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Hello nerds!
Today we're talking about building a science show - I'm going to walk you through the process of taking a show from cool idea to actual event on stage in front of lots of people, and the big tripping points along the way (esp for folks who are new to the stage)
First things first - I'm not talking about a lecture, or a panel (although those can be PART of a science show). I'm talking about a SHOW, which is an event onstage meant to entertain. Most shows have the singular goal of entertaining, but ours is going to do even more...
...It's going to use science as our material to entertain people. It's really important to keep that goal of entertaining front-and-center while building this, and not to downplay the skills and experience those in the entertainment industry can add here.
Lets use an example from Caveat - our original show VERSUS.
Every show starts with an idea - in this case, it was a game two of the hosts @ZakMartellucci and @DustinGrowick used to play on work trips, where they'd match up two seemingly unrelated things, and only one could win.
Now, not to downplay the importance of a good idea (cause you can't have a good show without it), but the idea really is only the first step. Approx 14857 million good ideas happen every day that never go anywhere. The work you put in next determines if it works!
At Caveat, before we agree to move forward with a show idea, we look at 3 different elements a show needs - 1. A great concept (aka, the idea), 2. Great talent (and the RIGHT talent for the idea), 3. A solid structure.
Now, at the beginning, a show never has 3 out of 3. No new show ever does! Thats ok - we look for 1 1/2 out of 3. Usually, it's a great concept and SOME of the right talent. We know what we need to work on to make the show work is finding the rest of the talent, and structure.
SO - back to our example of VERSUS (a show we developed as one of our first originals back in 2017!). The show's concept is each month, two seemingly unrelated scientific ideas go up "against" each other, represented by two "hype men" and two experts, moderated by a referee.
This show features the truly excellent @SarahMackAttack on squids and Kristi Collum on Whales. Sarah now runs our social media for Caveat (@caveatnyc) and her own amazing organization @SkypeScientist check them ALL out!
repping cats - @biologistimo, repping dogs - @courtgarrity
Early on, we knew we needed an anchor for this show - someone with HUGE energy who could wrangle both the hype men and the experts. Thats when we roped in Meg (the referee). Her background is in improv and emcee-ing TEDx talks, which made her perfect for this.
She was a PERFECT fit. So that rounded out our core team of talent! A note on putting together teams: it's hard! Teams that work together well, vibe onstage, and have fun together are tough to build! It takes a lot of discussion and practice, esp early on.
So we've got a great concept and a great team of talent - at this point, I like to sit down with the team and pose this question: What's the mission of this show? aka, what do we want the audience to leave with at the end of the show?
A mission can be simple: "After this show, audiences will know the weird backstory of porn on the internet", or it can be more meta: "after this show, audiences will feel empowered to fight misogyny in science"
These keeps everyone on the same page, from production to talent to tech to marketing.
Now lets talk STRUCTURE. The structure of the show is literally the "what do we DO onstage" part. It's particularly important for shows with lots of informational content - the heavier the informational lift, the stronger the structure needs to be!
This is where the PRODUCER really shines. The role of a producer is hard to nail down, because it changes a lot depending on whether you're working in theater, film, live events, etc. Generally, it's a person who isn't onstage, but plays a critical role in making the show happen
The producer for VERSUS is @funkminister, and she does an amazing job
The producer (and myself, as creative director) helps to figure out how to organize the information on the show so it'll be fun for the audience to watch. Sometimes this means writing a script, creating "games" for the hosts to play, or bringing in guests.
REHEARSALS ARE KEY! Many people think they don't need to rehearse - both on the science side and the performer side. But trust me - taking the time to run through the show at least twice makes the show 1000% better.
The week of the show, the producer touches base with the tech person (the person in charge of sound and lights in the venue). They send the tech team a document called the Run of Show, which is just a step-by-step run-down of what happens in the show.
This is a huge step a lot of people new to show production skip - the tech at the venue is YOUR BEST FRIEND. Your life will be SO much easier if you connect EARLY and OFTEN with your tech. Give them TOO MUCH information.
Hoo boy I bit off too much here trying to cover the whole process of building a show in one thread.
A huge thing to remember - nothing is great right away. No matter how good the idea is, no matter how good the talent is, no matter how hard you work on the structure, live shows require PRACTICE and ITERATION to be amazing.
This is why most shows at Caveat are developed to be monthly series, with a new topic (but mostly the same talent and structure) every month. It lets us develop our structure and our talent month to month, and keep making the show better.
VERSUS is one of our best shows - but it took over a year of experimenting, having meetings about what worked and what didn't, and experimenting some more before we were like OK THIS SHOW IS DOPE NOW. @ZakMartellucci @DustinGrowick and @funkminister will back me up on this!
I find that science institutions often underestimate how much work it takes to make a great show - it's an unfortunate pattern of academics undervaluing the knowledge and skill set of entertainers.
The unfortunate result is a world in which most people think science-y events are boring (AS WRONG AS THEY MAY BE), and entertaining events have no intellectual value (ALSO WRONG AS HELL). Thats what Caveat is on a mission to change.
The biggest thing I can leave you with is LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE. As the creative director, I don't have much to actually DO during the event - thats when the tech, the producer and the talent are busting their asses to make the show happen beautifully. I talk to the audience.
I ask them
-how they heard about the show
-what they liked about it
-what their least favorite part was
-if they've seen anything similar to this out in the world
-what TV shows they watch
-what podcasts they listen to
-if their friends would like this
Honestly I'm probably weird about it. But no survey, no data collection, can take the place of a human person there in the space asking for their opinion. The audience took a huge risk with their time, money and attention to show up, so I want to do the same for them.
These conversations let me get more than raw info - I can feel out if people are excited by the event, if they really want to talk to the talent, if the whole audience is the talent's friends. After an in-person convo, ppl often volunteer to help Caveat out in some way.
Ok I've just barfed a lot of general info on here - I'm around a bit longer, who's got questions??
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