Looking to the next generation for the survival of theatre

Further to the post the other day on his question “what have you done to save theatre today”, Travis from Midnight Honesty at Noon dropped this link in the comments, please give it a read. (Great man, that Travis Bedard, and if you’re not reading MH@N you should be.) It’s a letter sent to Mike Daisey detailing how he not only runs a profitable regional theatre, but how his company is focused on turning the next generations into theatre-goers. Now that’s proactivity. Now that’s smart.

In truth, it’s probably too late to convert a significant number of uninitiated post-college urbanites into rabid theatre fans demanding more and higher quality theatre. We’re battling preconceptions based on lack of exposure to anything other than past community theatre renditions of Oklahoma! and grandiose versions of Shakespeare foisted on us in high school. The future of the independent theatre may lie in the hands of the next gen if, if, they can be exposed to some kick-ass productions that are actually about them and their time and their place, and the things that they care about (whatever that is), there’s a fighting chance that theatre could be re-branded as more than something to do to train for a fantasy Hollywood career. It just may be seriously cool again.

A Posthumous Letter to Sarah Kane

Dear Sarah,

I’ve been meaning to write you for some time now, as you’ve been on my thoughts quite a bit lately. Pretty much every day, actually. You’ll forgive me if that sounds a bit creepy, please allow me to explain.

I write a blog, you see. A theatre blog to be precise, and I’m proud to say that lately it’s been doing pretty well readership-wise, and you have had some influence in that. I want to give credit where it is due, and I don’t make any money from it directly – I write it in the hopes that my readers will talk a little more about theatre, thus elevating it somewhat in the larger public conciousness, so that more people will consider the theatre as an entertainment option and then eventually some of those people will come out and see one of my plays and then I will get some money from it. Oh, sorry, I’m a playwright too, you see, like you – well, that is to say, not a playwright of your calibre or notoriety, not yet anyway, but I do hold some such aspirations. Anyway, I digress. Habitually. Back to giving credit where it is due, and my thoughts and your presence among them.

Because of the aforementioned blog I am confronted with your name daily, and repeatedly. You see, I wrote a little post about you some time ago, and out of the 138 posts that I have written to date, that Sarah Kane post has been responsible for the vast majority of new traffic that Google and other such engines of its type have shepherded my way. To be exact, that article – the one about you – has been viewed from a key word search for “Sarah Kane” 816 times. It is my top post. It seems that there are an awful lot of people out there looking for answers about you, so much so that I’m beginning to suspect that you may qualify for official cult status. There’s been 6 SK hits to my site today alone, and it’s early. I wonder how many hits your Wikipedia page gets a day? A lot I’ll bet.

So what the heck is it that makes you so enigmatic? Is it your small yet enduring body of work, your suicide, or the articles of your body of work that ended up proving to be such a clear window into the psyche of a suicide? Should I be worried that so many people are looking for answers from you? Or relieved?

This past Tuesday was a National holiday in Canada (it was our birthday), and a lot of us here in Vancouver had taken advantage of the occasion to spend a four-day weekend away. So returning to the city on Tuesday afternoon my family and I found ourselves in the middle of a sea of cars coming back from Whistler or the Island, all of us heading towards one of the two bridges that grant access back into downtown. The day was a scorcher and traffic was slow. Slower than I’d ever seen it, actually. Dead slow. When we hadn’t moved a foot in twenty minutes we tuned into the local AM news station in the hopes of hearing some indication as to the cause of the gridlock. It seems that there was a “distraught women” clinging to the edge of the Ironworker’s Memorial Bridge and the police had closed it down – both ways – forcing all traffic to the Lion’s Gate Bridge while they attempted to talk her down. They attempted this for five and a half hours, and eventually convinced her to take another shot at her life, it seems. What is normally a twenty-minute car-ride turned into a four hour slog for us, and we missed the movie that we had planned to see that night. Intermittently on that slow crawl home we would hear a frustrated motorist yell “just jump, already!” or “step on her fingers!”. I didn’t yell anything, even though I shared a certain amount of their frustration, I just kept thinking of you and the woman on the bridge and felt sad and a little scared for her and read a magazine.

I wish that woman had read 4.48 Psychosis. It might not have kept her off that bridge that day, but maybe she would have felt a little less alone. I wish those impatient motorists had seen the production of 4.48 that I’d seen last year. I know their long drive would have been different. And I wish that you could have felt the impact that your work has had, and continues to have, while you were still alive.

Anyway, thanks for the blog hits.

Sincerely yours,

Simon.

The Death of Sarah Kane 4:00

Well, that was fun. What’s next?

And so the (finally) sunny West Coast bids a fond adieu to Mag North (or ‘Canada’s National Festival of Contemporary Canadian Theatre in English’ for long. Canafestconcanatheng? Seriously guys, nothing snappier jumps to mind?). Traditionally with me the close of a run portends a short bout of postpartum, so I suppose I’ll be dealing with something similar now that I’m no longer submerged in the daily tub of theatrical exploration that was these last two weeks. *Sigh.* And so we must turn our gaze back to the future of our stage, both local and national, and start to think ahead.

What do we take from this year’s festival? In what way is its success measured? Perhaps this would be better phrased by asking what it was that you were hoping to take away from it, and did it deliver? Were you entertained? I sure as hell was. Mostly. Did it create new connections between practitioners? Undoubtedly. Did it raise the profile of new theatre here in Vancouver? Somewhat. Nationally? Probably. But for me the big consideration is, and always will be: did our audience grow? And more directly: did we as an emerging theatre city take full advantage of Ottawa’s big, noisy, contemporary theatre road-show while we had it here to seed new ticket buyers?

I wish there was some way of quantifying this. Some kind of Mag North exit poll along the lines of “was this your first play, and did it make you want to see another one?”. I would love to be able to chart the growth of Vancouver as a theatre town as we move forward. But left to conjecture, I would say yeah, a few people here stuck their toe in, from the hype generated by HIVE if nothing else. And isn’t that the great hope from a project that consolidates 11 small companies into one super-company: to promote the component brands and build the bigger buzz? To be able to say hey, if you liked that 15 minutes, you need to see our next full-length? And does this marketing agenda extend to the festival as a whole?

Festivals like this one, the Fringe, Summerworks etc. have an function inherent in their existence to be a giant marketing tool, a sampling plate that convinces newcomers to make theatre a part of their monthly entertainment diet. I see this overshadowed a lot of the time, here in Van anyway, by the convenience of getting some theatre in a conveniently packaged form – because hey, everybody’s doing it right now – only to see it disappear back into the broader unconsciousness when the tent poles come down. The same problem plagues the Jazz Festival here too. You can’t get into the buzzy shows during those two weeks, but how many rooms in the city of Vancouver can you go to see consistent live jazz the rest of the year? Two? Three?

I’m not putting the onus on the Festival organizing committees. God knows they’ve got enough on their plates just keeping the wheels on the tracks. As we move from Mag North towards the Fringe in September it’s us, the artists, that need to be asking ourselves and our companies whether we are using the high profile and marketing muscle of these events to their full advantage for the future of the game, and talking it up enough out there in the outfield. And not just participating theatreists either, but anyone with a vested interest in promoting a sustainable theatre. I’ll lay down a challenge right now. Come September, make it a mission to take two non-theatre people from your social circle, work, the gym etc. to a Fringe play. I’ll pledge to do the same, and I’ll print their impressions on it right here on The Next Stage as ‘civilian reviews’. And I’ll do the same for any of your theatre guests if you’ll send me their reactions.

Sound like a plan?

Fringe Marketing

With Mag North behind us, our festival thoughts turn towards the country’s un-juried festival circuit: the Fringe is on its way. We’ll be taking a look at Canada’s other Fringes in anticipation of our own on in September, and looking for some advance on shows to watch out for.

The Montreal Fringe is in full swing right now, here’s some great little promo video drops grabbed from their website. The first two are cute little animations that do a nice job of encapsulating the Fringe experience, and the third is an ad with a punk aesthetic that I could never imagine seeing here in Vancouver.

What being on stage in a new piece can feel like…

A great take on ‘the show must go on’…

How do you think this would fly in the British Properties?

The Art of the Business, Part 4 – Repeat After Me: “Facebook is my Friend”

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

You could not possibly be a bigger holdout than I was with Facebook. I resisted joining for a really long time. I thought “why do I need yet another time-waster when I’m online? I already check my email obsessively, do I need to have the temptation to be checking Facebook all the time now?” But, like most other people, finally I gave in. And yes, spent way too much time at the beginning updating my profile and searching for friends. But then I started to realize what a powerful marketing tool Facebook was, and now I use it at least half the time for that purpose.

In case you’ve been in a cave this past year without television, radio, internet or newspapers, Facebook is an online social networking tool. It’s free—basically what you do is sign up and get yourself and account. Then you get your own page, or profile, where you can put information about yourself, what colour socks you like, what you had for breakfast, what your dog had for breakfast. Then, you create a network by asking people to be your friend. Once someone is your friend, you can message them, send them virtual gifts, URLs, that kind of thing. Facebook also has groups and events that you can create or join. If you create an event or a group, you are its administrator, and that gives you the ability to message all the members of the group. It’s fantastic stuff.

A few words of practical advice about Facebook. First off, I wouldn’t encourage you to create a group unless you are pretty famous, or you have something quirky going on (I belong to “If Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea kissed me, I’d be a happy woman”, for example). You can also create fan pages, but again, I’d steer away from that unless you are Great Big Sea, or a decent-sized corporation.

What I do is create an event for all of my clients. Because my work tends to be rooted in dates (show runs, etc), creating events is perfect for me. It allows me to upload all the event information, pictures, and videos, URLs for media stories when they come out, and I am able to message anyone who said they are or might be coming.

If it’s your first time creating an event, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Be really, really careful about your dates. While you can go back and edit a lot of things on your event page, the dates you cannot.
2. Make your event accessible to the “global” Facebook community. I once made it available just to the Vancouver network, thinking that anyone from out of town wasn’t going to come to see the show anyway. But not everyone (even people who live in Vancouver) belong to the Vancouver network. Tricky…
3. When you invite people to your event, encourage them to invite their friends.
4. Know that only your opening night (or the first date you have on your event) will show up in the updated information on your Facebook account. After that, if someone wants to find your event, they will have to search for it. However, you can still message people during the run of the show to let them know it is half over, closing Saturday, etc.

Facebook is good for other kinds of artists, too. Musicians and filmmakers can upload videos, photographers and visual artists can make photo albums of their work. Dancers and actors can upload demos and trailers.

A word of caution: as with everything on the internet, be careful about how much personal information you include. Don’t have your home address up there. A lot of people I know don’t even have their email address. Make your privacy settings high, so that people have to be your friend (ie: authorized by you) to see anything on your profile.

Facebook is a lot of fun. But it can also be a great way of getting the word out, and building a buzz… And yes, I will be your friend, but only if you mention The Art of the Business.

So, until next time, here’s to more bums in seats everywhere…

Rebecca Coleman

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

This One Goes to Eleven: Cynnamon Schreinert

Certainly one of the hardest working women in Vancouver show business, Cynnamon is an actor/photographer/writer/publicist, whose boutique PR and communications agency C.L. Schreinert & Associates devotes an enormous amount of their client load to the local theatre scene. In amongst many others, she has handled publicity for Bard on the Beach and the Van Fringe. This interview continues a series with women who are experts in the field of the business side of our business, and we’re proud to introduce you to her.

cynnamon-schreinert-2008.jpg

1.) In one word, describe your present condition.

Organized chaos.

2.) In more than one word, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

It seems that people, not just the community members, are opening up to theatre. I’ve seen a real change in the audience. It’s a good sign that theatre is reaching the masses. Part of that is the excitement that has been brought back into it with a resurgence of productions going up.

3.) Seen any good plays lately?

I have seen so many plays this past year; some were good, some were par but overall I find it inspiring. The energy required for each production should always be acknowledged. It isn’t easy to put all of this together, especially for the smaller companies who don’t have the funding resources that larger companies do. If I had to give an opinion, I would have to say that my favorite theatre experience from 2007 was Timon of Athens. It was a very special production.

4.) Let’s say that I just wrote my very first play and I’m in the process of producing it. What do I need to do to win a Jessie with it?

For that you’d need to first ensure that the production was eligible. All of the eligibility requirements are on the Jessie site www.jessies.ca. Once your show has been approved for judging, my strongest recommendation would be to put on a good show. I would suggest that you have a solid script that has been dramaturged. Combined with good acting, directing and production value those are the elements that create winning productions.

5.) I’m also kind of nervous about inviting the critics to the show. Any advice for me on this one?

Don’t be nervous! Imagine that they are on your side. They want to see a good show; they want to be blown away. I’m pretty sure no one sets out that night to write a bad review; it’s only bad if it’s a bad production. There is limited space for the arts and most of that should be a positive reflection of theatre as a whole. That is what will encourage more people to come and view it.

6.) What advice do artists need to hear about the business side of their art?

Just that….it is a BUSINESS. You need to have a plan and think of where your career is going. There are so many things that you can make happen for yourself and it all begins with writing down goals. From there you have the makings of an action plan. I advise all artists to take time aside and formulate a five year goal plan that includes 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years and then 5 years. When you write things down you become accountable and are more likely to reach your goals.

7.) Do you see any trends emerging within Vancouver theatre?

It’s always interesting to think of what the next trend will be. For theatre in Vancouver, I think this is the trend. With the support of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, Canada Council and private donations there are more opportunities for performance groups than ever before. Companies that have built a reputation for producing solid work have an opportunity to partner with other groups that may not receive as much in funding. The co-production is a great way for both companies to produce something and each receive recognition for the work.

8.) What potential does the internet hold for us as a publicity and marketing tool?

The internet is a limitless ocean. There is no end to the number of blogs, commentaries, business sites and social networks. It is all about having information accessible to the public. For a theatre company, one of the best things that they can do is invest in a website that is easy to navigate and reflects the style of the company. Have a special page for media and on there keep your press releases, press kits, photos and video. The simpler it is for the media to find your information the higher your chances of being mentioned. And the cost is minimal compared to the return on investment.

9.) What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a business-woman since you started your company?

Luck is when opportunity and preparation meet. By having a focused plan I was able to work towards a goal of having a work/life balance. And sometimes that means diving right in. Don’t be afraid of what might happen; be more afraid of what may not happen if you don’t take a chance.

10.) What are your top 3 theatre business reads?

1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – the passages are timeless
2. The Artist’s Way – I’m choosing that publication because the morning pages were the most valuable thing. You can not spend three months complaining without actually doing something about it.
3. Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner – every actor should engage in Meisner training at one point.

11.) What’s next?

The 2008 Bard on the Beach season is just around the corner. I really enjoy the summers in Vanier Park and find there’s a magic in the air down there. In addition to Bard I also work corporately, giving me a fantastic career balance.