Blog this, Canada: a theatrospherical State of the Union – Kris Joseph Intermezzo

I’ll be posting the next round of the cross-country back-and-forth between us and Praxis Theatre soon, for now there’s a comment on the last entry left by Ottawa actor/blogger/bon vivante Kris Joseph that demands its own post. Because it manages to be hilarious and bang-on topic simultaneously.

For you consideration:

I certainly don’t mean to imply that having staff to support the activity of a theatre company has no value — certainly not, and I can bend your ear with great stories of how my new-media-exploits on my current contract are being supported and facilitated by staff people. I do think the “silo” approach to theatre is inefficient, though. But that’s a little off-topic, so I’ll just point you at one of Chad Bauman’s great blog posts on the subject, here: http://arts-marketing.blogspot.com/2009/09/problem-of-silos.html

I think there’s great value in referring back to Simon’s metaphor of the theatrosphere as a ongoing cocktail party. Right now there are a growing number of people who’ve heard there’s a cocktail party going on. “Some cool people are there,” they think, “and cocktail parties seem like a really good idea. But I have to be up early in the morning, and I’m really not sure what I want to get OUT of the cocktail party, so maybe this isn’t the right time. It’s not the kind of cocktail party I like, anyway — the music is loud, and let’s be honest: I prefer the kind of party where everyone is sitting politely in the dark with their cell-phones off watching important people play charades and reflecting on how awesome the experience is. Besides, I think it’s really important that we have a vision for what OUR Cocktail Party Experience should be before we go rushing off to just any old party. Is this party using industry-proven Best Party Practices? Because unless I can prove to my friends that I met at least Six Valuable People, which is a Clearly-Defined Goal for my Planned Party-Going Experience, the whole thing will be a waste of my time! And if I DO go, we’ll have to have a Party Post-Mortem tomorrow to figure out if the party was a good idea, and whether or not we should go to the next one.” Well… in the meantime, the party’s going on without those people. And the people AT the party are meeting other people, sometimes connecting and MANY times not connecting. Success ISN’T guaranteed — life sucks that way — but you have to be present, at least, to get any benefit.

So COME ON, people. Just put on a clean shirt and GO TO THE PARTY. Leave yourself open to who you might meet and what you might talk about once you’re there. You can test the waters by DOING, or you can plan too much, and miss the party altogether. I don’t care how much I get teased for it: snapping a quick pic and tweeting a caption only takes a few seconds, and costs nothing. MAYBE nobody will like it. Maybe everybody will. I may be sick of rehearsing Scene Four for 30 hours, but to somebody who never rehearses anything (read: someone who normally doesn’t ATTEND THEATRE), this could be cool and interesting stuff they’ve never heard before. Or maybe the ONE person who has a wig fitting fetish and loves my twitpic is also a patron, or a media person, or a philanthropist, or a historian, or a playwright, and that person responds, which starts a relationship that can bear an infinite variety of fruit over time.

ARTISTS, I firmly believe, need to start looking at this stuff with the same level of priority they give to things like keeping their resume up-to-date and keeping on top of audition postings and agent relationships. It’s a critical part of the business and, Manda, your job will get EASIER once you have artists around you who come to YOU and say “how can I help?”. Right now, the average theatre artists’ response to technology like this is like the marketing director asking for cast headshots and hearing “oh, I don’t HAVE one of those. Is that important?” in response.

And I want to talk about the issue with permissions, as well, because it is a constant source of frustration for me. We live in a world where average, normal people are using these tools ALL THE TIME: my neighbours have their own channel on YouTube. My buddy updates his Flickr stream constantly. Some kid at MIT has a Twitter account for his FLOWER GARDEN. Students half my age are shooting great-looking and creative videos, using their iPhones, on their weekends. And WE have a bunch of guilds and unions — everyone from Equity to ACTRA to IATSE — reacting in varying degrees with the same kind of outdated, protectionist claptrap that is killing the traditional broadcast and recording industries. They are (back to the metaphor) standing OUTSIDE the cocktail party, peeking in the window between bouts of navel-gazing, fretting about how going to the party will affect their income and the livelihood of old codgers who never liked parties in the first place. The problem definitely lies in their court, but folks who are making headway in this area need to throw that window open, show them the air is fertile rather than toxic, and invite them in.

Sometimes — I’ll freely admit it — I break the rules ON PURPOSE, just to prove that nobody has to go on the dole because I shot a 30-second clip of a lit set. In fact, these things sell tickets; they raise the profile of the work; they connect artists to one another. Hell, sometimes they do NONE of those things — but they DON’T HURT and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

One final point, on inundation. Some people get DO annoyed by all the email and Facebook messages. And at that cocktail party — as Simon said — some folks are gentle and wise, and some are obnoxious and crass. There is work to be done in matching content to the right tool, and in terms of style and etiquette, but this comes with learning and experimentation — we can all participate here and learn together. In the early days of the web and email, people did all sorts of silly things, but we learn by doing and by sharing with other people who are doing. For example, I can tweet a pic of a wig fitting, but I dare not spend three hours writing a blog post about it, or an evening editing a video of a wig being put on my head. And NOBODY wants an email newsletter with “SEE A PIC OF MY WIG FITTING!” as a headline.

Some media — like email — is serial: people are expected to read every piece they get. Other media — like Twitter — is parallel: it’s like having 200 channels on my TV; I’m NEVER going to sit down and watch everything that was broadcast on every channel, but my friends tell me what shows they like, and once in a while I get told about something cool that I then choose to track down. Trepidation about getting into some forms of new media is sometimes a belief that the new thing is serial (like THEATRE — the thing we KNOW — AHA!), rather than parallel (the thing we’re afraid of).