Theater For The Future

The Art in the Business of Theater – Collaboration Tools and Technology and the Storefront Theater Movement
Subscribe

A Challenge: Chicago-Theater-A-Day

September 20, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Collaboration, Community Building

So perhaps you haven’t heard yet:

The TCG National Conference is coming to Chicago in 269 days (as of this post).

At the recent host committee planning session at the League of Chicago Theatres for Chicago’s contribution to the festivities (many many cool events, opportunities, and ideas are in the works for all sizes of theaters, and we’ll need your help putting them together) someone made a pretty simple observation: 269 is approximately the number of active theaters in Chicago.

So someone else threw out the idea: What if we created a youtube channel, and featured a video of a Chicago Theater each day until the conference? 3-5 minutes, something that gets at the heart of what makes each individual theater unique. Like the World Theater Day Tumblr feed, those videos then become a living document of all kinds of information and voices in the Chicago scene. As the TCG Conference makes plans to arrive in Chicago, they’re also getting a really accurate cross-section of the full breadth of Chicago Theater – yes, the Goodmans and Steppenwolfs, but also the Timelines, the Griffins, the WNEPs, the Steeps, the Ruckuses and the Factories. Take this video from the Neo-Futurists, which sums up nicely the energy contained in their shows:

So I put it to you Chicago: Can we make this happen? Can your theater put together a low-investment, quick and dirty feature video that perhaps communicates the content of your work, or the communities that you serve – the heart of what makes your theater exciting and unique? Maybe this video is something you can put together quickly, maybe it’s a clip of something you’ve already made, maybe it’s a 5-miniute flip cam video (I promise you: you know someone who has one. We’ve got three.)

Here’s what I see as the potential benefits of this project:

  • Create More, Think Less.
    Translating the energy of live performance or the way we put live performances together to the video format takes a certain amount of creativity. It’s super-easy to not do it well, and like anything, it takes practice, and takes a strong conceptual impulse to do right. As someone whose theater has gotten a lot of mileage out of a low-cost trailer video, I can tell you it’s a good skill to develop if you want to have an audience, no matter what kind of marketing budget you have. It doesn’t need to be polished – though it can be if that’s your identity – it needs to simply communicate who you are and what you do and what it’s like to be there.
  • It’s an effective visual census
    I have this nagging doubt that one of our biggest challenges as a theater community in Chicago (though the problem is shared by other theater communities) is that each theater, especially small theaters, has a delusion of uniqueness. Yes, of course we are unique – we’re different collectives of artists, with different resources and interests – but we are often off the mark when we try to pin down and communicate WHY we are unique. It’s clear to me after the past few years that data alone isn’t enough to convince us of this. Of the seventeen-or-so new companies out there this year, even in a post-Rob Kozlowski/CTDB world – I’m still seeing a predictable amount of repetition of purpose, mission, positioning, and communications. (Don’t feel bad if I singled you out here – you’re so very not alone. But… fix it.) There is a lot of “we are going to change the entire world. Through theater.” But as we all learned in our first acting class: Show Us instead of Telling Us. Putting our faces and our work out there in a public, shareable format lets us collect and really see ourselves and what we are really capable of creating in a greater context, and releases us from the temptation of hiding behind shiny words. It lets us learn by comparison, while also showing the country the true diversity of what we have here.
  • It equalizes the playing field while Chicago Theater itself has a platform
    One of the dangers facing the theater industry is that the financial structures that currently have a ton of money and influence aren’t necessarily the models that will survive in the future. The climate is changing fast for the arts: The dinosaurs may die out, and the rats and cockroaches may have an evolutionary advantage. Even if that idea is dismaying to you, you gotta deal with it to survive. By showcasing all of chicago theater’s various models and approaches in an equalizing format (everyone can get to youtube, but not everyone can fit into the Side Project), we get much closer to a real theater lab environment – we can see what is truly exciting, even if it doesn’t currently have the marketing power to push itself into the forefront of the conference.

Contact me via email or via twitter with your video, or if you need help. Spread the word, and let’s help each other get real, rich exposure to every theater company in town. And stay tuned as we put this together – I think the results will be exciting and eye-opening.

This post brought to you by Ian Martin of Atomic Fez Independant Publishing, who bought me a bottomless cup of coffee at a delightful brunch this morning. My hands are still vibrating with excitement and caffeine.

Buy Me a Coffee?

4 Comments to “A Challenge: Chicago-Theater-A-Day”


  1. Whoever suggested that must be an eejit. :)

    I think it would be incredible if we could get everyone to tell their story. It’s something that as a group, the Chicago theatre community, especially the smaller companies, kind of suck at. So with things like the Broadway-in-Chicago/Trib blog on the Chicago Now, if the group doesn’t speak up, it makes it easier for the Nederlanders to brand themselves as Chicago Theatre (by booking NYC tours no less.)

    I think all the fuss about branding being bad is put forth by folks who are absolutely ignorant of what that actually entails. (ie telling your story, in an authentic way–’cause ya know, telling your story kills the art of storytelling :)

    1
  2. I think this is a great idea! Let’s do it!

    2
  3. Chloe Steve says:

    Its a great idea.I also take immense joy in sharing with you that Cirque du soleil is in Chicago now………It should be great……..

    3
  4. Thanks for your words of promotion, Chloe! I have authored a post just for you.

    http://nikku.net/blog/bad-form-cirque-marketing-dept-slips-on-its-own-banana/

    4

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bad Form: Cirque Marketing Dept. slips on its own banana | Theater For The Future 30 10 09

Leave a Reply

  • Favorite Topics

  • Blogroll