Does Our Theater Not Want To Evolve?

Happy New Year! I can’t think of a better post to start 2010. I am just catching up on a great multi-blog conversation between The Next Stage and Praxis Theatre, the Canadian branch of the theatrosphere: Round 1, Round 2, Round 2.5, Round 3. There is a lot of good stuff in each post. While I already have made some comments in the above blog posts, I want to address in detail some of the topics discussed.

Where it starts getting interesting is in the comment section of Round 2. There Manda Kennedy, shares a little bit of her role working as Tarragon’s social media strategist. She talks about the theater’s desire to engage and not just use social media to broadcast, kudos as I don’t think enough theaters have made that connection, but Kris Joseph‘s following comments hits on the crux of the state of theaters use of social media.

I think the engagement of theatre arts with the ‘net has to come from the ground: the designers, crew, actors, directors, and playwrights working directly on material. If I have PERMISSION from the relevant guilds and unions (and there’s ANOTHER bear of an issue) all I have to do is carry an iPhone in my pocket and I can shoot footage of my wig fitting and snap pics of my set being built and record clips of rehearsal and BINGO — the content creates itself.

If the use of social media is left in the hands of the marketing department, then that is all it will be used as, a marketing tool. Social media platforms need to be conduits for conversations, stories, narratives and interactions. This sounds like something that artists would be really good at. Kennedy poses a problem:

I’m not going to argue for a second against engaged artists taking the lead on this. That would be fantastic and a really interesting departure from the the what does seem to be the common approach. The largest hurdle for me is that the vast majority of our artists are one with the organization for a limited period of very tightly scheduled time. Individuals, or theaters with resident companies, might have any easier time making their artists direct engagement with the ‘net a consistent and expected thing…There is nothing magical or silo-esque about any of that. It’s hard damn work and requires constant dialogue.

I would agree, but why can’t a theater hire someone to fill a staff position and an acting role? Hire an artist in one or two roles for the season and the rest of the time that person works with the other artists, director and technicians in helping create online content. This ties into Round 2.5, in which Joseph questions why theater institutions, unions and more artists have not evolved to using social media to engage with audience members and ask artists to join the online cocktail party.

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.

As an actor/social media specialist, I love Joseph’s thinking. I also realize the many artists stake their flag firmly in the land of the “left” brain and this “right” brain technology will not aid them in their craft and is too time consuming (Read Round 3 on this topic). I think this is why theaters that have an actor also as their social media strategist have the best of both worlds. This artist lives in both the “left” and the “right” sides of the brain. This actor can dialogue with the marketing team while at the same time understand the thought process and time commitments of the other artists. This person can help the artists create quality content using devices like flip video and iPhones to post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. This person speaks the language of the theatrosphere and can leave meaningful comments and expound in thoughtful blog posts. They will be the ones that are equally excited at attending the Search Marketing Expo as in attending the TCG Conference. With the weekly AEA job rate at 85.2% and 55.1% of AEA members not working at all last season (I wonder what the Canada stats are), I think the opportunity for an actor to have consistent work both on and off stage would be highly welcomed.

Image by contactmcr via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. From Manchester, England’s Contact Young Actors Company & YOU production of #follow_me.

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    5 thoughts on “Does Our Theater Not Want To Evolve?

    1. MK

      Hey, I’d totally be up for that. I’m one of those people who do get excited by both. So who wants to pay me?

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    3. Dave Charest


      Very well, thought out post.

      I agree with you 100%. Being one that also wears both hats, and loves both aspects. I find it all about transferring that enthusiasm between the two.

      Alas part of the problem seems to be the disconnection between the marketing dept. and the artist that has caused much of the dislike of marketing in the first place.

      I remember watching an episode of Theater Talk that had director Terry Kinney and actor Thomas Sadoski of REASONS TO BE PRETTY. The topic of the marketing campaign for the show came up and the both looked pretty disgusted.

      It seems the angle the marketers took had nothing to do with the play they were creating.

      This presents a problem. It puts the the artists and marketing at odds.

      This is why it’s important to work with the artists to latch on to their vision of the work as it develops. It’s the marketers job to translate that to the audience.

      And as you say having someone who understands both aspects makes it easier to work out.

      With a current client I’ve taken on the role much like you mention. I consider myself a liaison between the audience and the rest of the organization. My job, or the job of the person I’ve trained, is to find out what interests the existing audience. Then get that information to them.

      We’ve seen greater involvement from the subscriber base by engaging them more like this.

      Thanks for the post, Dennis.


    4. Dennis Baker

      Thanks for the comment, Dave. I did not see the episode of Theater Talk that you mention, but the marketing campaign was out there, and I could see how the artists involved, might not have been 100% on board. Good to hear you have been able to be involved in both spheres, I look forward to hearing what you learn from working with both marketing and the artists.

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