model which was used by STC’s Scene Shop as the guide for building the show. The model added a needed physical element that really made the installation stand out in the lobby.
★ Undo Othello
Got together with my friends at Unmapped Path to create “Undo Othello” an annotated interactive exploration of the play’s Act 4, scene 1. At various points in the scene you can interrupt it to try and change the course of action. Try it.
UPDATE! STC remounted Othello for their Free For All and it gave me a chance to revive this project. I turned it into an interactive lobby experience using a Raspberry Pi.
★ Juliet_Bot, a Facebook Messenger bot
I created a Facebook Messenger bot to suppose what Juliet, of William Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET, might have thought about her pending arranged marriage. Patrons could message her and participate in a conversation with branching dialogue choices.
Sadly, the company who hosted the bot unceremoniously dissolved and Juliet_Bot is lost to time. I did manage to save a snippet of the conversation in action:
Read about the origin of the idea.
★ Redactor, a text adventure for 1984
Created a text adventure game called Redactor to promote our presentation of 1984. You play as Winston in his job at the Ministry of Truth. Not only was it a successful marketing and audience engagement piece but, personally, I got to dive into the storytelling tool, Twine. It was originally hosted over at STC’s website but I noticed that parts of it started to fade away as they updated things. Started hosting it here.
★ The Taming of the Shrew, “Save the Date”
We were producing Shakespeare’s notorious play, The Taming of the Shrew, and it was going to be directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, a NY-based director who is known for his provocative staging. While registered as liberal, STC has a surprisingly conservative audience and I knew that we’d need to be up front that this production wasn’t going to be “traditional.” I took a hard look at the tactics we typically employed when marketing a play and decided that they would need to subtly reflect that this Shrew would be unusual. It was tricky because at the time we still didn’t quite know what the director intended to do.
I won’t go into the play’s (horrifically misogynistic) plot but essentially the characters are trying to abuse Kate, the shrew, into getting married. Instead of our typical early postcard which is usually very marketing-centric, I thought a “Save the Date” where the groom is yet to be announced would be a way to subtly declare that something about this show would be different. We’d spend a little money to print something nice for greater impact.
It came in a nondescript envelope with a simple stamp on the front and our address plainly printed on the back.
Opening the envelope our customers were greeted with the single “Save the Date” card announcing the wedding. The silver foil punched into the card made the whole thing really pop.
A lot of Shrew jokes packed in there for Shakespeare aficionados.
The back is where I included the marketing language, a ticket discount, and a vanity URL.
I’m proud to say that this effort was tremendously successful. Our customers took hundreds of photos of the piece and shared it all over social media. The promo code earned five times what the piece cost. I’d bet good money that in the history of direct mail that a piece getting positively shared in this fashion is pretty rare.
The special landing page where this piece pointed: www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/SaveTheDate. In case that page ever goes away:
★ Set the events of Macbeth into motion
I created an interactive chart to illustrate the chain of tragic events in Macbeth. It was just a quick thing that I created and scheduled for a quiet Friday afternoon but ultimately it was shared hundreds of times on social media.
★ Secret Seeds
Considering that gardening is among my (many) favorite hobbies, coming up with ideas for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Secret Garden was a dream opportunity. Initially I had the thought to mail a letter which used special paper with embedded seeds. Customers could plant the mailing itself. Turns out that special paper isn’t cheap and there were a few other logistical problems that made me nervous enough to drop the idea.
I later remembered a wedding where the favors were custom printed seed packets and a quick search revealed something even better, mailable custom seed packets.
My goal for direct mail pieces in general is to try and create something that survives the trip inside a customer’s house, something that isn’t immediately tossed into the trash. I deliberately didn’t reveal what kind of seeds would be in the packet, counting on people’s curiousity being strong enough for them to at least visit the special webpage (where, of course, I had retargeting code embedded so I could hit them with banner ads for The Secret Garden later). Plus, I counted on the fact that most people would be reluctant to throw away a packet of seeds even if they had no initial interest in the play.
The campaign was a success! The mailing converted at 20% and brought in seven times the cost to printing and postage. Plus it generated some buzz as amused customers shared photos of the piece on social media.
★ A puzzle game for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Made a basic puzzle video game for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Players who finished got a ticket discount and could share it. Play the game.
★ Send a snarky valentine for The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest ran through Valentine’s Day so I created these snarky Valentines using quotes from the play. Built a mechanism where customers could share them to social media or email them to friends with a custom message in the email body. Either way it would also share a small ticket discount. The webpage no longer exists after STC moved to new website but here are a few of my favorites:
★ As You Like It road trip kit
These were created at the tail end of the show just as a random idea for the coming Thanksgiving holiday but they got a huge response– got over 10,000 downloads (!). I created another set for The Tempest for the Christmas holiday and it too got a good response.
★ Send a message in a bottle for The Tempest
Created a “Message in a Bottle” promotion for The Tempest where users filled out a web form with a few basic questions about their hopes and dreams. They were also asked to share the promotion, in the process sharing a ticket discount. A full year later I sent the “bottle” back to the users with their own answers & a discount for the coming season. Not sure my coworkers “got” this one but it was fun to implement. Plus a little over 600 people participated so I’m calling it a win!