Moving on – Chapter 1: Art-iculation

Greetings gentle reader, deepest apologies for the extended radio silence over here at TNS. We’ve started work on a new chapter that’s begun by pulling up stakes and moving from Vancouver to Victoria, home of the legislature, a pervasive air of polite and – of course – some killer independent theatre. (Hello Victoria! Come see me at Veneto, corner of Pandora and Douglas if you’re thirsty.) I don’t think much will change around here on the ol’ blog, Victoria has always been part of our scene, but the free Video Listings service for the Greater Vancouver Area is – with regrets – suspended. (Unless someone wants to pick up the mantle over there? Anyone?) I will continue to offer the service to the Independent Theatre Nation in Victoria, drop me a line if you’d like more information or to advertise your upcoming show (vanstage (at) gmail (dot) com).

As for my own work as a theatre artist, well, that’s the fun part. I have no idea, and it’s perfectly thrilling. A change this big seems a perfect time to collect and reflect, so a lot of that will be happening in these pages for the next little while. I hope you’ll join me in a bit of a look back at the last stage of my career.

For starters, before I’m able to move on I should be able to articulate my reasons for doing my art as well as this:

“Dance disappears almost at the moment of its manifestation. It is an extreme expression of the present, a perfect metaphor for life. Dancers sculpt space in real time, working inside a form that is constantly in a state of vanishing. We have no artifacts. I find it strangely beautiful to be creating something that is made of us – made of our breath and blood and bones and minds. Something that is made of the space we occupy and made of the space between us. We embody both the dance and its disappearance.”

Crystal Pite

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Recharging

recharge

Dear and devoted readers,

The Next Stage will be hanging a Gone Fishing sign on the door for the next 10 days. I’m taking a trip to Ontario to sit by a lake with a couple of beers and a couple of artist friends of mine, and administer a much-needed energizing to the batteries. Then I’ll be paying homage to the Blogfather with a hefty bottle of BC Pinot Noir. And then I’m coming home to kick independent theatre ass and watch West Wing DVDs. And I’m running out of the West Wing pretty fast.

While I’m gone, here’s a little glimpse at the next ass-kicking we’re winding up for…

The passion of the theatre blogs

thepassion

A look back on a good year in the theatrosphere

By Ian Mackenzie and Simon Ogden

Time to put 2008 to bed? Good idea. But not before we take one last look at the year that was in theatre blogging. And what a year it was! From epic online dust-ups to Internet-wide collaborations, here’s our list of last year’s greatest moments in theatre blogging:

The Empty Spaces’ Or, How Theatre Failed America.
The American monologuist Mike Daisey’s scathing editorial for the Seattle-based The Stranger newspaper argues that American theatre has been irreversibly damaged at the hands of corporate commodification. It quickly becomes the most widely discussed theatre essay of February.

The Great ‘Value of theatre’ Debate.
For one day in March, the Ohio-based blogger Matt Slaybaugh of TheatreForté organized a theatrosphere-wide discussion to answer one simple question: ‘What is the value of theatre?‘ More than 32 different blogs from around the world weighed in on the topic that day, and yet surprisingly few common themes emerged. That theatre’s online diarists could not reduce the craft to tidy soundbites is welcome evidence of the art form’s complexity.

The SummerWorks ‘Expression’ video controversy.
The Toronto-based SummerWorks Theatre Festival promo video depicts some of the city’s most highly regarded women playwrights acting like bimbo valley girls, up-talking and saying ‘like’ a lot. ‘Expression‘ sparked an all-out brawl among Toronto’s theatrical intelligentsia. Some called it demeaning, some called it transgressive, others called it smart marketing. But no one called it late for dinner.

Professor Scott Walters ‘retires’ from theatre blogging.
After a lengthy monologue explaining his Tribes model of running a theatre company, and some highly personal bare-knuckle scrapping in his comments section, the resident professor of the theatrosphere calls it quits again in May. He’s back posting within a couple of days; posts sporadically for a few months; and then officially reboots his blog again earlier this week.

The proliferation of the Canadian theatre blogs.
Although theatre blogging exploded in the U.S. a couple of years earlier, 2008 was the year theatre blogging officially took flight in Canada. Here’s a quick, incomplete survey of the current landscape:

And the list keeps growing. Thankfully.

Canadian artists rally online over $45 million goverments arts cuts.
The Canadian arts community unites against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government following its controversial $45 million cuts to Canadian arts programs; sets the national theatrosphere ablaze, including dozens of reprints of playwright Wadji Mouawad’s scathing response to Harper and the birth of the arts advocacy group Department of Culture.

Content is king for a day.
Well, several days actually, after Tony Adams drops a post called ‘Content‘ in which he wonders aloud why no one on the Internet ever discusses the content of their shows. The topic has legs.

The age of the guest post.
Theatre is territory and its west coast sister blog The Next Stage host a series of guest posts that help inspire their writers to think outside the blog:

Don Hall gets divorced.
The usually irascible Don Hall blogs about the dissolution of his marriage, morphing the normally incendiary Angry White Guy in Chicago blog into a tender and affecting piece of Internet theatre.

The Globe and Mail gets its theatre blog on.
After showing all of England how to theatre blog (by founding the Guardian UK’s theatre blog roundup Noises off), J. Kelly Nestruck returns home to Canada to fill the prestigious national theatre critic slot at the Globe and Mail. He promptly starts a Globe theatre blog, Nestruck on theatre, and seals the deal on theatre blogging’s legitimacy in Canada.

Canadian theatre critics invite unprecedented dialogue with artists.
Notorious Vancouver theatre critic Colin Thomas challenges theatre artists to change their status quo and engage him directly about his opinions online – none do (yet). J. Kelly Nestruck does likewise.

How Mike Daisey failed American Theatre.
‘The Daisey’ goes head-to-head with American Theatre Magazine.

The theatroshpere unites to say goodbye to Harold Pinter.
Legendary American playwright shuffles off his mortal coil and goes on to join the choir invisible; the chorus of the theatrosphere sings his praises down here.


Well, it’s clear that our list could be twice as long and still wildly incomplete. Lest we forget Isaac Butler’s oddball Hair Blogging, George Hunka’s syllable-heavy Organum series, Matt Freeman’s awesome Star Wars fixation, Nick Keenan’s constant innovations, James Comtois’ horror film posts, Leonard Jacob’s prolific flamboyance, Paul Rekk’s island of insight, Adam Thurman’s paradoxical mission, those anonymous ponderings at 99Seats, Travis Bedard’s extreme connectedness, Alison Broverman’s fashionista quipping, Chris Wilkinson’s succinct reporting of the whole fine mess . . . oh theatrosphere, we hardly know you and yet we bleed for your love.

Suffice to say, 2008 was the year that many will remember as the year theatre finally made a successful transition to digital.

You can also find this here.

A few good clicks

Some points of interest for your free web time today…

jessicasmallFirst off, my delightful and unstoppable acting mentor Jessica Van der Veen (the woman responsible for the theatre obsessive in me) has leaped from the classroom to the political arena and is seeking provincial candidacy for the Oak Bay/Gordon Head area of Vancouver Island. This is the kind of woman you want in your corner, believe me. Her Guiding Principle:

Everyone deserves a fair shot at life, no matter what their background, income or situation.

I choose to run provincially because I value stewardship of public lands and resources and universality of public healthcare, education and social services.

It’s hard to argue with her platform. Check it out at her official candidacy site here. I’m such a proud little acting class nerd.

Next up: Vancouver theatre is all a-Twitter, as they say. Now, I’m not going to go into a twitter sales-pitch here (smarter people than me can handle that), I know it sounds like a strange and vaguely useless idea right now – kinda like Facebook used to sound like once upon a time – all I’ll say is that when The Electric Company climbs on board, something’s happening. You can follow them over here. And if you’d like to jump into a conversation pool with theatrists all over the planet, I’ve got your swimming hole right here. Follow your brains out.

You’ll want to get to know Kris, for sure, a more entertaining twitterer you’ll not find. And Rebecca. And Lois. Trilby for sure. And these guys. Definitely Deb. Maybe this nerd. And Travis. Tell me when to stop…

And I’ve had no time to jump into any comment forums lately, but if I did I’d be all over this discussion of meaning in our work, and the idea of opening it up to our audience in talkbacks. A post is coming on the subject here, for sure, in the meantime I highly recommend starting here, moving on over here, and finishing up over here. This is the kind of conversation that the theatrosphere was invented for. Great stuff.

I am now officially late for work. Until next time…

A thorn between two roses

See what happens when you start a blog? I’m sitting a panel at the 2008 Making a Scene Conference today with two delightful Rebeccas; Bollwitt and Coleman, alphabetically. We’ll be discussing The New Face of Marketing: Facebook, text and the bloggers’ world. apparently.

MaS, for anyone who might not know, is our professional theatre community’s annual conference, now in its ninth year. Hosted by the GVPTA, it’s four days packed full of workshops and discussion of this art of ours You can read more info here.

Our panel is today at 1:30 in the upper lobby of the Arts Club Granville Island Stage. Please stop by if you’ve got the time. I’m in pretty good company.

comic-book-guy

The Art of the Business Part 8: Becoming more Bloggable

Last month I talked about the basics of starting your own blog. In this month’s column, the second of three on blogging, I talk about how to use new media as a way of promoting your art event.

If you google Vancouver blog, the number one hit is Miss 604. Rebecca Bolwitt is a born-and-bred-in-Vancouver professional blogger and podcaster, whose Vancouver-centric blog garners 40,000-50,000 unique visitors a month.

I interviewed Rebecca about how new media is changing the face of traditional media, and how we, as artists, can use it to help market ourselves.

RC: How do you think blogs are changing the face of traditional media?

RB: Blogs are making traditional media know that they need to be more immediate. The thing about a blog versus a newspaper is that it [the newspaper] can’t change. The thing about blogging is that you can post a news story in the morning, and it can change through the day. You can have comments on it, you can continue the discussion. What blogging is doing for traditional media is that it’s making them realize that it’s becoming a two way discussion. You can hear back from your readers, and not just in traditional ways like letters to the editors.

Secondly, you can also go mobile—people can get updates on their phone, have online subscriptions—RSS—so the news goes to your inbox every morning, instead of your front door mat.

Thirdly, anybody can be a producer. Anybody can produce content, have people pay attention to it and watch it. Everyone can be a part of what the internet is becoming. And what the internet is becoming is something that traditional media outlets can no longer ignore—since it is so huge, it is so big, and it’s engaging people in conversation.

RC: Do you think blogs are gaining in credibility (as compared to mainstream media)?

RB: Yes, definitely. If I’m writing a post about Vancouver history, I research my pieces; from my dad, from textbooks, from online sources. I can quote them, and link back to my original source, which you can’t always do in a newspaper. People can also call you on it if you make mistakes. In that way, blogs can be very credible. We are gaining in credibility, however it is a very slow process.

A lot of people are scared of bloggers. People are still very hesitant to trust bloggers, because there are few bad seeds out there, and there are some who are doing it just for fun, but there are also those who would like to gain credibility in the mainstream realm.

RC: If I have an art event to promote, and I invite the mainstream media to come out and see it, we have a kind of unspoken contract that we will let them in for free, and they will give us some press about it. Does it work the same way with bloggers?

RB: Absolutely. If you are willing to give me access to your event and blog about it, certainly.
The thing about bloggers is, if you invite us to your event, we are very open and honest and transparent. That’s the big thing about blogging. If we’ve been invited to an event for free and in exchange we are writing a post about it, we are going to be honest about our experience. We can say if we had a bad time—or not. That’s just the way it is. We have no editor to report to, just ourselves, and as long as we let them know. I don’t want people to think I am being paid off to write positive reviews.

RC: How do I know that a blogger is legitimate? Anyone can have their own blog, what if they are just looking for free tickets?

RB: This is a very valid question. To know a blogger is legitimate, you need to know their first and last name, not just their handle. You need to know who this person is. Google them, and find out that they don’t also have a blog that is terrible and illegal. Ask around town and see if people know them, have heard of them. But most importantly, read their blog, and see what they’re all about. Make sure they are the right type of person you would want at your event—if it’s a fit. Also, if you are looking for the most reach, don’t be afraid of asking for their stats. Bloggers check their stats. How many unique visitors do they have every month?

RC: How do I pitch my event to you?

RB: If someone copies and pastes a press release in an email to me without even a “Hi, Rebecca!” or a “Hi, Miss 604!” I’m probably not going to pay much attention to it. You need to be personal. You need to know what the blogger’s about. Read their site.

Let the blogger have free access to it. For me, if it’s not on my radar as something I’m already going to attend or can/would attend, I would need that incentive.

To pitch an event to a blogger, you have to realize what they are writing about, You have read their site, and then contact them, either through email or a contact form on their site.

RC: Is it okay to ask a blogger about their stats?

RB: Yes it is!! 90% of bloggers look at their stats, and where traffic is coming from. A big thing for bloggers is to give them link love. What that means is, if you have a website link back to the blogger once they’ve written about you. That makes us feel really good. We like that people are paying attention, that they are open to bloggers, open to communication. It makes me want to deal with them in the future, and recommending them to my friends.

RC: What are some good blogs to pitch to?

RB: Try pitching to the group blogs in Vancouver. I also blog for Metroblogging Vancouver, and we have about 8 authors right now. Some focus on politics, some on food, so you can submit to us and someone will pick it up. Beyond Robson is another Vancouver group blog. The good thing about group blogs is that, more than likely, someone will be writing about your subject matter, and pick it up.

Other good ones to submit to are ones you read. If you read someone’s blog, and you have an event coming up, pitch it to them. If it’s a food event, find some food bloggers. If it’s a sporting event, find some sports bloggers. A good way to find popular blogs is to just google them. It means that they are doing it right, and have excellent SEO (search engine optimization).

RC: Any additional words of wisdom for using blogs/bloggers to promote your art event?

RB: The biggest thing in dealing with bloggers is reading blogs. Find some daily reads, the ones that you enjoy, and those are probably going to be the ones you are wanting to pitch to. You don’t want to send them a big huge press release, you want to be personal. NO generic “Dear Sir/Madam”. Be personable. Blogging is very personal, it’s a real discussion, it’s person to person, it’s comments, it’s transparent. Bloggers love free stuff, and when they get free stuff, they will write about it. Make sure you supply them with your website so they can link back to you, which will help drive traffic to your site.

In conclusion:

  • NO copy and paste press releases
  • Let the blogger know you’re reading their stuff
  • Make sure the event is a good fit
  • Link back

– Rebecca Bolwitt, Rebecca Coleman, Simon Ogden and Rob Parker of YaYah Studios will all be participating on a panel discussion tenatively called The New Face of Marketing: Facebook, Text and the Bloggers’ World at the Making a Scene Theatre Conference on Friday, November 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Granville Island.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

Miss 604 image via Miss 604

For a streaming or downloadable podcast of this post (the interview in its entirety), click here.