Small Stage Prototyping Lab 3

I had the privilege of co-facilitating a third prototyping workshop with Julie-anne Saroyan presented by Small Stage, this time with the talented dancers from Ballet BC as well as kickass indie choreographers and small stage artistic associates Karissa Barry & Vanessa Goodman (both in Vanessa’s upcoming show) and Dayna Zyndrowskinowski at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver this past weekend. Click here to read a post of a previous lab.


This is the first time we gather in order to generate themes and ideas for a June 23rd-25th show at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. A cameo by Artistic Director Emily Molnar (also a critically acclaimed dance artist and choreographer) made my day. Members of Ballet BC (Livona EllisEmily Chessa, Alexis FletcherPeter SmidaAndrew BarteeKirsten WicklundGilbert Small, Tara WilliamsonZoe MichalikNicole WardScott Fowler, Christoph von Riedemann, Albert Galindo) showed that their talents were not solely limited to dancing.

The session was structured in such a way as to first rapidly generate themes that were important to each person, followed by their prioritization using a Bullseye map. We used stickies as much as possible to make ideas moveable and transferable to other maps later on. Our constraints were documented by Julie-Anne earlier—short dance works that could occur anywhere on the campus of the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts (including Deer Lake). Here are some visuals of deer lake park to  inspire all the mad possibilities.


Thematic Brainstorm: What themes are important to each of you right now?


Another thematic storm


Bullseye Map used to prioritize the themes generated in the previous exercise

We then jumped into a What If map to explore all the possible and impossible choreographic ideas, images related to the themes we had uncovered in the previous storm.


What If map with ‘easier’ to manifest ideas at the bottom and ones more out of scope at the top

There were some stand outs.




Following the What If map, the teams of 5 worked towards creating one frame images of their ideas on the whiteboards. Making their ideas visible in this way, generated new ideas and focused everyone on what was most important to each of them. These independent story boards represent potential low fidelity prototypes that might manifest as full-blown choreographic moments of delight.



Image boards of some of the What If ideas generated in a previous brainstorm

Again, some ideas stood out. I’m curious to see how the ones below might manifest.




Caution: At this point you probably get the gist. Check Small Stage for upcoming details.
Read on for the more boring stuff….

Why Am I calling what we did prototyping?

The lonesome Miriam-Webster defines prototyping fairly ambiguously as “an original or first model of something from which other forms are copied or developed”. I could argue that the visualized prototype of a choreographic moment captured in time is demonstrated in the low fidelity drawing below:


While we may never actually see dancers choreographed on a food truck somewhere on the property of the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, it is fully possible. Who wouldn’t want to see a trio of ballet dancers endlessly pirouetting on a food truck? In the software development industry, however, some would consider a prototype incomplete without some kind of user testing involved in order to validate the ‘work-in-progress’. In other words, prototypes in the performing arts traditions might need to have their work scrutinized in a public sphere before being considered prototypical…or maybe that’s the wrong jargon and approach to use when discussing our works-in-progress.

Many developers in the software industry are content with facilitating ‘showings’ of their work within their own closed ecosystems, especially those companies who are at times warranted in their concerns of protecting their ideas from being copied. Others pay for their user testing and non-disclosure agreements are signed. Testing in these contexts, while perhaps more purposeful within closed ecosystems (i.e. solely testing the user interface of a mobile app), is no different than in the performing arts where ‘outside-eyes’ are called upon to come and watch a rehearsal in progress, provide feedback that influences the choreographer who then refines the work. No, a choreographer doesn’t usually want feedback on their user interface, although there is usually some direction provided… like “I’m not sure about this section” or “does the intro go on too long for you?”, etc…In the case of the prototyping lab, ideas that were generated, prioritized, re-mapped and storyboarded can be considered  low fidelity glimpses of works that may end up influencing future work.

Dress rehearsals, previews and even opening day performances propose a less biased approach—to present a version of a work for critical feedback in a public space. Here we can tastefully substitute the word ‘user’ for audience. Unfortunately, many artists don’t choose to refine the work afterwards and that is usually to do with a frustrating rule of play I have witnessed in my many years across performing arts traditions—thou shalt only provide feedback that affirms the work or the ego of the artist. 

In the world of software development, ego affirmation is important and holding back criticism does occur as well, but more and more startups are beginning to realize the value of user testing outside the friends, family and supportive colleague circles. Why? Well, if the aim is to share our co-creations with others, then why wouldn’t we look at every opportunity to improve upon them?

And the solution isn’t that painful either.

Holding prototyping labs like these are a good beginning to a process that would benefit from continued development. In the spirit of the What If map, what if we held another lab whose end goal involved sharing choreographic seeds and these were presented in front of a small audience for critical feedback? Although this may not be a process that we are used to, it may be helpful in improving our designs and making the process for inter-connected with our thirsty audiences who do want to be let into our artistic worlds. Besides, wouldn’t you want to come across ballet in a boxing ring in a middle of a park?


In closing, I look forward to the collaborative choreography that I’m sure will be iterated upon in prep for the Shadbolt show on June 23rd-25th, and hope that all the artists involved have multiple occasions to show their works in progress, refine, throw out, generate new movement, refine, etc.. As I have facilitated and observed in software dev environments, I think it will only strengthen the work.

Make sure to check Small Stage for upcoming details.