Storytelling Through Artifacts

When I was in grad school, we had an assignment where we had to create a lesson plan around an artifact. I had been teaching in museums for several years at that point, so I had experience teaching with and through artifacts. But we also had the Summer Solstice party coming up.

That spring, I had gotten into a bit of a mythology fact-checking fight for a show introduction I was writing for the planetarium attached to the museum. So, the education curator, who happened to be the professor who assigned the artifact lesson plan, asked me to put together a little storytelling program for the party. I asked if the stories I gathered and presented counted as artifacts, and she said, “Absolutely.”

I was the only student in that class who had to present their artifact lesson plan to a public audience.

My classmates couldn’t wrap their mind around the idea of stories as artifacts. But I wrapped each story in its context, with a bit here and there on the science of solstices, and the audience and professor loved it.

I’ve been thinking about that assignment a lot over the last few weeks while I’ve been working on my object for the Sherlock Holmes MOOC. We’ve picked an object to develop into a smart clue for a live, collaborative crime scene, but we’ve also been working on the object’s story and weaving that into a wider story with other students’ objects. It’s been this collaborative storytelling project, in a very odd way.

But it’s made me think about what I knew as a museum educator, what I know as an amateur cultural anthropologist: Artifacts tell a story about their time and place. Something doesn’t have to be old to be an artifact. The device you’re reading this on is technically an artifact. Scary, huh? What story does it tell? Is that scarier?

Oh, the random things you think about while working on storytelling projects.

Stage Week for the Interactive Media Designer

The first public playtest for the MOOC is this weekend, so this week has been a little crazy. The instructors are testing out the technology. The class participants are testing out the crime scene scripts and learning the app we’ll be working with during the playtest. It’s busy…and crazy…

And it totally reminds me of Stage Week. A really insane Stage Week.

I hadn’t thought about it until my team was setting up for what the instructors have called a “tech rehearsal” Thursday afternoon, but Stage Week and a late-stage playtest really kind of do have some things in common.

For example, nearly all of the ballet companies I danced with had classes at the studio, and then performed at a local theater they had an arrangement with. We would spend months practicing in the studio with markers for where things were known to actually be at the stage or with the understanding we were going to be in a larger space. But we wouldn’t actually get to practice on the stage itself until the week leading up to the performance, where things may or may not have transferred smoothly and changes happened on the fly in the middle of rehearsal.

Because we’re a distributed class, this MOOC kind of has that same vibe to it. We’ve been building crime scenes and clues for a month in whatever digital or physical space works for the team. We are playtesting our scripts this week through Periscope in spaces that may have absolutely nothing in common with the actual space where the game will take place. We’re running into problems, and our only chance at practicing this in the actual space will be watching players test everything out through Periscope.

No, I’m wrong. This is actually more nerve wracking than Stage Week, now that I think about it.

We’re also running into problems with the various tools that will be employed during the playtest, and still prepping as if those glitches will absolutely be worked out by the time the first playtest runs Saturday afternoon. We have some backup plans. Just in case. I feel like I should be more nervous, but I’ve been through too many Stage Weeks to be anything more than mildly curious to see how things work out.

Yet one more example about how skills and experience gained in one field can benefit you in another.

BBC Sherlock: An Intersection of Adaptation and Fan Fiction

To get ready for the Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (SherlockIoT) MOOC that’s just started, I’ve been re-reading all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s something I’d been meaning to do since I read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, because Sherlock Holmes is considered the original fandom. That is, it’s the first property that historians and anthropologists agree exhibited a lot of the activities we associate with fandom today.

Re-reading the stories has been interesting because between the last time I read them and this time, BBC has released a rather fun adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes world, bringing the famous detective’s world into our own times. So as I’ve read, I’ve marked up places where showrunners/writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss directly lifted material, and where they wove in something that caught their attention or that they felt was important for whatever reason. (I’ve also rewatched the last season, because it’s amazing how much I don’t remember those episodes. Heh.)

As I’m fascinated by the practices of adaptation and fan fiction, working through the stories with this eye towards analyzing how someone else adapted the material while thinking about how I was going to adapt an object for the class has been educational. Being able to see what Moffat and Gatiss chose to call out and how those elements were used in BBC’s Sherlock provides a bit of insight into what the two self-proclaimed fan boys felt was noteworthy from the stories. But then they layered in original elements, like the OC (original character) Molly, who was a wonderful addition to the modernization of the tale. Sherlock is a great example of what you can do while adapting material and how fan-created elements can co-exist peacefully within an adaptation.

I’ll be spending the next couple of months hanging out with the Sherlock Holmes stories, so there may be more meditations as I really think about what I see in the series against what we’re creating in the MOOC. It’s amazing how much you can see working with material and seeing how the people around you are interacting with that same material. (I think that’s part of why I enjoy reading fan fiction when I can.)