Our story-consuming patterns and habits have changed dramatically in the last few years. In more traditional literary and theatrical forms, we submit entirely to the storyteller, but now as games overtake music and video combined as an economic force, the emerging trend of experience consumption is leaning towards active rather than passive. Theatre has evolved significantly over the past 20 years, embracing more innovative, experiential and personalised forms to both critical acclaim and commercial success.
At the same time, research from organisations such as the National Literacy Trust has shown that reading for pleasure dramatically decreases in young people after they leave primary school and the gap between students’ reading ability and their age grows wider each year. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies found that reading for pleasure has a four times greater impact on academic success than one parent having a degree, and young people who enjoy reading are significantly less likely to have mental health problems, and are more likely to succeed after education.
Nesta was keen to explore this more. Alternarratives combined Nesta’s proven dedication to stimulating innovation in the arts and our aim to equip all learners with the skills and knowledge to thrive in the future, to find the most exciting examples of short-form storytelling in the 21st century that can help change the way young people engage with reading.
We ran an open call for bold, creative ideas that explore new ways to tell a story and push the boundary of how we consume literature. This was a chance for writers and creatives to consider the future of storytelling and make use of new technologies or formats.
We asked that proposals were submitted for work that could be experienced in a conclusive form within 10 minutes, consumable via a platform that is readily available, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer. Works did not have to be digital but we excluded linear written documents in Word or equivalent platforms. We wanted to leave the format as open as possible to encourage lateral thinking about story development.
A long-listing process involving writers, publishers, editors and a youth panel in partnership with Franklin Scholars and Copthall School, provided nine writers/creators with:
- a £1,500 R&D bursary towards the realisation and development of a new or existing idea into a final work
- ideation workshops in partnership with Bath Spa University including innovation of form, future methods of storytelling and co-curation of best practice
- 1:1 mentoring sessions with experienced digital writers
- bespoke support from a creative technologist
Throughout the process, we have been impressed with the inventiveness, ingenuity and resilience of all the shortlisted creators. The nine final projects showed that you could generate genuinely new content, and the format helped support the creatives to take risks and explore what new forms make possible.
In September 2020 we announced the winners of the award. They are:
Winner - £15,000
Turning you into the main lead, The Reader Remix told the story of an up and coming DJ on route to a party. Follow the characters journey and make your own soundtrack to the night. Gavin plans to develop his story and make the coding behind it open source so others can add their own stories and music to the platform, expanding the experience.
Runner Up - £2,000
An interactive and contemporary take on Shakespeare - Romeo & Juliet is retold through the medium of text messages. Be part of the story and influence the characters, whilst you watch the drama unfold.
Highly Commended - £1,000
A file lands on your desktop: the last documents of the journalist Angus Bead. A small town in Cornwall has been wiped off the map, and you must unravel what happened by searching through Bead’s articles, diaries, notes, strange stories and troubling testimony. Draw your own connections. Read like a detective.
You can find all the winners alongside the full cohort of projects on BBC Taster until September 2021.