Strata–gies
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Strata–gies

Anonymous Intimacy:
Designing Rage, Joy, Inclusivity, and Connection in Live Entertainment

BROOKE VIEGUT

What are today’s exhausted audiences looking for?

“Audiences don’t want a story about the pandemic,” said Jenny Weinbloom, Head of Studio at Impact Museums. “We’re coming to this space to be awash in sensation. That sensation can be most powerful when it can involve touch, eye contact, and true intimacy. Being awash in sensation can also occur through light, through music, through spectacle. Right now, there’s an audience craving connection, and craving the opportunity to open up and feel their feelings in communal space in a manner that is less like going to the theater and more like going to church.”¹

There’s a tired talking point in today’s world that we must “build back better.”² Some use this to mean a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable entertainment industry — but why can’t it apply to how we design for audiences as well? Designers are subconsciously considering trauma in our transformed world, yet there is no conscious framework that addresses this evolved reality. What paradigms and methods may directly address this stasis?

A newer movement in architecture, trauma-informed design is a “strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma”³ in architecture and interiors. Designers use this to set the scene for physically, psychologically, and emotionally safer spaces. Shopworks Architecture, a firm focusing on community-driven projects, proposed a framework of core values and key concepts for designers to consider when designing for various populations.⁴

In live entertainment, what happens if we adopt our own compassionate or trauma-informed framework for the social and emotional experience? Designing experiences for connection and community? Activating collaboration? Prioritizing joy and pleasure? Facilitating trust and transparency? Invigorating player empowerment? And, in every case,
ensuring physical safety? These values apply to the design of
all entertainment environments.

Entertainment venues are often the sites of transformative experiences through ritualistic player engagement.⁵ To further parse out the impact of design on this experience, we must lay out the journey. Pulling from entertainment theory, game design, sociology, gathering design, sexual response cycles, and extensive primary research, I’ve developed a journey framework, breaking down the experience into segments for analysis. Astroworld made detrimental design decisions: a misleading
invitation, lack of rules during break-ins, extensive foreplay of
an open stage, a tension-filled countdown to launch point, and
more. How can design realign priorities in entertainment, from
the five to the fifty thousand-person crowd?

[1] Jenny Weinbloom, interviewed via Zoom February 14, 2022.

[2] World Economic Forum, Build Back Better, An Action Plan for the Media, Entertainment, and Culture Industry, (pub. 2020) https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Building_Back_Better_2020.pdf.

[3] Shopworks Architecture, Group 14 Engineering, and University of Denver Center for Housing and Homelessness Research. Designing for Healing Dignity & Joy; Promoting Physical Health, Mental Health, and Well-Being Through Trauma-Informed Design. 2020.

[4] The proposed core values from Shopworks Architecture, Group 14 Engineering, and University of Denver are 1) Hope, Dignity, and Self Esteem, 2) Connection and Community, 3) Joy, Beauty, and Meaning, 4) Peace of Mind, 5) Empowerment and Personal Control, 6) Safety, Security, and Privacy; with the key concepts notated as Choice, Community, and Comfort.

[5] Eric W. Dolan, “Awe-inducing raves are linked to transformative experiences and social bonding, study finds,” PsyPost, November
9, 2021, https://www.psypost.org/2021/11/awe-inducing-raves-are-linked-to-transformative-experiences-and-social-bonding-study-finds-62090.

BROOKE VIEGUT (she/her) is a theatrical director, experience designer, and researcher based in New York, NY. Her creative work infuses deeper storytelling into experiences — depicting traditional tales in non-traditional ways in the theater and elevating audience experiences everywhere from meeting rooms to merry-go- rounds. Brooke is also a co-founder of several arts organizations and the co-host of “so there’s this…”, a design criticism podcast that explores the impact of poor design on everyday lives.

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SVA MA Design Research, Writing and Criticism

SVA MA Design Research, Writing and Criticism

We’re a two-semester MA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City dedicated to the study of design, its contexts and consequences. Aka DCrit. ✏️🔍💡