The Run Run Shaw Theatre is about the size of someone's bedroom, and the seats are so close together that to call it an 'intimate environment' almost seems sarcastic. You're sat so close to the guy next to you, you have to fight the urge to start divulging secrets and making promises. The man in front of me asks if I had enough legroom. I tell him I'm not that kind of girl.
Lea Simpson, Strategy Director of TH_NK posits that, in a world where distributors are creators, audiences are investors and seventeen-year-old YouTubers are turning down TV contracts, a re-evaluation, re-imagination and revitalisation of the modes of storytelling is, as the seminar's title suggests, 'the next chapter'. On the screen behind her is a bright yellow slide with the words 'It's About Your Mum!' in some kind of wacky post-Comic Sans typeface, and I have to briefly wrestle the schoolboy in me out of yelping, "No, it's about your mum!"
TH_NK are the guys who made Pottermore - amongst many other highly impressive pursuits - and they're here this morning to tell us about the digital afterlife - or perhaps, rebirth - of stories old and new. There's a very real sense of a kind of idealized cultural and artistic democracy in what she's saying, where audience interaction with 'storytelling assets' that have been 'exploded' from the story and given their own 'digital story eco-system', and how this fosters a sense of 'personal ownership' over the story for individual consumers. She goes onto suggest that authors in the digital age don't have, or even want, sole ownership over their own stories - and this is where my ears really prick up.
Because, you see, I was under the impression that artists were, in general terms, rather struggling with this very quandary: How do you retain a shred of ownership over what you create in an age when everyone seems to believe they have a God-given right to anything and everything? A generation who believe that news and television and music and books and films are just content - and that content is fair game, free to be ripped off, reconstituted and redistributed however they see fit.
And what of the mystique of the storyteller? The man or woman who makes mysteries and marvels from nothing, who arouses the senses and boggles the mind through a hard-earned mastery of vision and craft? Who reaches from the work and touches the souls of the many thousands or millions of others who look to receive it? Is there anything more comforting on this great blue lonely planet than the knowledge that we are all bound and united by a shared love of the same few beautiful stories? In a world where God is constantly debated, the storyteller is now, well, god. If traditional storytelling is a tryst between creator and beholder, then what we're talking about this morning is something of a brightly coloured anonymous gangbang... right?
Well, no. As a lifelong lover of traditional storytelling, its easy to get sniffy about digital wanting to rewrite the rulebook, but the fact of the matter is that a richer, more immersive way to enjoy stories is, without a doubt, waiting for us somewhere down this long and winding road. It's absurd to assume we peaked in the 1400s and realised the one true and pure form of storytelling on our first proper attempt. Could exploded assets be the new Gutenberg press?