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 – 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).

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.