The Next Stage: Now with UQ Events listings

uq31Hey, Vancouver theatre companies, have you jumped on the UQ Events train yet? It’s a social-network-y site that is poised to become a real influencer in Vancouver’s entertainment scene, and a great fit for indie theatre promotions. It’s a fantastic service, and it’s free. The folks running the site are seriously cool, too. Here’s how I know…

In December I got an email from UQ’s Marketing Director Michelle Lanthier. We had actually talked before, she had quite proactively contacted me about the company last September, which I duly checked out and, finding it a great concept and a unique service, gave a bump to on this site. It turns out ‘proactive’ is UQ’s middle name, Michelle was contacting me this time to ask for a coffee meeting to discuss some promotional ideas for her company with The Next Stage, which I was rather humbly happy to agree to. The result of this meeting is the new link in the sidebar titled ‘Click for Vancouver Theatre Calendar’. It’ll take you to The Next Stage’s UQ calendar which lists all the upcoming shows of the companies that we’ve subscribed to on the site. (Each company as well as your calendar on UQ broadcasts an RSS feed, which you can subscribe to in an email-like application such as Google Reader, so the site will send updates to you when new shows are imminent. If you’re not yet familiar with RSS feeds, trust me, it’s all way easier than that sounds.)

So far all the civic companies and a bunch of local theatres are on UQ – The Arts Club, Performance Works, Theatre at UBC, The Playhouse, The Cultch, Studio 58, Pacific Theatre. PuSh is on there, anything by Rebecca Coleman (always at the cutting edge, that one) – so a movement’s already begun, and ready for all of us to jump on board.

The site has a very easy interface for all the perks it offers; if you’ve used Facebook you’ll be able to navigate UQ with no problem. It’s full of great features to use, or not, it’s totally up to you how in-depth you want to get: photos, video, linkage, you can add ‘friends’ just like all good social networking sites and send direct messages back and forth…it’s certainly an idea whose time has come; web 2.0 concepts for linking the independent arts. But like all of these fun ideas it spreads virally, so have a look and if you like the idea, spread it around a little. Like I’m doing here.

I had to stop Michelle at some point during our meeting and say flat out “you know my readership is pretty much all in independent theatre, right?”

“Of course.”

“So I feel like I’ve got to tell you, you’re never going to make any money off of us. Like, none. We don’t have any, that’s kind of part of our thing right now.”

She politely indicated that yes, thank you Mr. Blogger, I’m aware.

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, why are you going to all this effort with us?”

Michelle patiently explained that UQ isn’t about promoting through sponsorship (they sell unobtrusive ad space), and that, being an independent startup themselves, they really want to get behind our industry, and see it proliferate. We’re exactly the demographic that they want as members on the site. Besides, says she, she met her business partner in theatre school. So there.

Good enough for me. Have a look around and see if you like it, and if you do and join up, friend me and I’ll add your company or show to The Next Stage UQ Calendar. This could be the start of something big.

Today’s post will be hosted from Toronto

1787185

During a visit to China this past Summer I managed to fill a bunch of otherwise-blank space here on TNS through the generosity of a bunch of very smart and agreeable guest bloggers. Among their number was Ian Mackenzie, the in-house marketer for Toronto’s Praxis Theatre, and long-time author of the Canadian super-blog; Theatre is Territory. Response to Ian’s post was instant and lively, and generated some of the best comment conversation The Next Stage has ever seen. If you haven’t read it and you’re involved in independent theatre in any way, please do so post-haste, it’s simply mandatory reading.

After the piece ran, Ian asked me to return the favour, you can read the results of that little request over on the Praxis site today.

I love this idea of guest posting, I think it might make us converse outside of our normal at-home comfort zones, and open up new ideas to a different audience. And it’s kind of like inviting company over for good conversation. A little more formal, and a little more challenging.

If anyone out there in the theatre blog galaxy, either blogger or reader, feels that they would like to have a chat with the audience of The Next Stage, please drop me a line either in the comments below or directly to me at vanstage(at)gmail(dot)com. We’d love to have you over.

Totally Trucked

Here’s a fun example of theatre getting some use out of blog marketing. The touring production of the multi-Tony winning and “form-breaking” musical Spring Awakening has started an on-line road diary, with random cast posts, behind-the-scenes video clips, photos from their flickr photostream and interviews with fans. Pretty cool and generous, and a great way for both fans and aspiring theatre artists to see what life is like out on the road. The greatest thing about it, however, is that it’s totally free. Smart stuff, guys.

Click here to get Totally Trucked…

That’s it. I quit.

There’s a thread over at Praxis on the post Giving up the dream? that bears some conversation. It began in reference to a Seth (super-marketer) Godin post provocatively titled Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love. Actually, hang on, it would be rude for me to post here without joining in on that conversation. One sec, I’ll be right back…

Whew, okay, my conscious is clear. Please hop over and check out the thread, it’s a quick enough read but too long to reprint, and it’s a concise summation of a problem that needs much, much more discussion, and then a whole lot of action: how to make a real living as a theatre artist.

This is all I want to do with my life: to be a playwright who workshops his work with his own company of like-minded and talented actors and who also occasionally – just when needed – gets to perform on stage with them. Oh, and I want to do all this and never have to pour another drink (hey buddy, make it a good one this time, eh?) for anyone ever again. There it is, in a nutshell, my own personal little dream. But I can’t do it. Not right now, and not anytime in the immediate future.

I’ve been working steadily towards this dream for quite a while now, and I think I’ve been working pretty hard. Lately, with a new production imminent and yet another new bar job started, I’ve been working so hard that sometimes I feel like running as far away from it as I can get. We’re making a product for a market that barely exists: an independent, small-house theatre audience. Sure, the big civics sell out large houses, heck, The History Boys at the GI Stage extended their run. But the bulk of those audiences don’t ever think to go to black box stage, it’s a subset of the art that doesn’t necessarily fit into what constitutes, for them, a night out at the ol’ theatre. Plus, let’s face it, they probably never even hear about us. Which is fine, okay, but where is our audience? How do we get one of those? One that complains loudly to us that we’re not putting up enough shows for them, an audience that looks for us instead of the other way around. We have to create that audience, somehow, as a community, where one has never existed before. The time has never been more ripe, as discussed today by the very smart Nick Keenan:

Most people – sorry, most theater goers – don’t realize that storefront theater exists. And, at least in our experience, they’re excited when they discover the art they already love being done in tiny, intimate spaces.

That’s from a post entitled Street Vendors make the best Lemonade. That’s us. The street vendors. Street vendors make a modest living doing what they do. They do it by getting out into the streets and talking directly to people.

The simple fact that I can’t make a living doing what I love right now is excrutiating to me. Me and many others, it would seem. I think about our marketing problem every day. I read blogs about it constantly, and I hear the same concerns echoed all over the theatrosphere. I also hear a lot of people saying that we should just put our heads down and do our art, do it for the love of it. But I think if we’re all doing that then nobody’s working on the commercial side of it, and if that’s not taken care of, why do it in the first place?

I took a marketing-for-the-performing-arts seminar a while ago with a room full of fellow indie theatre artists. We heard about how to advertise on buses, and bus stops, billboards, radio and TV. In magazines. I am by no means an expert on marketing, but I know that was the wrong group of people for that kind of advice. We may never get bus-advertising money, but surely we can get decent-living money. At the very least bartender money. You can live on that, I promise.

I have to put aside my art for now. This is a painful decision for me to make. I love making theatre, I have stories hammering against the inside of my skull trying to get out. I’m finally starting to understand what directing plays is all about. But I’ve come to the realization that I can’t put out the amount of energy that this deserves and bring in a paying audience and work another job that allows me to eat and be available to my family. Something’s got to give. Some of us, those with a predelection for the administrative side of the biz, have to champion this thing we love so we can all be free to do more of the work we want to do, and get paid for it. And hopefully, if we can figure out this marketing thing and make small theatre a necessary function for enough of the city, I can get back to doing what I want to do most. Which right now is finishing the greatest play never written about being a career bartender. And believe me, this is a piece that you’re going to want to see.

So I’ll be blogging a lot more about the marketing of theatre here in the future. About real marketing ideas that we can actually afford, innovative ideas like asking people to come to the shows. This, to me, is the greatest use for the theatrosphere, the facet of it that I get the most use out of, anyway. Because to do this it’s going to take a village. A very loud village.