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Friday, March 15, 2019

14 Ways Indy Theaters Can Use Social Media Like Award Shows


Any time I read, well, practically anything, I always wonder how the lesson can be applied to live independent theater. A recent article from Nielsen Ratings proved no different. "Award Shows are Big Winners on Social Media"  got me thinking "How can live theater use social the way the awards shows do?"

After all, the two events are very similar. For starters, they're both live events. Attendees are all in the same room together. There's often alcohol involved. There are distinct phases to the event: the pre-show, the live event itself, and post-show discussion.

Secondly, like awards shows, theater productions should be culturally relevant, at least to the community in which the theater resides. These productions may even feature local celebrities or have other local cultural cache.

I am a firm advocate that social engagement is but one leg of the three-legged online marketing stool. A regular email newsletter, a regularly updated website, and good, engaging, timely social content should all be feeding each other in a beautiful circle, driving audiences to engage with every platform. Besides, with the increasing confusion of how many people will see each post on Facebook or Instagram, and the real-time nature of Twitter, posting more is always preferable to posting less. Very few people are going to complain that you've posted too much, and even if they do, so what? Invite them to help with the next show: they need something else to do with all the time they've been spending on social media.

I can hear my theater friends going, "But, Devra, I'm only one person of a two-person team and we're already producing/directing/acting in/buying props/covering stage management/etc etc etc. How am I going to add a full-blown social media plan to this show?" Have you gotten your 501c3 status? Call your local high school and see if someone needs community service hours who also loves social media. Call a social media influencer and see if they want to participate in the show in this volunteer capacity. Tap your board (because you do have a decent sized board for your nonprofit organization, right? [suspicious look]) and see if they know anyone who could help. I'll do it, for a generous consultant fee.

So, How can small independent theaters/shows use social media like their award show cousins? Here are a few ideas:

Pre-opening:

  • Build your promotional plan from the beginning of planning. Don't wait til the week of the show. Oscar social media blitz starts 4-6 weeks in advance, basically as soon as the new year rolls over, and that doesn't include the screener coverage. 
  • Decide a hashtag early and make sure all available social media channels are included on all marketing material. Make sure your entire team knows the hashtag. 
  • Use every aspect of your show for content: actors, director, designers, rehearsals, props, costumes, sets, music, dramaturgy, etc. You know the Grammy winner for best small market radio station is still crowing about their win, even if they aren't featured on the telecast! 
  • Can you release content that highlights both the actor AND the character they are playing? 
  • & don't forget to call out your sponsors! Best if you can find a way that integrates into the show itself, like Taco Bell sponsoring an award, but even if you can't, it's value added for the sponsor, which (hint hint) makes them more likely to sponsor you again in the future. 
  • Invite local social media influencers to a final dress rehearsal and encourage them to post in real-time, take pictures, whatever. 
  • While the theater company (network) puts out content through official channels, encourage the individuals involved (talent) to post on their preferred network. CBS did a ton of social media for the Grammys, but so did Alicia Keys, and all the other talent associated with the show. 

What is your Billy Porter moment? 


Opening/During the Run:

  • Ok, so have we all given up on tweet seats? I actually really liked the idea, if it can be done unobtrusively and not bother other patrons. 
  • Provide all the relevant social media information (AND WI-FI, if necessary) in your lobby/bathrooms/waiting area so audiences can engage with your show online right away. 
  • Live-stream your Q&As. It's an easy way to re-engage those audiences who have already seen the show and gain new people who may want to come see the show if they hear a little more about it. 
  • For muse's sake, and I wish this could go without saying, but it can't: HAVE ACTOR PHOTO-OPS AFTER A PERFORMANCE. People have just given you two hours of their time and hopefully you've provided great value for that from your performance. Reward them by being available afterwards and graciously taking photos that we all know are going straight to social afterwards. 


Outside of Showtime: 

  • Repost. Repost. Repost. This is a big thank you to your audiences that have not only given you their money and time but are gifting you with content! If you want to ask permission, by all means, but many posts/accounts/platforms are public. Share an Instagram post on your Story. Retweet. Comment. ABC/CBS/MTV do this all the time. Remember when "Dancing With The Stars" had a live twitter feed on the live show? 
  • Integrate a hashtag feed onto your website so that the conversation from Twitter or Instagram shows up there. 
  • Is there a moment or phrase from the show that would make a great GIF or meme? Make it so! One way you'll know is if there's a particular moment or character that audiences keep referencing. 

Yes, the networks and talent who participate in awards shows have cumulatively hundreds of people who can post social content. But that doesn't mean the small theater shop gets a pass on engaging with their audience in this way just because they don't have as many people. Because this is the crux: the small independent theater must engage with their audiences in every way possible in order to deepen relationships and increase their audience overall.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Minimal Living: Forced Version


Minimalism is everywhere these days. It's very in style, if getting rid of all your belongings and living with the bare necessities is your style.

Don't get me wrong: I've toyed with the minimalism idea for several years now. Even as an extrovert who loves owning lots of "things that spark joy", there is still a threshold of "too much". I'd started paring down before we made the big move from the Triangle to the Coast and made sure to not RE-accumulate random things while we were in Morehead City.

So when it came time to pack all our belongings again for moving, I embraced the opportunity to live with even less. I knew we'd be "in between" homes for a while and that what ever I kept had to be packed into two vehicles, along with my kid, dog, and cat. I looked up long-term travel on Pinterest, followed minimalist accounts on Instagram, and made sure I knew what self-care was non-negotiable for me during this time.

And we'd already done this on a trial basis: when we evacuated for Hurricane Florence and spent a week at my folks' place. So I thought I knew what I was getting into.

Extended-stay "Suite"
We are now in month three of minimal living. November and December were still in our old home, but January has mostly been in a 400 square foot extended living hotel "suite" (I use suite lightly: it's basically a hotel room with a 2 burner stove and full size refrigerator).  When the minimalism aesthetic is forced upon you, you learn a lot about exactly where you fall on the style spectrum.

Here are a few things I've learned during our time without stuff:

1. Most homes really are filled with simply too much stuff. There's a reason why the before and after pictures on any HGTV show are so starkly different: there's the perfect amount of stuff. Since we were living in our home while it was on the market, we staged it with our own stuff. 90% of our worldly goods were in storage, but the 10% we had left were enough to be comfortable with. Did I have choices? No. Did I need choices? Again, no. Not really.

2. Speaking of choices: How many clothes do you really NEED? This is one of those areas where the long-term travel folks are right: you learn very quickly that you can indeed thrive on 3 shirts, 2 pants, a jacket, and a few odds and ends. My husband's entire work wardrobe is in a suitcase. My daughter packed 1/3 of her wardrobe and STILL has shirts she hasn't worn.

Now, will I want to burn every item of clothing after this time is up because I'm tired of seeing/wearing it? Most likely, yes. BUT, the point is that you don't need a bedroom-size walk-in closet because it's 99% unlikely you wear all those clothes on a regular basis.

3. Close quarters are truly close at night. Sleeping is the one activity that I legitimately do want my privacy and hotel living does NOT provide it. There's the kid in the bed right beside me. There's the cat who wants to be nocturnal. There are the other hotel patrons who are keeping vastly different hours. I don't recall reading anything about this in the long-term travel research, so let me be the first to say that if you're going to sleep in close quarters for a long time, figure out really quickly whether your tolerance level is "eye-mask and earplugs" or "sleeping pills." I don't care if you're in a hotel, BnB, travel trailer, or hosteling your way across Europe: sleeping normally won't happen.

Paleo chicken parmesan with
non-paleo whole wheat
angelhair pasta. All done on the
2-burner stove.
4. I miss my kitchen, but I've learned to be vastly more creative. I consider myself a fairly decent home chef, but being forced to rely on one knife, one skillet, one pan, and an old 2 burner stove has ratcheted my kitchen creativity up 100%. Long-term travel folks will tell you quickly that eating out is more affordable overseas, however, you still don't want to eat out every meal.

5. Home is truly where the heart is. As frustrated as I can get by this situation, it's vastly better to be together. I missed my husband so much when he was on the road and I was in an empty house waiting for an offer to buy. My daughter has been a champ throughout the process and, rather than the nightmares we've experience in school vacations before, this has been a growth experience for both of us. Even the dog and the cat--as bored as I can tell they are--have been good about being cooped up in a small space together.

I'm thinking I will wait on unpacking once we are in the new house. I know I can live without that stuff for a while longer. Maybe forever.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Theater in the Age of Netflix

I read a great article in the December issue of Fast Company titled "Retail in the Age of Amazon." Long-time readers know of my penchant for following retail conversations and seeing how they are applicable to the theater world and this article was no different.

(New readers: hello! do you think retail and theater overlap, too?)

I sat down to write notes on all the topics and details from the article that I wanted to flesh out on for theaters. I thought it would be 4 or 5, since the article itself had 4 sections to it.

Instead, I had TWENTY-TWO points to hit. To flesh out each of those points, even a paragraph a piece, seems a tad much for a blog post.

Some of them I've written about before, like defining success on your terms and using heretical ideas.

A lot of them are about how going back to basics and focusing on differentiation rather than competing at the same game can help retail businesses survive and thrive in the age of click-and-buy.

This is my point about live theater: when it's easiest to click-and-buy entertainment in your pjs on your couch, you can't treat your theater business like it's another Netflix. Nor can you exasperatedly declare "there's nothing I can do!" about declining audiences and lackluster seasons. There are plenty of things you can do. Twenty-two things by this count.

So I'll be tackling this list, giving each point the focus it deserves. I hope to even find real-world examples of theater companies and people who are doing these things already. Nothing beats reading another's story for inspiration and checklist-creation.

Carr wrote: "Retailers don't need to chase a futuristic version of themselves that they might never attain; they first need to remember what made them special in the first place." I'd say the same is true for theaters, too.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reading in 2017 Expanded My Mind, Heart, and Soul

I read 37(ish) books in 2017. As usual, they were a bit all over the place.

Some of the highlights:

- being diagnosed with anxiety and depression and realizing your codependent tendencies makes you seek out book help. I read Melody Beattie's work, including the classic Codependent No More and the newer Stop Being Mean To Yourself. I have another one still on my TBR pile. Related: Never Good Enough; Drama of the Gifted Child; The Wisdom of Depression; Potatoes Not Prozac.

- the business books included the fantastic Abundance by Peter Diamandis (older title) and Principles by Ray Dalio (new title). I'm enjoying branching out my business reading to forward-looking futurists. These are the folks who read science fiction as kids, made it come true, and are now looking ahead another forty years to see what will be next. 

- in the "make my life better" Dewey Decimal section: You Already Know What To Do, about tapping into intuition, was phenomenal and fell into my hands at the perfect time (towards the end of therapy). I've definitely been following my intuition more and feel much better about choices. Another good read was Pussy: A Reclamation. We all need to listen to our female intelligence more. Others in this category: The Happiness of Pursuit; Living Forward; Fearless and Free; Make Your Mark; The Power of Meaning; High Performance Habits.

- file under "Tim Ferriss": I read his own Tools of Titans, plus his recommended Vagabonding.

- I expanded my religious studies reading this year. Most exceptional was Four Testaments, which included foundations texts for eastern religions and a through introduction to Zoroastrianism. Every Judeo-Christian raised person should read about Zoroastrianism as it directly influenced the Hebraic history and Christian mythology. Related: A New Earth; How Philosophy Can Save Your Life; The Spirit of Zen.

- I reread Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy (one of very, very few fiction works I have read multiple times) and that led me to read The Clockwork Universe, about how science bloomed during the 1600s, leading to thoughts which changed the world. Universe talks about England right after the time period of the Shadow of Night, the second in the All Souls Trilogy. It was neat to read about topics Harkness references as "coming." This also highlighted how out of practice I am in STEM areas, so I'm using the Brilliant app to brush up on my science and I read Richard Feynman's intro lectures to physics, Six Easy Pieces.

- The massive fiction tome this year went to an author I haven't read in 20 years: Neal Stephenson, and his collaboration with Nicole Galland, The Rise and Fall of DODO. If you're a fan of long, crazy, interwoven, sharp character-driven science fiction, I can't recommend this book enough. I've never read Galland's work before, so I can only surmise she kept the pace quicker than Stephenson's normal slog. But it was incredible; the ending was perfect and didn't make me sad (*cough*like The Night Circus*cough*). Also read: The Masked City; Furthermore; The Burning Page; Book Scavenger; A Conjuring of Light; Girl Who Drank The Moon

There were bits and bobs more, but those are the ones that stand out.

As usual, you can follow what I read over on Instagram, where I post shots and reviews in real time.

I'm tackling #theunreadshelfproject2018 for my reading this year, which means getting through the 55 backlog titles on my shelves. Wish me luck.


Monday, April 3, 2017

What If Success Was Easier?

success:

1. obsolete : outcome, result

2a : degree or measure of succeeding
b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

3: one that succeeds


succeed:

2a : to turn out well
b : to attain a desired object or end

From the latin succedere: to come after, or up from below

Why do we not do a better job--or any job at all--defining success for ourselves? 

Why is the first definition of success one that Webster's qualifies as obsolete? An outcome or result. The first definition of succeed is literally "to come after another in rank or position, to follow after another in order". The second definition is to attain a desired end. Why don't we do more to delineate in any kind of terms what our desired end is? Why do we always default to "money" or "fame" or "status of some kind"? 

I admit that I am a perfectionist with [insanely] high goals for every artistic event I'm involved with. My props had to be indistinguishable from the real thing, if I couldn't get the real thing. My shows had to be sell-outs, or as close as physically possible without literally picking people up and bringing them to the theater. Classes and workshops needed to have the max number of students or I felt unsatisfied as either a teacher or a venue provider. More, always more. 

What if we defined success differently, though? I've written about failure before, how I don't truly believe in failure as long as you're trying and learning. But why can't the same be true of success? Why isn't there a spectrum rather than two distinct points? You did or you didn't. You succeeded or you failed. You made a gazillion dollars or you're a poor hack who just needs to quit trying. You're an investment banker/hotshot lawyer/neurosurgeon or you might as well be laying on your couch without a job. Dr. Strange thought his life was over because he couldn't use his hands any more after the car accident. 

The success story in the performing arts is school--move to one of three acceptable cities--get discovered--get signed to a project/show/team with an amazing amount of salary--pictures on magazines/appear on television/people want your autograph. 

Why? 

Why do we set ourselves up for the massive amount of disappointment that this definition of success inherently creates? 

Yes, money and fame are nice (I'm guessing.) But we can redefine the outcome we want and have success on our terms. 

I want a family and a house and live in a community I can afford without feeling like all work and no play. 

I want to produce theater that makes me--and hopefully an audience--laugh and cry and try to be a better person. 

I want to help other performing artists produce work that moves them and their communities, regardless of what size that community is or what that community looks like. It could be a town of 8,000 people, largely agricultural based, with a strong Irish background and cultural history of story-telling. It could be a neighborhood of 400 with young families of all nationalities trying to find some commonality between them and make their neighborhood a better, safer place to live. It could be a dancer who has moved six hours away from the only home she's ever known and just wants to move her body and find like-minded individuals. 

Connection is succeeding. That may be one person. Or 1000. 

More is better, sure. But it's not necessary. Define your success and then achieve it. 

Or not. And redefine and try again. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

9 Seminars I'd Love to Teach

  • Arts Hospice: Palliative Care for End-of-Life for Arts Organizations
  • Healthy Ecosystems in Small Cities: Why Diversity of Size and Content Matters
  • Try Today, Buy Tomorrow: How Performing Arts Can Use Samples to Build Audience
  • Fear-Setting in the Arts: Mitigating Risk by Developing Comfort with Fear
  • Stone Soup: Using Collaboration to Create New Performing Arts Opportunities
  • Pivots and Sprints: Using Corporate Process Development to Grow a Sustainable Arts Org
  • Clothing Costumes: How What you Wear Changes Your Own Perceptions
  • Grow Your Own: What Food Chains and Arts Ecosystems Have in Common
  • I Can't, I Have a Kid: How to be a Present Parent and a Performer Without Losing Your Mind
I'm available. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Permanent Theater Venues, While Useful, Are Not A Panacea

Much has been discussed about how the Triangle needs more black box theaters, more fertile ground to grow the native, nascent nonprofit theater groups and companies. With Common Ground Theater closing up after ten years and Sonorous Road Theater’s future in question, it does seem like there is less room for itinerant groups to ply their trade.

Examining the twenty-five year history of the Triangle theater scene, the same venues tend to be used over and over again. Most of productions happen in the same handful of spaces, even if made by different groups of people. For the time period in question (1990-2015), the vast majority--90% of companies who produce at least one full weekend show--do not continue to make work over a decade.

Out of 24 (give or take a few) companies that have succeeded in sticking around the Triangle for a dozen years or more, only six have successfully operated their own venue. Again, the majority of ongoing theater organizations are either affiliated with a college or with a municipally-owned venue. Raleigh Little Theater, Theater in the Park, Durham Savoyards, North Carolina Theatre: as long-standing and as important to the ecosystem as they are, they are all beholden to a municipal venue for their performance space. Our single “professional” theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company, is fully-owned by UNC-CH. Yes, it has a nonprofit arm for raising funds, but without the people, work, and space provided by UNC, PlayMakers would not be PlayMakers.

The six that have lasted over twelve years and had an established space are The ArtsCenter with its various in-house theater programs, Burning Coal Theater, Deep Dish Theater Company, Manbites Dog Theater Company, North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theater, and Raleigh Ensemble Players. It is important to note that two of these organizations (Deep Dish and REP) are no longer in business and a third (ArtsCenter) has guttered its in-house theater productions as of this writing.

Burning Coal Theater and Manbites Dog both spent many of their formative years producing shows in various spaces around Raleigh and Durham, respectively, before they were able to locate and afford their own building. Deep Dish Theater was located in a mall retail space and made do with low ceilings and nonpermanent set restrictions because of mall protocols. Raleigh Ensemble Players started as a summer company for two years, using Theater in the Park’s space during their down time. After several itinerant years, REP partnered with the new Artspace, a visual art studio and gallery. After many years in Artspace, the attempt to secure their own permanent full-time stage space proved unviable and forced them to close. The ArtsCenter’s in-house theater programs grew out of acting classes in the 1980’s at its original space in Carr Mill Mall, before morphing into the ArtsCenter Community Theatre, which quietly died in 2001. Shortly thereafter, Lynden Harris came on board as staff at the ArtsCenter and revived programming under the “ArtsCenter Stage” brand. NRACT found and held a venue through sheer power of numbers. Enough committed volunteers to establish a true working board plus enough interested actors and technicians--including a deep relationship with the local high school--provided enough revenue from six large cast shows in the early years.
The axiom is true for any business: success is in large part due to location. ArtsCenter was the only non-school performing arts venue in Carrboro. Deep Dish and NRACT both were surrounded within retail establishments in highly suburban neighborhoods. Burning Coal and Manbites spent years growing their audiences before settling into venues that would themselves become catalysts for their neighborhood’s growth. REP benefitted from the constant flow of artists and visitors in Artspace, conveniently located in the middle of downtown Raleigh.

Many of these companies have themselves also played host to itinerant groups, and because none of them are professional or a closed group of participants, the constant flow of talent both on and back stage has helped grow the opportunities available for creative work.

These companies successfully found and maintained venues because they had enough people willing to put in sweat-equity to make the space viable and because there was enough differentiation in their locations and products to find a profitable audience. Types of revenues varied from business to business, but all found many ways to make expenses every month.

Dedicated venues bring their own downsides. Rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, cleaning and maintenance expenses add up every month, and that’s after an initial push to upfit a space with a stage, seating, and appropriate lighting and sound systems. And then you need someone to manage the space! If you look at the budget of any business, the largest line-item is employees.

Can many of these downsides be mitigated? Yes, certainly: a government-owned facility with provided infrastructure or a co-op space with volunteer management. A wealthy theater-loving real estate developer who wants to be a singular patron to a small company. Insert many other options here.

Finding a permanent venue is possible; these six companies clearly demonstrate that. However, they also demonstrate the hard work involved in doing so: both before in establishing a feasible product and growing audience, and after, in earning enough income to meet ongoing expenses. Desiring a permanent home is admirable, but actually finding one comes after the need justifies it.