Running a Cyber-workshop

cyber daveIn July 2014, we were fortunate enough to have impro guru, David Razowksky, visit Australia.  The work was inspiring and eye-opening for us, and some of us got together to form a troupe to engage in the Razowsky philosophy of improvisation.  Since then, a dedicated group have been meeting once a week to workshop and also performing most weeks.

As is always the case, some things got lost in our interpretation, so we wanted to find a way to reconnect with David.  Our solution was to try out a "cyber-workshop" with our group gathered together in a space in Sydney and David on the other end in his home in Los Angeles.  We had a couple of technical glitches near the start, but quickly resolved these, and were treated to a fun and inspiring workshop.

I am really excited by how well the workshop went, and the opportunities that it opens up to work with great teachers from all over the world.  This article is here in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.  This was our first time, and we learned some lessons.  Over time we'll do more, and get better as this.  The available technology is also improving all the time.

Hardware

The setup we used was just the cobbling together of hardware that we had available.  You need not necessarily replicate it, but I recommend testing your setup to ensure everything works as you expect before you do any workshops.  This is what we used...cyberworkshop1

  • Laptop computer
  • External monitor
  • External speakers
  • External webcam
  • External microphone
  • Tripod
  • Ethernet connection

An external webcam (Logitech c920) and external mic (Zoom H4n) were mounted on a dual mount bracket attached to a tripod. This allows us to rotate the view between when the teacher is working with one or more performers in the performance area, and when the teacher wants to address the whole group.

Google Hangouts

  • We used Google Hangouts for the video call (We decided not to use Skype due to concerns over connection quality)
  • Make sure you go into settings and select the correct inputs for your webcam and your microphone.

Tips

  • Test everything before you do this live.
  • Connect via ethernet (rather than wi-fi) to maximise connection speed.
  • Make sure you have a fast connection, and that there is no other significant bandwidth use while you are in the workshop.
  • Make sure the space is well lit. Web-cams will give a much shaper picture under good lighting conditions.
  • Acoustics can be a problem for the mic. Try to use a carpetted area with minimal echo.
  • Get there early on the day to make sure you have more than enough time to set up.
  • Don't overthink it.  You don't need to have a complex set-up. We used what we used because we had it.  The Zoom H4n was probably overkill, because the Logitech C920 does have a very good in-built mic, and proved itself adequate in our initial test-run.  Use what ya got.

Limitations

  • If you are talking to someone across the globe there will always be some lag.  We found it not to be too bad, and everyone quickly adjusted to it.
  • There is no substitute for having the teacher in the room with you, but we were pleasantly suprised how close this came.

Thanks

A huge thanks to David Razowsky who is so inspiring, and was gracious and patient enough to teach us over the 'net.

Thanks to Linda Calgaro for catching a snap of the set-up.

Thanks to all the participants - love you all.