The Revelation of Miss White is a new contemporary dance story hosted on Facebook. Launched on the 21st March, the project is now moving into its final week.
Miss White is a well-to-do lady of the village, whose perfect daily life (and sanity) rapidly falls apart as her dreams start appearing as videos on her Facebook page.
In between those dance videos, Miss White is trying to keep it together while chatting away to anyone who wants to say hello. She has around 6,000 Facebook followers, so she has plenty of people to talk to. Her personality changes radically between daytime and nighttime…
The project is created by John Darvell’s Berkshire based company, nocturn who produced the innovative Facebook mystery Dare You Watch in 2014. Nocturn creates and delivers experimental contemporary narrative performances based on topical social issues. Using a mixture of performance and accessible technology, they engage audiences in interactive artistic events that they may experience accidentally, either online, or in an installation setting.
The Miss White project is part of a larger period of research and development and range of activities, supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and working with West Berkshire Council, The Corn Exchange (Newbury), South Hill Park (Bracknell) and Cornerstone (Didcot).
We spoke with the project’s writer, David Varela about the writing, development and production process, how Miss White is coming to life via social media, and how this project is helping to develop future transmedia work…
Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration behind The Revelation of Miss White?
John Darvell, the artistic director of nocturn, has a very ambivalent attitude towards social media. It’s deeply embedded in modern life, but every personal profile you see is a lie – at least in part.
Having worked together on a previous project, we wanted to use Facebook as a platform for telling a story about that dissonance between your real life and your online presence, taken to the limit. Pushed to extremes, it can reflect some pretty dark psychological issues.
How did the writing, development and production process come together?
We started over 18 months ago. Because we wanted Arts Council funding, we had to develop quite a detailed outline up-front. And Miss White is just an R&D project for some bigger, bolder productions on the same slate.
So there was a lot of work done to lay the groundwork, structuring the narrative and setting our objectives back in 2014. When we were granted the funding, John cast our star, Harriet Waghorn, and he was finally able to get on with mapping out and rehearsing the choreography. After a week in the studio, we did two days of filming with cinematographer Ben Johnston – one on location, one on a theatre stage – which meant we had all the dance components of the production in the can before the ‘live rollout’ of the story on Facebook.
The posts often seem to be a social commentary of life online. Is this a theme you are intentionally tapping into?
That’s certainly the most immediate level of meaning, and the easiest for people to relate to. But as the story reaches its later stages, it becomes a broader commentary on living in denial or facing reality. You can’t live a lie forever. And the more extreme the lie, the more dramatic the collapse.
Miss White’s story is largely interactive, are you monitoring the comments and updating the posts throughout the three weeks?
Yep – I’m in character for three weeks solid, day and night, being the interactive voice of Miss White. I post a fairly long update each day and catch up with any public or private comments.
At night, it’s a different story. Miss White’s nightmares appear as videos and her written voice is far more aggressive and violent. And in the morning, she’s quite baffled as to how it could have happened and she completely evades the possibility that she could have posted all that herself: “I may have to change my privacy settings.”
That level of denial ultimately proves too much to sustain.
Have you seen audience engagement grow during the first couple of weeks?
Each time we upload a video, there’s a spike in interaction. This is partly because the videos are the only posts that we actively ‘boost’ with advertising. Much as I’d love to say that people are flocking towards the project because of the writing and dance work, there’s a pretty clear correlation between ad spend and activity on the page.
You mentioned last year you worked with nocturn on the transmedia project Dare You Watch. Did this experience help to develop and refine The Revelation of Miss White?
We certainly defined a dark style that was identifiably nocturn. Dare You Watch focused on a group of patients on a coma ward, playing out their fantasies and hallucinations in dance. Miss White covers some similar thematic territory.
It also helped John to go whole-heartedly into the online world, with nocturn abandoning live theatrical productions altogether. They’re an online-only dance company now.
Are you finding there is data coming through that will enable you to develop future transmedia projects?
While we hope it’s an entertaining production in its own right, Miss White is really an R&D project to develop our understanding of online video, viewing habits, and advertising. Behind the scenes, we’re doing some quite structured experiments in how we promote each video and the page itself, measuring what is most effective and what doesn’t work so well. This means we don’t change course if we find that a particular approach isn’t working: we let each experiment run its course so we have some solid comparative statistics.
The idea is that we’ll be able to use these findings to promote future projects more effectively – and share our findings so that other companies can benefit from them too.
We’re really enjoying watching Miss White’s story develop and unravel. What can we expect in the final week?
She’s going to have to face reality. That’s her revelation.
To follow Miss White’s adventures, simply like her page. It’s live right now!