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.

19 thoughts on “Blog this, Canada! A theatrospherical State of the Union – Round 3

  1. Ah Simon, if it was only 2 hours per week. I spend that on Twitter alone. 2 hours is the average writing time for one of my blog posts. Forget about the time spent following other blogs on Bloglines, or keeping up with people’s statuses on Facebook. So which should it be? That’s my challenge. If I could do all that I “should” be doing, I’m looking at a 15 hours/week commitment minimum. Which would be great if I was being paid for it. (I’m looking for work btw so if someone wants to pay me to do social media I’m right there.)

    But I’m not, so these days I prioritize Twitter. But it means I’ve only done a few blog posts in the last 4 months. It means I’m way behind on what’s going on with people on Facebook. And I currently have 1060 unread posts on Bloglines. And I haven’t even joined LinkedIn or spend much time on the video side. So I come back to, what is the most effective use of my time? That’s the question I urgently need an answer to.

  2. That’s it, isn’t it, the Big Question. The big pitfall with these tools – especially the 3 you mention; blogging, twitter and facebook – is that they can literally eat your entire life if you’re not careful. This is inherent in the fact that they are ‘social’ sites and it’s easy to get swept up in some thread and sidetracked, and it is imperative that you define the reason you use them and continually check in with that mandate.

    There are many people that really do use them as their social arena, I can’t really speak to that because for me they’re business tools (although without the butterflies social marketing becomes severely less useful), but the perspective that you must keep on your SM time is that it is only a portion of your overall business plan and assign it the time you feel it deserves, and that you can afford. It’s a matter of scheduling.

    It used to drive me crazy if my feed reader was overflowing, or my twitter feed got into the thousands or my facebook timeline stacked up. At some point I hit upon the realization that if I missed some of them, if I didn’t read each of them, nothing bad would happen. If there was really important content it would make its way through anyway. Now my best friend is the Mark All as Read button, and I’ve been much happier and relaxed ever since. Decide how much time you wish to spend per day on your various platforms and stick to it. Is every tweet, update, post essential? Of course not. Your time and sanity is.

    Your blog is the most effective tool in your kit. It’s where you can truly have an in-depth discussion and be at home. 2 hours is the minimum amount of time you should spend on your blog. One post a week is plenty. If you can budget more time for it in your week, all the better. As for twitter, I think of it as recess. I skim it 4 times a day, engage for a bit, then get back to work, for an average of 10 minutes per day. And I’m on it more than most. If there are people in your stream that you must, must, must read everything that they post, use a client like Seesmic and give them their own list. Use twitter to point people at rich content on the web, yours and others in your niche, don’t try and represent the whole package there. And facebook? Are there really that many status updates that you just can’t miss? No offence guys, but the least amount of effort at value is given to the average FB status. This really is used more than the others for social uses. All the business news comes into your inbox anyway. Again, is your SM time being used for business or for procrastinating with some friends?

    Figure out where you get the most value out of the internet and provide that for your followers. It’s going to take some adjustment, and it’s going to take some discipline. Just don’t ever be a slave to it.

  3. Thanks for the tips, Simon. I realize that all my posts have been a cry for help from someone who believes in the potential of social marketing but is coming up against the hard physical realities. The internet is a wonderful tool but for insatiably curious people like me (and I think most artists fit that description) it’s a large rabbit hole that’s easily to fall into.

    I thought further on blogging and in particular on Kris’ suggestion. The thing is, I discovered early on that short posts, little snippets, don’t fit into my individual style. I see myself as a catalyst for change and my most effective tools in that regard are information dissemination and reasoned argument. Twitter’s been quite useful for the former. I now need to get past my personal burnout to use my blog to do more of the latter.

    I do want to touch upon Facebook statuses though. From a strictly networking perspective I have found it invaluable. Most sales books talk about the value of knowing personal information about your customers and keeping in regular touch. Through the statuses I find out who’s gotten married, who’s died, who’s landed that big role, who’s bought that new house, who shares my love of the Blue Jays…all information I can use. A quick comment on a status keeps me connected – top of mind, if we’re speaking in purely business terms. You can separate it from the news feed which makes it more manageable. I’m not sure it’s worth giving up on completely.

  4. Oh absolutely, I don’t mean to give the impression that I think facebook is a waste of time by any means, it’s just more heavily weighted to arbitrary non-sequiturs. But maybe that’s just my friends…

  5. MK,

    in re blog reading:
    Would you feel the same way if it were collected into a magazine format and delivered weekly?

    Blog reading for me is the equivalent of professional journal reading for an MD or engineer. It’s not time away from my practice it’s PART of my practice.

    When I’m neck deep in work and production that continuing ed portion of my practice falls away in favor of my real life demands, but it’s there waiting when I’m ready to go back to it.

    Emphasizing Twitter seems to be an odd choice in terms of time commitment as Twitter is at it’s best when you are most interactive as opposed to the asynchronous interactions on the blogs which is more time independent.

    Not a criticism, I loves me some Twitter, but if I were sitting in a SiBex session teaching theatres how to social media-ize Twitter is the last piece not the first imho.

    In re: Facebook – Facebook is the medium not the message. Facebook is where your audience is. Facebook’s tools for content creation or poor for 2001. You need to get your content over there… I LOATHE creating it there.

  6. I didn’t want to give the impression that I don’t think reading blogs are valuable – after all, I’m here. It’s just a larger time commitment. If it was collected like a magazine to read, that would actually help in a way because I wouldn’t be spending hours staring at a screen. But I also don’t want to be printing out everything to read later. A lot of my backlogged RSS feeds are Australian and New Zealand papers, information I need to keep in touch with what is going on in these countries since travelling back has become cost prohibitive.

    The appeal of Twitter for me is receiving (and sending) a great deal of information in a short amount of time from a variety of sources. And I would disagree about blogs being time independent. I find if I don’t catch a blog post when it first goes up, any comments I make when I do get there don’t contribute to creating a conversation. It’s moved on by the time I’ve gotten there. The other thing about Twitter is that it’s something I can do when my brain isn’t at its peak (i.e. early morning or late at night) and for me to get the most out of blogs I need my brain to be engaged to process. As a result, I find it easier to log onto Tweet Deck then Bloglines most days.

  7. I am pretty late to the game here, but to be honest I’ve been really into seeing what was on other people’s minds. Now that we seem to have come to the end of this experiment I want to thank everyone for taking part. It went better than Simon and I expected.

    Our article in Works will probably end up being 3000 words. My latest word count on this conversation was over 6000, so when you do pick up the magazine, it will necessarily be a seriously abridged version of this conversation.

    I think this is an interesting comment on the medium itself – that the digital world doesn’t have nearly the same constraints as the printed paper with ink shapes on it world. In this case it means if you want to fully understand a conversation, you better go to the web to do so.

  8. MK,

    I hear you about the time commitment on social media platforms. I am going on six years of writing a blog, and as a freelance artist, when things are busy I am luck to get a post in a month. And while I would consider myself part of the theatrosphere, I am usually late to the latest popular discussion point.

    What I appreciate is that you want to engage, and what I believe to be the thrust of this multi-blog conversation is that more theater practitioners need to use the various social media platforms to do just that. Compared to others, your one post every four months might be considered alot. It should be no pressure. What is great is that the blog posts are not going anywhere. So I can still engage a week, two weeks, or a month after a post is written.

    For those who are not ready to jump into the blogging pool, I would recommend start out by being writing consistent comments. One leaves enough comments, and they realize they really do have something to say and might want to put in into a blog post.

  9. Simon,

    1. You must write the book. =)

    2. This time factor you mention falls more into a discipline category for me.

    You’ll never get any more time. So saying you don’t have any becomes a pretty standard excuse. (One of which I have been guilty of using.)

    Instead, you have to make time by picking a schedule and sticking to it. It could be once a month. Or more, or less.

    But by choosing this schedule you get the ball rolling. You build momentum. That momentum pulls you forward.

    Sure it may take you two hours to start with. But as you remain consistent you start to speed up. And you can look for ways to speed things up…

    Personally, I look to do double-duty with things. So yes, I’ll take this comment add a bit of structure to it and turn it into a blog post or newsletter article.

    The thing to remember is posts don’t need to be, and should not be, much longer than 600 words. Studies have shown this is where a person’s attention span starts to drop off.

    Don’t forget someone else has to take their time to read your post.

    If we work from both sides to respect each other’s time by sticking to one topic per post and keeping the posts pithy, we make it easier to develop new ideas, strategies and actually implement them.

    I’m saying all of this because I too believe it’s important for artists to blog. Refinement of your ideas, connections and new opportunities being the main reasons.

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering. It was when you asked me for an RSS feed that I decided it was time for a blog of my own. So thanks, Simon. =)

    Dave
    P.S. I’m going to be sharing my email marketing strategy, The Journey Factor, over the course of several posts on my blog. There are a few posts up already. And I’m returning to writing regularly next week. Yes, I’m writing a book.

    Perhaps we should start a book writing challenge, Simon. ;-)

  10. Hi Dave!

    I agree with everything you just wrote, but the part about word count. The top 7 posts in terms of both traffic and attention on praxistheatre.com have been longer than 600 words.

    That being said, material that is that long is probably 10% of the posts. But sometimes that’s what it takes to create premium content that really looks into an issue. If they were all that long I’m sure people would tune out.

    • Hi Michael,

      Well, look at that. I was just over there checking things out. =)

      You sum up it nicely with this:

      “That being said, material that is that long is probably 10% of the posts. But sometimes that’s what it takes to create premium content that really looks into an issue. If they were all that long I’m sure people would tune out.”

      Do you have any links to these posts? I’d like to read them.

      Thanks,
      Dave
      P.S. And nice to meet you. See – the power of blogging at work already. =)

  11. Dennis:

    Great advice. I’ve seen many blogs have their seeds planted in the commentsphere (too much?). And that’s one of the hidden agendas behind my open guest-post policy on TNS. Few people take me up on it, sadly.

    Dave:

    Yep. Consistent blogging is damn hard. It takes a special kind of fervor, the kind you hope to find in artistic professions driven more by love than money. And you nailed it; consistency is much more important than quantity.

    Truth be told, I’m embarrassed at the condition of my blog, it feels like high school kid’s bedroom; neglected and messy. In my first year of the site I set myself an editorial mandate to post 5 times a week, Monday to Friday, come hell or high water. And I did it. And it nearly killed me. I wanted to wrap the thing in chains and chuck it overboard after that. But it succeeded in establishing a presence and a readership, and now I let it coast a bit. A bit too much, actually, it feels like a good new years to reengage again. Spend more time in comments sections, as Dennis suggests.

    This series with Mike has been great in making me articulate the strong desire I have to be able to use the blogoshpere as an industry-wide professional developement conference. Perhaps we should be looking at organizing meet-ups as a next step. Open Space Seminars.

    And to the word-count question Mike:

    I find it incredibly hard to write short posts, but I believe they are important to keep readers engaged, so that they will sit with you for the really chewy ones. I think it depends a lot on your niche too, I think our readership is incredibly smart, if not particularly comfortable with engagement on the open web.

    What I actually think is that it will soon have a lot to do with video. Now that load times are becoming negligible, video posting is set to become web 3.0.

    Oh, and regarding the book writing challenge Dave, you’re on! Mine’s started too actually, the social marketing will be a chapter though, mine’s on indie theatre production for the new producer. The book I wish I had found 10 years ago, basically. Rebecca’s already written the other one: http://www.rebeccacoleman.ca/services/guide-to-getting-started-in-social-media

  12. Simon,

    Looking forward to the book. Let’s do this. =)

    I have Rebecca’s. Great stuff.

    I just finished part one of my Twitter specific guide.
    How to Use Twitter to Connect and Engage With Your Audience
    Part 1 – Get Started, Get Connected and Get Sharing
    http://caseacecopy.com/blog/twitter-guide-1

    It’s free. And you can feel free to use it as a primer for your Simonars, if you find it useful.

    Dave

  13. Free! Seriously? Truly awesome Dave, why didn’t I know about this? I’ll use it proudly.

    What a great resource, nicely done.

  14. Ok, I’m late to the comment party, but that just means that the party is just going to get going now ;)

    First up, I just wanted to comment on this nice little tidbit from above:

    “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.”

    I call bullshit on this, Simon. Not that I don’t think companies should have someone dedicated to SM (if they have the resources, by all means to it! – I’ve been tremendously impressed with @jennifercovert and her gang at the National Arts Centre and how quickly this institution has taken to new media marketing). No, I have a problem with directors should just direct and actors just acting.

    Directors, actors, designers, stage managers, ect are just as much part of the discussion and their own mini marketing machine as the person running the company’s marketing plan. Everybody doing just one task is part of the broken model, IMHO.

    As an actor and a writer, I blog and tweet because it lets people know who I am and what I am doing, even when it’s not about a show. Someone who actually takes the time to follow my live tweets about my sister’s wedding might then be entertained enough by who I am and what I bring to the table to come and see the next project I am working on. You’re right, it’s not about individualism, it’s about making connections, making it personal enough so that your new friend will come check out what you do (and hopefully they’ll bring two friends, and they’ll bring two friends, and so on, and so on…)

    Not to mention, I feel like this new theatrosphere (is it really new?) has reduced the physical boundaries that separate us across the country. I’ve never “met” Simon, but I would feel quite comfortable surfing on his couch in the near future. That goes for a lot of other people I’ve gotten to know in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, ect.

    Now, about what’s been said in the comment section:

    Simon, you need guest writers. It’s time to expand and outsource. I think you should read the first half of the 4 Hour Workweek. Can’t tell you if the second half is any useful because I haven’t finished it yet, but I picked it up because Rebecca talked about it once.

    Also, I totally want to read that book on Indie Producing when you’re done.

    Dave, I’m downloading your guide right now! I hope you don’t mind. I still need to get Rebecca’s but I have issues with Paypal.

    I’d love to start teaching this kind of social media stuff out in Ottawa. The best person for the job here is actually Kris Joseph, but he is much busier than I am. I’m amassing as much information as I can get in order to set up my own version of the Simonar. If you guys have any helpful advice (or maybe even a meeting agenda of topics covered?), I’d be most grateful.

  15. Hey Nancy, thanks for chiming in. You have a lovely chime.

    To your first point, I’m fully in agreement with you, actually, I just don’t think I did a very good job of expounding in that section. Yes, if it were up to me everyone in the company would be blogging, tweeting, hand-shaking on the street etc, but I’m forced to accept the reality that this is probably not going to happen, and that there are actually many artists who simply don’t want to do this. As weird as this sounds to us. It’s a point of view based on personality that is going to change glacially, if at all. We live in a huge country with, like, 20 reasonably active theatre blogs?! We’ve got a long way to go, I think.

    “Everybody doing just one task is part of the broken model, IMHO.”

    I’m not so sure about this. I think a huge part of the spinning wheels of our industry is low manpower and high burnout. I see Artistic Directors splitting their time between administrative tasks and directing, and administrators trying to work on the play and the production side simultaneously, and both suffering. I see plays going up before they’re ready, and half-assed marketing jobs. I see few performances where the acting is shockingly good. Company members with too many hats during production cycles is anathema.

    For our last play I asked all 12 members of the cast to help with marketing (as you would in a true indie theatre aesthetic). Then I watched them try to deal with the demanding rehearsal schedule, physically and emotionally demanding roles, their rent-paying day jobs, their relationships – and saw that I was asking them to throw another huge task that they didn’t necessarily understand into their bags. I want great performances out of them. I want them to spend all their time on their acting, for the sake of the thing that I’m selling. I want Michele to spend her spare energy piloting the ship. I want specialists.

    This, again, is in the production cycle. Outside of that we can and should be all working to build the brand, as a team. And people like you and me have a responsibility to keep encouraging artists to take hold of their careers. So damn right you can have help setting up your own SM seminars. There’s $$$ in them thar hills too…

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