Blogging Interview with the House Theatre of Chicago

I recently interviewed Nathan Allen, the Artistic Director of the House Theatre of Chicago regarding their blog, which, as I’ve said previously, I regard as the best theatre company blog I’ve yet to find. Don’t blame Nathan for the slightly stilted sound of the interview. I reconstructed it from notes I made just for myself.

When and why did you start your company blog?

We started it a year and a half ago in June of 2005. It was hell to update our old flash site, so the blog became our website for a time. The blog is now thoroughly integrated into the new House Theatre website.

At The House we have a real young crowd. Most of the theatre-going audience is not interested perhaps in getting their info that way. But ours is in the 18-40 year old age group. Our mission is creating community, so the community-building aspects of a blog suit us. We’re trying to capture the people who get their information that way.

Blogging is a real easy way to keep people connected and excited. Our blog is a venue for really great conversation. There is usually at least one (comment) thread per show, going on for a month or so, keeping people excited. The number of people commenting has grown.

Blogging is a good way to release information. We’re trying to capture the people who get their information that way. But we still do regular press releases. Some of the major press doesn’t even want emails. The blog hasn’t replaced any written material.

How satisfied have you been with what it’s given you?

It’s extremely easy to set it up and manage it. The more times you update, the higher it goes up in Google and elsewhere and that brings us additional visitors.

Do you think it’s enabled a better conversation with your audience?

It’s helped people feel like they’re in on a secret. Our two-for-one ticket deal was only announced on the blog and the people who took advantage of that felt like they’re more in the club. And people like that, who are more interested, are the people more likely to become donors. When we post playwright’s or director’s notes, people respond almost without exception with congratulations and other positives. So if newcomers stumble on our blog they see praise. There were seven comments on our Hatfield and McCoy (show) of utmost praise.

Did you have any fears when you started it? If so, have any of the chickens come home to roost?

Not for us. The House was created to encourage this sort of conversation, to acknowledge the audience; that’s part of our mission. The blog encourages the culture we create in our theatre. We have had a couple of people post that we had to remove, but that was very minimal compared to all the good we get from it. We’ve never had an ad hominem attack. In fact, we respond to complaints on the blog and have been able to use it as a means to retain disgruntled audience members. If a complaint shows up, we email or call the people who leave the comment.

Any of the company members can blog, all are invited to do so. Most of it is done by myself or Jake, our director of guest relations or Dennis who does the marketing. We announce a lot of events there.

How did your subscribers/board members/sugar daddies react when they found out you’d be blogging?

They are all here because they get the culture of the place. They’re all on board for the constant conversation. In tandem with a quality website, we’ve extended this culture into the internet.

Have you gained more or new audience because of it?

We have not yet asked the question. Our survey process is young. We tell people about the blog at shows, in emails. It gives some background into the theatre. But at this point we do not have a dependable way to assess what effect it’s had on building audience. It’s much more a place for people to explore their interests in the House and the theatre. Mostly these are young people and they’re going to turn into donors. Blogging is a smart part of audience development.

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