A Plural Approach to Storytelling

UPstream Simon Farid photo-Ben Johnston

Story Agents

What is the Universe of Storytelling? Martin Franklin explains how story worlds are appearing all around us.

Earlier this year, I concluded a three-year Arts Council England funded programme which explored live streaming and the development of new digital hybrid performance work intended for both traditional and online presentation. The UPstream was incredibly fruitful in seed, funding the development of three new performance projects designed from their inception to occupy theatrical stages and digital platforms. Each of the commissioned works explored a different approach to the challenge, but some of them found unexpected answers.

Artist Simon Farid, developed a new phase in his Michael Green/HowtoCorp project. Occupying the cast off pseudonym of politician Grant Shapps to question the perceived reality of Internet experience. The character became live via social media, offered live streamed “internet marketing” webinars and finally, live performances at Camden Peoples Theatre and Norwich Arts Centre.

Blurring the line between pretence and reality

With its stylised language and pixelated 90’s DIY graphic design, the performance blurred the distinction between ironic take-off and the genuine article (aside from Simon looking completely unlike the images purported to be Michael Green), assuming we were all in on the joke. But one of the audience members at Michael’s “Don’t Hate The Rich – Become One Of Them” performance at Camden People’s Theatre, spoke out at the lack of sound financial advice at the end of the performance, having thought he was attending a genuine get rich pyramid scheme induction.

When new information about the Grant Shapps/Michael Green story prompted news coverage from The Guardian and other mainstream press during the project, the reactivated Michael Green character became the focus for intense online conversation.


The Public at Large walked right in to our unfolding “identity squat” story and many more took what they saw as the real thing, viewing Farid’s exaggerated online Michael Green persona as the legitimate continuation of Mr. Shapp’s HowtoCorp enterprise.

Unwilling to be deceitful when directly confronted by the Public entering the story, Farid replied with what became a much repeated response encouraging people to view the full project description online.


Live events and their power to energise

Rather than a single scripted show, the project included the whole arc of online messages posted on Facebook and Twitter, using the live webinars and theatre performances as the anchor points to drive the narrative.

The power of live events became an energising focus, but more as significant entry points rather than the sole means of delivering the story. Using automated Twitter and Facebook scheduling to line up the online announcements from the Michael Green persona became an efficient way of pre-loading the stream of HowtoCorp #InternetMarketing advice. But this has now given a spooky digital afterglow to the timeline of the project.

A stream of recycled messages is still posted multiple times per day from the social media accounts. Michael Green, the “story agent” is still communicating to his not inconsiderable digital audience, the live webinars are still viewable on YouTube, the reconstructed HowtoCorp website still up…but Elvis has left the building.

guardian universe of storytelling

‘Universe of Storytelling’

Creating something of a challenge to linear story telling, the digital evidence of the project that in itself conveys much of the story, is still accessible and updating every day. In fact, the universe of the story could be ready to host another new development at any time.

This “universe of storytelling” concept also appeared in the writing of Grant Watson in Pursued By A Bear’s theatre production “The Lamellar Project”.

Spinning out from the story-world of the play is the fictitious genetic engineering corporation, iGenis Solutions has promotional videos online for it’s newly engineered life forms and re-created species. One video is about their Corporate History and the other one is about their The National DNA Archive.

This plural approach to the story takes more from Netflix than it does from the National Theatre and offers a number of different experiences of the same source material for different audiences.

But hang on, did I say “Elvis has left the building”? Apparently, he’s back in the building as he guested on a live duet with Celine Dion at Caesars Palace back in August and his holographic reconstruction is due to play 15 shows in Las Vegas with a live band in 2018. Since passing away in 1977, he’s not even stopped having hit records since relaunching his career again for 2002’s “A Little Less Conversation” and a string of remixes since.

Maybe we are already surrounded by more instances of story worlds than we had imagined.


Written by:

Martin Franklin

Martin Franklin

Digital Producer, The Place

Broadcasting the Creative Industries

Martin Franklin is a creative media producer, digital consultant, arts event programmer, artist and culture broadcaster. He is Digital Producer at leading contemporary dance venue, The Place, London, creator and manager of the innovative Arts Council England-funded live stream performance programme for South Hill Park Arts Centre and is a founding committee member of the business networking group, Berkshire Digital. As an artist, he is known as former leader of ambient trio, TUU and for his sonic arts and performance projects which have toured internationally.

Author: Amelia Glean

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