Twitter theatre?

Three questions for any theatre people out there who are using the social networking tool Twitter:

1) How does Twitter help you be a better theatre professional?
2) How do you find other theatre people on Twitter?
3) Who would you recommend Twitter to?

Come to think of it, any thoughts on Twitter and its relationship to theatre would be awesome and of interest.

The passion of the blogs

thepassion

A look back on a good year in the theatrosphere
By Simon Ogden and Ian Mackenzie

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 theatrosphere 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 fashionesta quipping, or Chris Wilkinson’s succinct reporting of this 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.

10 things I learned about theatre in 2008

When in doubt, make a numbered list. That’s at least part of the thinking behind Praxis Theatre Director of Marketing Ian Mackenzie’s recent guest post at The Next Stage theatre blog: 10 things I learned about theatre in 2008.

Quasi-cantakerous, painfully obvious, or productively blunt?
You decide.

Please check out the full list of 10 at The Next Stage, here.

Everything I know about theatre today I learned from blogging

Branding the independents
By Simon Ogden

When I started my theatre blog in March of 2007, I had no idea there were other theatre bloggers out there, much less an organism called the theatrosphere. For real. It honestly didn’t occur to me. I had only just found out what a blog was in the first place, and I was incredulous that you could have one of your own for free, and it seemed like a pretty effective cattle prod to force me to write.

I decided on theatre as a subject because I had concurrently formed a small, independent theatre company in Vancouver and I very much liked talking about it, so I figured I’d talk about it to . . . well, I didn’t really know who, just . . . the internet, um . . . people, I guess. I had literally zero idea how to get anybody that I didn’t already know to read this blog thingy that I was starting. Does anybody out there on the internet possibly give a shit about theatre, never mind my opinions on it and the life of my little unknown company? Probably not in the least. But, being both a theatre nerd and a word nerd, in I dove.

My site is now read by thousands of people a month. So apparently people give a shit. This is an important note if you are at present considering starting a theatre blog, and even more important if you are considering a career in the theatre.

I remember how, soon after I wrote my first couple of posts, I thought it might be fun to do a (probably futile) google search for ‘theatre blog’, just, you know, in case. Imagine, if you will, being the only Star Wars freak in your entire elementary school, and then being sent to Star Wars summer camp. (Why wasn’t there a Star Wars summer camp, by the way?) To my exhilarated delight, it turned out I was showing up way late to a party. A big, loud, rowdy party where the guests were as likely to bust out into a brawl as to make out for 5 minutes in the hall closet. And the first new friend I met at that party – the first hit on that google search, as a matter of fact – was Theatre is Territory. Ian and the Praxis crew instilled in me the importance of joining the discussion, starting some of my own and making personal connections to attract attention to my own site, my own ideas. They taught me the importance of getting smart about marketing.

The party has cooled down quite a bit since the summer of my initiation, and a pervasive air of solidarity has settled over the active theatre blogs. Through all the discussion about stuff like the role of the critics; contemporary v. classical; the sanctity of stage directions; etc; etc, there has emerged a dominant binding topic amongst those of us in cyberspace who choose to discuss the trials and tribulations of staging independent theatre, namely: how the hell do we get more asses in the seats?

Now, I know theatre has been dealing with this forever, but now people in Toronto are talking about it to people in Australia, who are then talking to people in London, who are carrying on the conversation with people in Iowa. All before breakfast. So now at least I’m sure that it’s not just my company or my city or even my country that’s having a hard time with this particular problem. Okay, great. What’s next? We’ve named the Big Problem, how do we fix it?

Let me be clear at this point: I’m not talking about filling seats as a way of making money for your company. Nor am I talking about getting your art into the heads and hearts of as many people as you possibly can. I’m talking about doing both simultaneously, with equal weight. The vast majority of us want to make theatre all the time, yet most of us have to hold down some tepid day job that pays the rent.

Between my day job, and my work with the blog and my theatre company, I work an average of 70 hours a week. And mine is a song that I hear sung all over the theatroshpere. Crazy, right? Why can’t indie theatre be our day job? Because, simply put, there isn’t enough of a demand for it. And it’s not society’s fault, it’s not the media’s fault, it’s not the fault of the dreary economy. It’s our fault. Simply put, we haven’t done enough work as an industry to create the demand. We’ve put marketing so far down the long list of priorities that it’s been reduced to a few-weeks-before effort to sell the next show.

Our job at this stage in our development, Independent Theatre, is not to sell our next show. Our job is to use that show to sell our brand of entertainment. And to do that we have to sell each other’s shows as well, with no prejudice, judgment or competitiveness, until the routine of checking out the small-house theatre listings is burned into the consciousness of our respective communities. And if politics are an issue amongst the companies in your particular community, they’re going to have to be the traffic of the stage alone for a while. What do you say?

Simply put, it’s getting smart about marketing that is the key to our evolution. As artists we’re doing fine. Astonishing, even. As business people we suck. We’ve got grossly overworked Artistic Directors handling the creative and the business side of things. We’ve got production budgets riding on one piss-up fundraising party. We’re spinning wheels when we need to fly, and there’s never been a better time to take off. In a tight economy we represent the best entertainment quality for the least amount of money. Period. So we must stop marketing only to our friends, our families, to other artists. 10 minutes on Facebook will take care of that. We must have a dedicated marketer on the staff of every single show who does nothing but sell that show (and thereby the industry), to the community at large outside of the choir, to all those citizens who are always telling me, all the time, that they don’t go out and see theatre because they never hear about it. We need to find more people to tell them about it. And in all probability the third or fourth time someone from our community tells them they should go see a play, they will. There you go, 15 bucks in the bank. And that’s how it’s going to work guys, $15 at a time. So yes, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, because unfortunately, our predecessors in indie theatre didn’t do enough of it. I’m sure they were great artists, though.

I now hold the opinion that the theatre arts at our level should function as a business, not as a charity. I do not think we’re a charity, although at one time I did, but I’m pretty sure I was being selfish. Health, education, social services, environmental protection, human rights, developing nations . . . these are charities, and people who are able should freely give the organizations that represent them money, and ask for nothing in return. But us? We’re selling a product, make no mistake about it, and the good news is that we not only have a great product, we have an essential product, one that’s been around for centuries and will always be around. The product is sound, as long as the artists in your company can spend all their energies on the art side of things. It’s a product that an enormous amount of people will be happy to spend an hour and a half and $15 on. We just have to ask them. All of them.

I have arrived at these conclusions by working steadily in theatre for 9 years and listening to and taking part in hundreds of conversations every single day with my peers from around the planet, right here on the internet since March of 2007. I have no formal business training. I’m a theatre artist, a bartender and a blogger. But now, for better or for worse, I’m also an arts marketer. Because some of us have to be, much more of us have to be, if any of us want to be solely theatre artists giving the art that found us the love and attention it deserves. If the theatroshpere is any indication, there are a lot of us who do. Give a shit, that is.


Read more from Simon Ogden at his blog: The Next Stage.

Theatre is Territory 2.0

So. What the fuck is going on with this blog?

I know.

Things have been a bit slow around here lately. It’s my fault. After more than two years, 426 posts, 78 “10 questions” interviews, and more comments section brawls than I can count, I must admit that my capacity for pumping this stuff out is waning. I still love theatre and theatre blogging. But resources are finite, and there are other projects on the horizon – not the least of which is my role in marketing Praxis Theatre’s upcoming production of Stranger, by far our most ambitious show to date.

That said, I am thrilled to announce that starting next week there will be a new voice, and a new energy in this space. If you’ve been a regular reader or commentor, you already know Michael Wheeler and his frequently insightful contributions to this blog. As a commentor, and occasionally as a guest poster, Michael has been a big supporter of this blog since its inception. He also happens to be Praxis Theatre’s Co-Artisitic Director.

Michael will now join me in the day-to-day posting at this venue. In the spirit of its origins, all posts will continue to be signed “Praxis Theatre”. Some will be written by Michael, some by me. Ultimately, and if we’re doing our jobs, it shouldn’t really matter who’s writing the posts. It’s not about Praxis Theatre or about one writer’s voice. It never has been. We’re interested in the big ideas. In learning more from our industry peers. And in being a thoughtful and relevant part of the conversation. Michael’s a great fit and I thank him dearly for caring enough about this project to step up when it needs him most.

So let’s see where this takes us. For my part, I’m looking forward to continuing the “10 questions” series. I want it to be good. So I may take another couple of months off interviewing to recharge and recalibrate.

Thank you kindly for your patience through this transition. And thanks to everyone who has contributed to this conversation so far. I am humbled by your generosity and wisdom.

Obviously, there is plenty more we need to figure out.

Welcome Michael.


Ian Mackenzie
Director of Marketing
Praxis Theatre

Toronto theatre – defining the landscape

SWOT-ing the industry
By M.K. Piatkowski

A standard business practice for an organization as part of its strategic planning is to do a SWOT analysis. This looks at the internal realities of the organization (Strengths, Weaknesses) and the environment in which it operates (Opportunities, Threats).

Looking around the not-for-profit theatre industry in Toronto, this is what I see:

Strengths

  • A group of diversely talented people who are as good as anywhere in the world.
  • A community that is very supportive of others.
  • Good debates happening on what we do and where we’re going, reflecting a community that is very open-minded.
  • A willingness to try new ideas and ways of working.
  • Intelligent audiences who are willing to follow favourite artists and to take risks.
  • Plenty of festivals creating many opportunities to develop work
  • Mid-size theatres actively partnering with the independent community.
  • Commitment to diversifying the stage.
  • The beginnings of collaboration of all forms of performing arts in the city (e.g. Tapestry New Opera Works using emerging playwrights, Jacob Zimmer dramaturging at Dancemakers).
  • A group of companies (Rasik Arts, Company Theatre, Mackenzie Ro, one big umbrella) are committed to producing international work. Theatrefront and Mammilian Driving Reflex are collaborating with companies/festivals internationally. Harbourfront and Luminato are bringing in the some of the best theatre from the world.
  • The international touring success of Volcano and MDR has placed our community on the international radar.
  • The Fringe and Summerworks grow every year, bringing in new audiences.
  • Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, Factory Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times are all in stable financial positions.
  • Small size transfers are now possible with the Diesel Playhouse.

Weaknesses

  • Tendency to find inspiration from film rather than innovative world theatre.
  • Tied in with the above, serious lack of director training and support.
  • Too insular, not looking at what’s going on in the rest of the country nor support it when it’s here. Factory Theatre, The Fringe, and SummerWorks are the big exceptions in this regard, so there are baby steps being taken in this direction.
  • Great divide between Soulpepper and CanStage, and the rest of the community – and each other. (The Canadian Opera Company can probably be added to this group.)
  • Lack of mid-size transfer house for successful work.
  • Small audiences for most independent work.

Opportunities

  • Concentration of condo development along the subway lines has created a new potential theatre audience, especially in North York.
  • Changing of the guard at CanStage could lead to a greater partnership with the independent theatre community.
  • Economic downturns usually leads to stronger market for entertainment products and more local consumption of them.
  • Recently announced touring money from the Ontario Arts Council provides opportunity for work to survive and thrive outside the community.

Threats

  • Lack of resources – especially venues. Condo development has made it almost impossible to run a small-size independent venue.
  • Economic downturn could endanger the mid-size companies and the Diesel.
  • Hostility towards artists and arts funding could cut off support for the industry at a time of growth.
  • Falling Canadian dollar makes international touring much more difficult.

Suggested Actions

  • CanStage needs to figure out who they are and what they are bringing to the table for this community.
  • Soulpepper needs to mingle more with everyone else and stop scheduling conflicting opening nights.
  • The independent community needs much better and more targeted marketing. Some are starting to leverage social networking but much more needs to be done. Collaboration between companies and creating a pool of marketing talent that could be supported by the community as a whole would strengthen this immensely.
  • A concerted effort on the part of the entire community to explain who they are and what they do to the public at large will help cut down the hostility. I discovered during the election campaign that most people are really ignorant of how we work and what role funding plays into supporting that work but they are willing to be educated.
  • A serious, encompassing discussion across artists of all disciplines to look at new models of financial support. The recent arts cuts have provided a great opportunity to look at this issue. There is a desire for change, so by leading the discussion we can ensure that the change happens in a way that is beneficial to our community.
  • Development of a multi-theatre venue that provide space for small independent companies and mid-size companies/transfers. I personally would love to see the old typesetting factory just south of Tarragon be converted to that purpose.
  • Develop greater supports for the artistic growth of directors. I’m not sure what those would be (personally, I want to go to London and get my mind blown working with some of their innovative directors) but I would like to have a discussion.
  • More support to bring national and international companies to the city. The new venue could help in this regard, as well as our attendance.

In summary, our industry has a tremendous amount of upside potential, but we need to work together to fully maximize our opportunities.


To read more from M.K. Piatkowski, visit her blog: One Big Umbrella.

Digging for theatrosphere gold

In no particular order, four pieces of theatrosphere gold:

  • The good people at Umbrella Talk interview Canadian master Daniel MacIvor.
  • A new Toronto theatre blog: Emerging Art Productions.
  • Vancouver’s Lyric Stage Project is marketing its upcoming production with this intriguing campaign.
  • Chicago-based theatre advocate Don Hall continues his painfully honest series of posts on divorce.

Any more? Please paste your best theatrosphere post links into the comments section below.

Giving up the dream?

American marketing guru Seth Godin’s October 15 blog post Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love? Read it. Live it.

An excerpt:

“That blog you’ve built, the one with a lot of traffic . . . perhaps it can’t be monetized.

“That non-profit you work with, the one where you are able to change lives . . . perhaps turning it into a career will ruin it.

“That passion you have for art . . . perhaps making your painting commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.”

10 questions: Gordon P. Firemark

1) What the fuck is going on?
Everything, nothing, and all points between.

The Theatre business in America has been booming . . . Broadway grosses have been hitting all-time highs, and new shows are coming out of Los Angeles, Toronto and numerous other cities. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the current changes in the economy . . . The last couple of weeks have been scary for everybody.

2) What’s the most challenging part of being an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles?
Traffic.

3) What are some of the big stories in theatre law in the U.S.?
Box Office is up.

Costs are up.

Financing of theatre is getting trickier.

Labor strikes and threatened strikes have kept us all on pins and needles for the past year or so.

Directors claiming copyright of ‘stage directions’.

The Urinetown cases.

Producers of small productions are grabbing up subsidiary rights. Other, larger theatre companies are making the decision to leave subsidiary rights on the table.

4) Do you have any unifying theories about American law and its relationship to the arts?
Unifying theories? Huh?

I guess I’d have to say it this way: “Good art benefits from freedom.”

Our legal system is centered around the protection of freedoms. Key among the rights protected in our system is Freedom of Expression. Without this freedom, many great plays wouldn’t have been created, for fear of reprisals from government for the ideas expressed. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for good art to be created in a repressive society, but it’s just easier when government stays out of the way.

Recently, we’ve started to see some encroachments on freedom of expression, and these are points of concern. Most significantly, I’m thinking of City and State anti-smoking laws being extended to theatres, so actors can’t smoke on stage.

Here in California (and elsewhere), there’s also been some talk about banning incandescent lighting. This would put a big crimp on the artistic use of light, at least until there’s more innovation on the technology front . . . which I guess is a good argument either way.

Still, I think anytime you see a “ban”, it’s got the potential to be a significant limitation on freedoms. We have to tread very carefully.

5) What are some of the key copyright issues to keep in mind for bloggers?
Copyright protection belongs to the “author” of the work. In the context of blogging, this means that the blogger owns the post (provided it’s not copied from somewhere else), and the layout/design of the site, but comments may belong to the commenters. Terms of Service should be clear about the scope of license granted to the blogger. Also, bloggers should be careful when ‘quoting’ or ‘paraphrasing’ other material found on the net. Be sure to re-express the ideas in your own words wherever possible. Using photos and graphics found on the net is a particular pitfall. I’ve recently seen some folks get into hot water with stock-photo agencies. Be sure to get a license for every image you use.

6) Who owns this interview?
Good question. I think, since I’m writing these answers, I own the copyright to them . . . but it’s implicit in the nature of the situation that I’m giving you a license to publish my answers in your blog. The real question, then, is what ELSE can you do with this material? What if you want to turn your blog articles into chapters for a book? Republish in a magazine, your theatre’s programs, etc?

I think the answer is, you have to ask me for each re-use.

It would be different if we were sitting together or on the phone, and you were recording the interview, or taking notes, etc. Then, you’d be the “author”.

7) Why does theatre deserve public funding?
Theatre deserves public funding because it serves several valuable functions in our society. One function is historical. Theatre is an art form that helps preserve a ‘snapshot’ of the playwright’s (and presumably a portion of society’s) view of the world at the time it’s created. As later generations study the plays and musicals of today, they’ll learn how we were thinking about the issues of the day, and hopefully learn from what we’ve created.

Another function is the preservation of minority voices. I think it’s important for controversial and unpopular views to see the light of day. Public funding of the arts (not just theatre, but all art forms) allows this to happen when private funding is scarce. Public funding of ideas allows for the continued vitality of the marketplace for ideas.
8) How similar is entertainment law between Canada and the United States?
I think the similarities far outweigh the differences. Entertainment has become a global industry, and entertainment law is really international in its scope. Most of the legal principles entertainment lawyers rely on are the product of long-standing principles in most legal systems, or have been established by treaties, and other international organizations. The rest of what entertainment lawyers rely on is a depth of knowledge of the industries and markets in which they work.

9) What’s one of the most common legal mistakes you see smaller, independent theatre companies making?
Making “cuts” to the text of a play they’re producing under license. Most of the time these licenses don’t allow for any changes whatsoever.

Another has to do with financing. Commercial theatre financing is done through investments . . . but most small producers don’t follow the rules when soliciting investors. Unfortunately, the rules are complicated, but they’re there to protect the investors, so we have to follow them. On the non-profit side, it’s simpler, but still sometimes tricky.

10) From your experiences working with artists in all fields, how much truth have you found there to be in the notion that artists are somehow naturally flakier than other kinds of professionals?
I think it’s more accurate to refer to artists as craftspeople than “professionals”. To folks in other businesses, Artists may seem “flaky”, but most artists are very disciplined in the way they practice their crafts. The real disconnect arises from what I think of as the ‘artistic temperament’. Many artists are so consumed by, and immersed in, their art, that they lose sight of the ordinary expectations of society, day-to-day things like sitting down to pay your bills, returning phone calls, attending to “business” matters. For some artists, I think these kinds of activities drain important energy away from the creative “flow” that’s important to making good art.

That’s why there are agents, managers, business managers and lawyers (like myself) who help artists by taking care of the “business” so the artist can stay in that creative “flow”. The most business-like decision an artist can make is to recognize the need for a team of professional advisers.


Read more from Gordon Firemark at his website: Law Offices of Gordon P. Firemark.