Theater For The Future

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TFTT Writer’s Strike Edition: The HTTP:// isn’t just for marketing

November 07, 2007 By: Nick Keenan Category: Community Building, In a Perfect World, Tools

The web community spirit of You Tube hasn’t quite been working yet for theatrical marketing and promotions, but thankfully we’re in good company… TV Writers have also been given the shaft on the emerging market of “New Media” – web downloads, promotional content like webisodes, and viral entertainment, and that’s about to change. A number of theater companies are also experimenting and Chicago company stagechannel brings theater to video… But I was wondering today about the possibilities of bringing theater to the web and drawing in audience through the ever-growing internet viewing market…

First, check out this wonderful bit of social activism mixed with star power and street theater:

I often think the preshow, lobby area, and even the preshow announcement are ripe opportunities for extending the world of the play beyond the four corners of a theater space. But we’re also starting to see a number of experiments in extending a play’s walls into the internet to help promote a show, including our own at New Leaf for Vox Pandora, TheOnlyOneLeftWasHope.com. It’s rich territory, as the number of people trolling the internet for content instead of cable TV is growing exponentially by the day.

Another of these fifth-wall experiments crossed my inbox a few days ago, Jason Grote’s web world created for a production of his play 1001. Jason has created a fake news page with easter egg links to his box office, his reviews, even a world-of-the-play wiki for user-generated comments.

These web productions are often slapped together, but when you think about how many of our young audience members sit in day jobs surfing the net, how great would it be for someone to start to experience a rich theatrical experience for the entire day before they actually get to the theater? And then after they see the show, they could visit the world again from their office? Why is this kind of creative obsession reserved for TV serials like Lost, the Office, and Heroes, when theater artists also create multiple worlds of that scope a year? Even better, why can’t part of the play BE the web page, not just a links page?

Theater folk don’t quite know how this web audience works yet – we have the open source technology, but not enough to understand the user experience. Jason is throwing every web gadget that he can at this thing – wikis, phpBB forums, a list serve, but he doesn’t focus the site’s attention on the web technologies that his audience will actually want to use in their valuable free time and be entertained by. He hasn’t built a web audience yet, either, so he also has to resort to emailing folks to drive traffic to his site, which completely breaks the illusion that he has crafted so carefully.

But all is not lost for Jason, and I applaud his experiment. Theaters are by nature small and aggressively experimental, and require the least amount of resources from concept to execution than other entertainment media. We experiment like mad, and learn from that experimentation faster than larger entertainment organizations – though we also forget the things we learn faster. The question of how the web can be used to host and promote entertainment is a big one, and one I think film studios, TV networks, Internet Technology Companies, Theaters, and a nationwide audience will all be answering at the same time. I think on a more even playing field like the ‘net, it’s actually theaters who might know what their audiences really want, and have the most to gain from such a paradigm shift from at home content to online worlds that hold our attention hostage.

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2 Comments to “TFTT Writer’s Strike Edition: The HTTP:// isn’t just for marketing”


  1. And in another moment of syncronicity, I just read TOC’s blog post on Steppenwolf’s decision to mount their evenings of Susan Lori Parks’ 365 days/365 plays as flash animations. Whether or not these pieces are plays is an interesting discussion already in progress on the Steppenwolf blog, but I’ve already made up my mind, and have to agree with Kris Vire: The audience and the artist makes the theater. Though some of my favorite plays ever are on homestarrunner.com. I’d also propose the question: What would make digital theater inarguably theatrical – and not say, cinematic – to a broad audience? Is there room for a more hybrid experience – a combination of live performance in a space with an audience, but somehow allowing the audience to take the performance with them to enjoy and interact with later? The opportunities for crafting an audience experience on multiple levels and in multiple environments like that just makes my designer’s tastebuds quiver.

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  2. Oooh, that’s fascinating to me! I’d love to see theatres finding a way to incorporate some kind of online video, including podcasts. I think it’ll be a hard leap for a lot of theatre artists to make – I don’t think it’s as much an issue of knowing “what the people want”, and more an issue of *connecting* live performance to anything recorded, which i think is hard for ‘purists’ to get on board with. But come on, people – keep up with the world or you’ll be obsolete in no time.

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