Karen is Now Ready to Meet You! But Am I Ready?

What does opening night feel like for you? I'm sitting here in my home in Chicago. It is 9:18PM CDT and Karen has been available for download since this morning. I'm sitting here wondering if what I am feeling is normal or odd or stupendioulsy lovely. I am most certainly thinking I need a glass of wine. 

It has been three years to the month exactly since I first got involved in Karen. The project didn't have a name then, it was only ideas strung together through introductions, conversations and emails between like-minded souls. People like John from NTW and Matt, Ju and Nick from Blast Theory and in some strange way, myself. All of us for some deeper reason interested in exploring personalization and profiling in a piece of digital creative work, interested in discussing it with others like we and many others did at the event Act Otherwise last year.

Today this work we call Karen, and she is now ready to meet you. 

I am not sure though if I am ready. Three years ago I didn't think about this moment. And quite frankly along the way, I never stopped to think about it either.

For one alot has happened in three years. I moved countries and got married and while juggling my ever demanding day job, I worked really hard to hang-on in there as Karen grew, and changed, met new people and quite literarly got kickedstarted into being. Then it was decided to pre-release her on to the media stage. A bit of pre-conversation before she launches herself internationally. At first I'm okay with it as Chloe, our awesome PR genuis from The Space (who co-commisioned the work), has helped me learn the ropes and the figuring out of schedules as we work with journalists and collaborators on two and sometimes three different time zones. Then two high school students from Herbert Hoover High in Glendale, LA email me and as well as an academic from Harvard Medical School. They want to chat about Karen. In my head I'm like, 'No. Problem. I've got this. Talking with academics or young people about digital has kind of long been my thing.' Then something happens that I knew was going to happen, but I still had not really thought about it or prepared for. Something that results in me twisted in knots and gripping the side of my desk. 

Karen officially launches today. This morning, she became available to download from the iOS App Store. Pretty much everywhere. 

Breathe. Breathe. I think to myself. You've got this. Now go for a walk. A long walk. I walk out of my office and stupidly I take my phone with me. Then I start thinking. 'What if people can't find Karen?' So I flick open my screen to the ITunes App Store and I search using all the possible keywords and phrases one might use. Cool. I found Karen. 'But ... what if people can't download her?' So I delete the pre-release version off my iphone, walk into the closest coffee shop with free wifi --- cause I'm not paying for the data charges --- and I download Karen. Cool. I can download her.

Then I check my email. One. Two. Three --- people email asking to know about Karen. Friends, colleagues and people I have no idea who they are. Then tweet after tweet of people start to play and are publicly reviewing her tagging their posts . This is cool. This is not cool. This is cool. I alternate back and forth. Then it hits me. 'What if people don't like her?' 'What if they don't enjoy it?' Or worse ... 'What if they hate her?' Then my husband emails and says his colleague wants to know when the Android version of Karen is coming out. I freeze. I make my way to the closest bathroom and I vomit. Just like I do before I lecture or I climb up on stage to speak. 

Sitting on a chair outside the bathroom I reply to him, "May, the Android version is out in May." I hit reply. I don't sign off the email like I usually do, with -- 'I love you', or 'how is your day going', or even 'Thanks for your support on all things Karen'. Actually I become snarky and a total and utter mess. I look up from my iphone and I look around as people walk in and out of the coffee shop. Some are smiling, others chating and all are oblivious to what is going on inside my iphone and my head. Then it hits me.              

I have never actually done this before --- opening night. I have never actually experienced an opening night before, well from this side of a creatve work.

I've been in the audience, and I've been backstage helping out. But you know the day I am talking about. The day when you as the writer, or director, producer or someone who has collaborated in some way to the making of a work and that day comes when you share it ... the day the curtain raises and you or part of you or ideas you might have shared somewhere along the journey are embodied in another form, spoken by someone else or used to evoke feeling in others in surreal ways and way beyond which you could have ever imagined.

By now you've had press night --- what I suppose for Karen was the pre-release test of the app a few weeks ago that sneaked its way into my inbox and quietly onto my phone --- and now it is the real thing, the real deal, the curtains are going up, the funders are in the audience (as well as your mum, dad, kids, scientists and your husbands colleague) and they and what feels like the world are about to see what you've been up to these long days and months or in Karen's case years. 

And all you can do is stand back, watch and  --- *bites nails*--- wait to see what happens.

Maybe you are backstage, in the wings or a makeshift dressing room helping others get ready to take to the stage. Maybe you arrive at the theatre or --- as I've learned from NTW --- at the pub, on a beach, up a mountain or in a school, and you take your seat and wait to see your precious script performed for the first time to a live paying audience --- or in Karen's case for free or any iphone potentially anywhere. Or maybe you are still directing others, pushing all the nerves you are feeling down into the dark pit of your stomach. Or maybe --- and I'm thinking this is not me given my desire to hide under the bed covers for the next three months with a few bottles of wine and only my cat for company --- maybe this is what you live for, this moment in the light when it all somehow through some miracle comes together  

Maybe to you are also with your team, or arms reach and you smile, hug and congratulate each other on all your hardwork and laugh about the struggles you went through to get the work this far and up on stage -- which for Karen we did do but in emails and tweets given where we all are and the different things we are now doing.   

I am actually guessing that for certain other types of digital creative work it is like how I am with Karen --- sat on the other side of a computer, with my iphone on the desk, the notifcations turned on and I am a mess. I am sure I will pull it together. But ...   

Today got me thinking --- what does opening night feel like for you? And as a production runs, does it get any better?  

You know ... when the reviews start to roll, tweet or blog their way into your life (like they are for Karen), and as show two and three and four opens and closes --- or in Karen's case the app loads and closes --- does the feeling in the pit of your stomach and the way you treat your loved ones improve? Or am I more than likely going to be in need of bucket next to my desk for the next few months, and to spend what little money I have buying my husband lots of special presents (and me copious bottles of wine) to get through this.  

Irrespective of how ill prepared I might be feeling right now, or how I (and my poor husband) might not have ever been ready for this day, I do know Karen is now ready to meet you. In fact, I'd go as far as to say ... she is dying too. 

I hope you enjoy. 

Karen: An app that psychologically profiles you as you play. 

Or does she?  


Karen is in the iOS App Store now and for Android users she'll be ready for you in May. 

Karen is a new work by Blast Theory, developed in partnership with National Theatre Wales. Co-commissioned by The Space and 539 Kickstarter backers. Karen has been developed with support from the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham and in collaboration with Dr Kelly Page.

You can learn more about Karen from the different partners: Blast TheoryThe Space and National Theatre Wales. You can also visit the Karen research blog and follow #karenismylifecoach on Twitter.

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Comment by Christina Handke on April 17, 2015 at 10:36

I'm excited 

Comment by Laura H Drane on April 17, 2015 at 8:28

Loved this Kelly, thanks.

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