NET/TEN Shareback: The Post Natyam Collective - Cabaret Travels: Behind the Scenes

2013 Spring Seed Grant Recipient

The Post Natyam Collective (Transnational, web-based coalition) initiated a long-distance, web-based creative exchange with New Delhi-based director Aditee Biswas on the theme of global translations of cabaret.


For our shareback we've put together a guide about the free technology and unique structure that Post Natyam used in our long-distance, creative project Cabaret Travels. Cabaret Travels explores cabaret’s translations across South Asia, Europe, and the US using the Post Natyam Collective’s signature web-based creative process. We hope other ensembles will take away new ideas and practical tools for their own long-distance collaborations.

-Shyamala Moorty

Cabaret Travels: Behind the Scenes

Cabaret Travels is a process, not a performance.
The process takes place on the internet, not in a studio or on a stage.
The participants are on THREE different continents...

Read on for the first three simple steps of  Post Natyam Collective's long-distance, creative process, and how you can duplicate it for your own ensemble process using free tools from the internet!

STEP ONE: Schedule a virtual meeting

INTERNET TOOL: good old fashioned e-mail and Google Calendar
You might wonder why we list the SCHEDULING of a meeting as a separate step in the process. You might be surprised, but scheduling a real-time online meeting across several time zones is one of the biggest challenges in this process....

Email:  To schedule this meeting we usually just use email, but another useful tool could be Doodle to help figure out people's availability.  For us email is the best because there are usually 3 to 5 different timezones to consider in the scheduling, and we are a relatively small group to keep track of on email.

Google Calendar: We share a Google Calendar as an organization but we can also invite other people to our meeting through the calendar's event details.  The event adjusts to the time zone that your computer is set up in, so if someone sets an entry for 7:30am in Los Angeles, it will show up as 8pm in Delhi (or 9pm depending on the U.S. daylight savings).

Note: There are only a few times in this process that we actually meet at the same time!  Once at the beginning to set up the ground rules, expectations and agreed upon deadlines, one or more midpoint meetings to see how things are going and if anything needs to be adjusted, and once at the end to evaluate the process.   For Cabaret Travels we had only met three times (at the beginning, middle and end). 

STEP TWO: Hold a cyber planning meeting

INTERNET TOOL:  Google Plus Hangout, Skype, and Google Drive

Google+ Hangout: We always start here because it's fun to see each other's faces on Google Plus Hangout which includes video . Whoever is talking shows up bigger in the screen as seen in the photo below.  You can also open a shared Google document in Google Drive to take minutes within it- that way one does not have to change between multiple windows (see note on Google Drive below). Some of us find that the integrated Google Doc in the Hangout  slows down the document, so they just open a Google Doc in a separate window.

Skype: However, sometimes the overseas connections don't work so well so, if the Google Plus Hangout with video drops too often, we transfer over to Skype.  On Skype we can talk to multiple parties for free (audio only, because video chat is by subscription), and we can also call someone's phone line for pretty cheap if they don't have internet access when they're traveling.   If the Skype connection goes out, we move back to Google Plus.

Helpful hint:  log into both! Yes it can be  time consuming moving back and forth between Skype and Google Plus, but remember the majority of the long-distance process is not real time, so its important to cultivate the patience to pull through real-time meetings despite technical challenges!  You might want to add a small bit of time for each agenda item to account for this. 

Google Drive:   You can create a document and invite everyone to it, then all can make edits in the same document simultaneously.  It is a great way to do shared note taking.  We usually have one or all of us put in agenda items before the meeting itself, including an estimated amount of time it would take up from the meeting time.  While we usually have one main note taker, when the note taker starts talking someone else will take over the note taking during that time to capture that person's thoughts as well (it is hard to write and talk freely at the same time).

Some things to clarify in the virtual planning meeting

  • What would everyone like to get out of the process?  We were excited to try adding a Director into our process.
  • Is there a topic? We picked cabaret for this project, but in past processes we have left it open.
  • How long is the process going to be? We choose May through November.
  • How many rounds will you try before you need a real-time check-in to see how it's going and if any modifications need to be made? We had one real-time check-in half way through.
  • Is one person giving all the assignments, are you rotating leaders? If rotating, in what order? We rotated leaders, but decided to begin and end with the director.
  • Come up with deadlines that the majority of the group can accomplish.  Include a deadline for each step of the process below.  Due to our individual travels and other obligations we ended up with 3 rounds in 5 months for Cabaret Travels, but in past processes we've done 1 round per month.
  • Assign one person to keep the process going, i.e. by reminding all participants of upcoming deadlines.
  • How public do you want everything to be?  all over email?  private blog? public blog? etc. We have a public blog with passworded videos.  The passwords are provided in the blog entries, but it requires someone to actually read the blog post to find the password.
  • Helpful hint: Before you hang-up: make sure to schedule the next virtual meeting. With multiple time zones this is much easier in-person than over email.

STEP THREE: Post an assignment

INTERNET TOOL: Blogspot or Wordpress

Why a blog?  This is an incredible tool for us to keep track of all of our work in one place:  we have videos of our creative work and all the feedback that we gave each other all there!  We can tag key topics or ideas and thus search for older things we created easily. It's a living, growing archive of our process.  If you're worried about privacy, you can have  blog posts that are passworded, or you can make an entire blog private (viewable to only select people).  While our own practice has been to make everything public, we sometimes password a post while getting everyone's edits before we make it public.

We think of the blog as our open studio.  We use it to give assignments, post our work in video or other digital formats, make comments on each other's work etc.  For those of you who haven't blogged, some of us never had before either.  There's a few hours of learning involved but it's really not hard!

Blogspot: We started off with Blogspot which has a super easy, barebones interface.  Our open studio/long-distance process is hosted here.

Wordpress:  Wordpress has many more possibilities than Blogspot and so we have been starting to move our process over to Wordpress, which also houses our website.

Helpful hint:  Usually there is a setting that looks more like a word document, in Wordpress it's called "visual," and a setting that's for HTML programming,  in Wordpress it's called "text."  You can do so much in the "visual" setting that there's really no need for fancy programming knowledge!

The first assignment given by Aditee  on Blogspot

As you can see in Aditee’s blog post above there were two parts to each assignment, a research part and a creative assignment.  Often we separate the two aspects into two distinctive assignments, and while we have thus far had written responses to research and then a creative assignment, we have also contemplated creative responses to research assignments and writing about the discoveries after.

There have been past projects where we did not include a research component.  However, in the case of Cabaret Travels, we found research crucial because didn't know much about cabaret and also wanted to understand how cabaret manifests differently in our different local contexts.

Helpful hint: Tag key words, including the person giving the assignment's name, so it's easy to search and find later.  The labels tagged at the bottom of the Blogspot photo above are "assignment" "cabaret project" and "long distance."  Looking back at these we just added "Aditee" and "local" since this assignment was what really led us to looking at the local manifestations of cabaret.


To read the rest of the steps, please click the links to each step below or visit:

Behind the “Scenes” of Cabaret Travels


Step four: Blog responses to the assignment
Step five: Give feedback
Step six:  Repeat for as many rounds as you like
Step seven: Evaluate!


Post Natyam’s ideas and positions on long-distance ensemble work:
Post Natyam’s creative manifesto
Post Natyam’s written manifesto

Internet tools:
Google Calendar
Google Plus Hangout
Google Drive

Cabaret Travels:
Highlights of the process:
The full process: (entries April 26-Nov 2013)


Contact Shyamala Moorty at

Posted by: 
Friday, January 10, 2014

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