Blog this, Canada! A theatrospherical State of the Union – Round 3

This is the continuation of a conversation on the Canadian theatrosphere started by Michael Wheeler from Praxis Theatre in Toronto. Read Round 1 here, Round 2 here, and Round 2.5: a Kris Joseph Intermezzo here.

It always amazes me that the people who should be pioneers in this new media landscape are the ones bashing it.

Each tool should be thought of as an extension of the work. Not a replacement for it. It’s a chance to extend the story and allow people an entry point.

Each of these tools offers the opportunity to put control in the hands of the artists. Maybe that’s the scary part.

Then if it fails, who’s to blame?

It’s easier to complain about the way the things are.

Perhaps harder to forge new ground. But I seem to remember the best moments onstage coming from embracing the fear.

If the storytellers don’t take advantage of this now. I fear they’ll get left behind wondering where it all went wrong.

That’s not good.

Posts like this are uplifting. It boils down to sharing the work.

Then people get excited about it. They share it.

That’s good.

Indie Artist Marketing Strategist Dave Charest, from the comments section of Round 2.5

I now know an enormous amount about theatre and what it means to be a theatre artist that I owe directly to my time spent out on the theatrosphere. It has provided an education that could fill a book (hmm…), never mind a blog post or two. I have a head full of practical theory that I am quite sure is taught in no academic theatre program in North America. Effective marketing. Resource management. Inclusive audience building. Critical perspective and perspective on the critics. Fundamental responsibility to the community. Diversity consideration. Creative fundraising. Nightly audience care. Cost vs. component. Realism vs. theatricality. (I could go on. And on.) Chapters all, and the book is continuously being written, post by post by comment by response. The blogosphere is nothing short of a revolution in resource accessibility, all that is required to navigate it is an open mind and the ability to parse opinion. I am incredulous as to why its growth here in Canada continues at a snail’s pace.

Does our theatre not want to evolve? Is it so bound up in the traditions and forms of the past that it feels its future has already been bought and guaranteed? Or worse, unconsidered? And in the face of evaporating funding and audiences? If there is an art form with a more blinkered sense of entitlement I can’t imagine what it could be. We need to unite as a progressive industry and nurture the neophytes or remain hobbyists, largely ignored by our communities. We need to ask each other for help. We need to make our proudly held opinions available to each other. We’re too quiet, we need to get loud. The internet is a mighty big megaphone.

I make such a pointed sales pitch for the theatrosphere here for a specific reason; to address the number one, all time, top reason I keep hearing from my peers for not becoming part of the conversation on-line. It isn’t that most theatreists don’t get it, or that they’re timid, or they think those of us that do it are weird. The top reason for the industry’s reluctance to blog is that they’re concerned about the time factor. That they don’t even have time to deal with the myriad of tasks that already sit on their plate. So the biggest roadblock standing in the way of a true ongoing national forum on theatre is the one thing that everyone on the planet – especially those running businesses – can get better at: time management. All I can say to that is this: as the forces aligning against us continue to strengthen, as funding diminishes and entertainment options grow, the everyone-for-themselves school of theatre business is no longer viable. Being a part of the discussion is no longer optional. You can do it. You need to do it. Theatre needs you to do it, it’s vital that we have a bigger virtual room in which we can strategize, disagree and share stuff, a space that we can ask for and offer assistance in. I say this from the perspective of a guy who has been immersed in it long enough to be able to report back on the power and effectiveness of the theatrosphere, someone who has no other agenda but to live to see nothing less than a rebirth of the particular brand of storytelling that he loves, and profit for its practitioners.

I am done bitching in bars. I am pushing my stakes on the table publicly, here and now, and I encourage my colleagues in theatre to do the same. Our stock-in-trade is dialogue. Let’s employ its power to discover the way forward towards a world class theatre in Seattle.

Paul Mullin’s introduction to his brand new blog Just Wrought

So here’s what I’m suggesting: open yourself a blog account. Choose a cool template. Start your first post by answering the question “what is the current state of my theatre industry?”. You’ll be amazed at what that will make you want to write about later. Then start a feed reader account and subscribe to some great theatre blogs to read over your morning coffee. (The sidebar on the right is a good place to start exploring.) And when you read something that resonates, comment on it, or even better, write about it and link to it. And keep writing about the stuff that moves you, that frustrates the hell out of you, that makes you crazy, people will find you and respond to you when you talk to them, I guarantee it. Reorganize your schedule so you have about 2 hours a week to spend on your blog and give it a shot, and start meeting other theatre types. You might be surprised at how thrilling connecting with people with like minds and problems can be. If you hate it, stop, by all means. But please go into the party with an open mind and carve out your own corner with your own voice.

I’m confident that once it’s proven its worth to you and your organization you’ll want to increase your social media presence. You can expand your reach and influence literally as far as you can imagine. In an ideal world, as Mike suggests in the last round of comments, our companies will have someone on staff to handle the social media/marketing of our brand and vision (Some of us already do), so that the directors can direct and the actors can act. We must move our process out of its little dark rooms and into the world where it can be seen, felt and explored. There is no time left for individualism in the selling of theatre art, we simply have too much work ahead of us. So please, open up and let us in.

Blog this, Canada: a theatrospherical State of the Union

Guest Post by Michael Wheeler of Toronto’s Praxis Theatrefirst in a series…

Simon Ogden and I are thoroughly 21st Century collaborators: I have directed one of Simon’s plays (twice), submitted another of his plays to SummerWorks (unsuccessfully), and we run parallel blogs in Toronto and Vancouver that have collaborated from early in their inception.

Simon and I have never met each other.

When Michael Rubenfeld asked me to write something for Works about “the internet, blogs and everything that’s going on in Canadian theatre” I was psyched, but immediately had misgivings: Why would a printed static document that contained my thoughts and observations be a good way to explore something that people are so interested in because of its ability to be dynamic, interactive and immediate? The solution comes in the form of a new collaboration between two people who have never met each other.

We’re going to have a conversation and we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. The comments on this post will become a post on Praxis Theatre and the comments on that post will become a post on The Next Stage. In general we’re going to talk about what we’ve seen so far in the Canadian theatrosphere, where we think it’s going to go, and probably most importantly, what people haven’t figured out it can do. We’d like our readers to chime in too if you feel so inspired. Just be aware we reserve the right to print (or not print) your comments in the real world version of this online experiment in stocktaking.

Enough with the preamble!

This week in Toronto, NOW Magazine published its decade in review. Here’s what Jon Kaplan and Glenn Sumi had to say about performing arts and the interweb:

While the digital revolution hasn’t changed theatre much – sure, we can buy tickets online – it’s revolutionized comedy. Brampton’s Russell Peters increased his fan base exponentially thanks largely to social media sites, eventually becoming the first comic ever to sell out the Air Canada Centre. Today’s comics need a viral YouTube video.

What do you think? Have comics harnessed web technologies better than theatre artists? Is the fact that I am using “theatre artist” to describe ourselves part of the problem? Even if comics have used it better, I don’t agree that being able to buy tickets online is the only effect social media has had on theatre.

As blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media gain popularity they’re giving emerging artists a louder voice in terms of promoting both their work and the ideas that they represent. A $3000 publicist is not THE ONLY way to get your message out anymore. People often mistakenly refer to this as “free” marketing, which rests on the assumption that your own time is worth nothing, but it is certainly a new opportunity.

The other thing I think it has done is increase the sense of community that revolves around these tools. It’s easier to feel more of a part of things now: I can go to Daniel MacIvor’s website and see what he’s up to, I can go to the Event Page for a play I’m going to and see who else is going, I can debate the merits of Stephen Harper’s piano playing performance on the Tarragon Theatre Facebook Fan Page, and in general I can put more faces and personalities to names. The notorious “impossible to break into unless you went to NTS” inclusive theatre scene seems to be breaking down in the wake of all this unregulated interactivity

Over to you S.O.

(I have no idea if anyone ever calls you that.)