Wednesday, 18 May 2011

#EasterLIVE my reflections

During Holy Week I took part in EasterLIVE, a Twitter stream telling the story of Easter through the eyes of different characters. Here is how the people behind the project described the idea:
It’s Passover week in 1st Century Jerusalem. A bustling throng of Jewish pilgrims have gathered in the city. But this year a preacher/carpenter from Nazareth is set to turn the tables of history – right before their eyes. This is the Easter story and this is your cue.
By Tweeting your story, the Easter(LIVE) website allows you to showcase your very own Passion Play. Be it a historical and Biblical account or a poetic, visual, musical or creative retelling – it’s up to you. It’s a chance to explore, to learn and be creative. Give it your personal stamp, bring it to life and share it with everyone.
A good number of people signed up to take part in EasterLIVE, there were 154 profiles registered, though not everyone was in favour of the project. On Palm Sunday Richard Rew wrote a blog questioning EasterLIVE and raising some pertinent questions and he followed this up with a reflection as an observer on Easter Monday. Both Richard’s posts are worth a read.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about my own experience of the project and these are my own thoughts as a participant.

EasterLIVE took a different approach to the Natwivity where the Christmas story was told through the tweets of different characters with a story line created by one organisation. With EasterLIVE lots of people were invited to create their own characters and narratives. Some saw this as potentially confusing but I didn’t have a problem with the idea of a multi-faceted approach to tweeting the Easter story. I saw the twitter stream of different characters and narratives as being like small pieces of coloured tiles coming together to build up a mosaic of the story.

I also felt that the fragmented, at times confusing and non-linear developing twitter stream reflected something of the disturbing and confusing nature of the Easter story as it would have been experienced by the original participants. It is only later that a more harmonised, systematic telling of the story has tidied up the pieces of the experiences and I fear lost something in the retelling.

Neither did I have a problem with apparent contradictions between different tellings of the story. Check out the Four Gospels and see the differences in the accounts of Holy Week and Easter. The early church was happy to let these sit side by side rather than to smooth out the apparent inconsistencies and I happen to think this gives them a ring of authenticity rather than the feel of propaganda.

I developed a character to use through the EasterLIVE project; a pub landlord whose upper room was let out to a bunch of Galileans. I wanted a slightly off stage character who could give a different perspective on events. However, during the week I also ended up spontaneously tweeting as the cursed fig tree and surprisingly this attracted more response. I had hoped to use a more multi-media approach, however, an immanent house and job move and Easter commitments limited the time I had for this. It is fair to say, as Richard Rew has observed, that there was much less multi-media and more text based material on the twitter stream.

One criticism of the project was that people had been encouraged to develop as many characters as they liked. Some people went to town on this and had a multitude of characters, while others developed one or two. This meant that someone’s carefully developed character was on occasions suddenly replicated by others. Some people seemed to commandeer nearly every character in the story leaving little room for anyone else. This approach was more like the Natwivity than what I understood to be the intention of EasterLIVE. It did suggest to me that some tweeters were churning out their story and not really taking account of how others were engaging with the enterprise.

This brings me to my main criticism of EasterLIVE. People were encouraged to develop a script in advance and it was clear that quite a few had also written their tweets which were then scheduled for release at various times during the week. The problem with this approach was that it cut off the possibility of interaction with other tweeters’ characters. Interaction is at the heart of Twitter, it is a conversation, and there is nothing more frustrating than tweeters who don’t engage with others. Some of the EasterLIVE characters and tweets never seemed to be part of the wider experience, failing to engage with other characters, perspectives and events.

Overall, I thought EasterLIVE was an imaginative idea and produced some interesting and at times even challenging insights but I do wonder whether heavily pre-scripted non-interactive tweeting is what Twitter is all about.

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