Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'
Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.
June 2nd, 2016watch now
by Martin French
Time for something dry here on Article19 because we, here in TheLab™, want to talk to you about listings, the bread and butter of online information when it comes to the performing arts.
When you work on this side of the business you start to realise very quickly that simply finding out when a where a dance company is performing is, for the most part, no simple task.
Websites for dance companies vary in quality from excellent to "good lord, what the hell is that?" and the same goes for venue websites.
Finding simple, clear, to the point information is often such a struggle we have to resort to making phone calls. That's a pain if you're a working journalist but you're not going to care if you're a member of the public. Those folks will just go see something else.
Third party websites are not much better. Take "The List" website for example, the sister site to the ubiquitous print publication that covers many of the UK's major cities.
If you take a look at our screen capture of one of their listings pages (see below) you will notice that less than 10% of the information they actually put on the screen in front of you concerns the show you actually want to see.
All of the key information is highlighted in the boxes, everything else is mostly superfluous to requirements.
The show in question is Jasmin Vardimon's '7734'. Apparently The List doesn't consider it important that you know the company's name. The rest of the screen is taken up with annoying advertising, an overly complex search box, a comments box and still more annoying ads.
A word to the wise for website operators. If your operation is so expensive that your core information and purpose for existing is being ruined by an excessive number of ads then your defeating your own reasons for existing.
As mentioned, some venues are better than others but they all tend to suffer from the same problem, they focus all of their efforts on delivering information you don't need.
Again, if you look at the captioned screen shot taken from the website for The Lowry Theatre in Manchester we have many of the same problems. Key information plays second fiddle to images, simple things like the box office phone number are stuck at the bottom of the page, hidden away in tiny grey text.
You can view the notation full size by clicking on the image.
Ultimately both of these examples illustrate just how difficult some websites make it to actually get at the information you really want.
Keep It Simple
Now, because we work in TheLab™ we can experiment and build things to try to illustrate better ways of doing things for the wide and wacky world of dance.
So what we did was build listings.article19.co.uk, the world's most simplistic listings website, probably!
The thinking is fairly straightforward. At any one time there are fewer than 20 dance companies touring the UK with perhaps 10-15 dates per company. Because the company's themselves are the key element that people are interested in the homepage of the site offers you a simple list of the companies that are currently on tour along with the name of their work or works.
If you click on a company link you are given a simple show description and a chronological list of their tour dates. This list includes the bare minimum amount of information a potential attendee should need; the time, date and location of the performance with a direct link to the venue website. If a user needs a bit more detail then a click on the arrow delivers the "show card" page.
Again this is very paired down. The information is essentially the same but includes a venue address and a company website link along with some clickable "tags" so you can find information about shows at the same venue or the general geographic location.
The whole site has only two main links; "who's on tour" and "map". The map link presents you with, again, a simple, clear map with pins denoting the location of a particular performance.
Clicking on the pins reveals the name and date of the show with a clickable link to the "show card" mentioned above. If there is more than one show at the particular venue then we don't use multiple pins, we simply list each show, again in chronological order, inside the information bubble.
Maps are particularly useful for people who want to find shows close to where they live or close to where they might be going.
Throughout the entire design there is no superfluous information. We don't include any images, pull quotes, videos (unusual for us), or pointless machine generated "things you may also like" recommendations that are always, always wrong.
The website has very few graphics, (the website title, the map pins and the map itself and that comes from Google). Every piece of information for each company and each show is included only because somebody might actually need it.
Our listings site is trying to solve a very simple problem as simply as possible
With more work we could almost certainly strip it down even further by eliminating the "show cards" and creating a customised pop-up or overlay on the main tour screen for each company, but that's for another day.
Perhaps the main point we are trying to illustrate with the demo website and this piece in general is that keeping things simple and stripped down makes life a lot easier for the public and for you. The less clutter and mess you have to distribute the fewer mistakes that get made and the fewer shows that will get overlooked and you can spend less time telling people things they don't want to know.