Most of what I’ve written on Big Theatre and the new information society has been critical. For those who’ve wondered whether I have anything constructive and affirmative to say, the answer is yes. I have a plan. This plan, by necessity, takes into account the various obstacles I’ve outlined, but is a positive plan for implementation.
There is no large theatre in the United States (or elsewhere so far as I’m aware) that has employed a full suite of social media, that has invested completely in the creation and sustaining of The Compleat Conversation with its audience. That opportunity remains wide open for any organization with the guts and vision to take it. This plan is an outline for how to do so.
These steps I outline in the plan are the fruit of three simple realizations: What is, is not working. Precedent, without experimentation, is not respect for the past; it is contempt for the future. What has worked for others may work for you.
- Announce that The Conversation Is On. Period. Hold hands, have meetings, encourage an internal conversation, but remember: This is “disruptive technology.” There will be no consensus. It will—until it is a proven success and, for some, even after that—be resented and resisted. Only a determined leader, one willing to employ the force of his or her moral and organizational authority, will be capable of seeing this change through the period of adjustment to fruition. Express, as your goal, the recognition of an already-occurring conversation with your audience. Articulate your respect for the intellect and spirit of a dedicated audience. Remind your company members that to listen to an audience is not the same as to pander to them. But to refuse to listen to them is the same as dismissing them.
- Express your intent to destroy the hierarchical, authoritarian status quo in theatre-audience relations, replacing it with a radical openness and absolute dedication to The Conversation.
- Set up a phased rollout of conversational tools, building both skills and comfort as you go.
- Be complete. Do not try to have your cake and eat it too by, for instance, unveiling a “blog” upon which no one can comment. Activate all elements of each tool you use.
- Monitor each tool you roll out. You may find your blog and forum are extremely popular but simply no one wants to listen to your podcast. Again, do not act as though you know what works for all parties prior to experimenting with them. Use a combination of your own guts, vision and intuition, the expressed preferences of your audience and hard usage data.
- Set a subsidiary goal of being the absolute ‘thought leaders’ in the application of conversational tools to the theatrical environment. Speak at conferences and lend your expertise and experience to other theatres.
- Realize these goals through experimenting promiscuously with all forms of conversational tools: blogging, podcasting, vlogcasting, forums, social networking, wikis and file-sharing.
- Extend that commitment into the physical environment of your theatre. People who use these tools do not think of the ‘real world’ vs. ‘cyberspace’ when they fire up their computers anymore than they think of the ‘real world’ vs. ‘telespace’ when they pick up the telephone. To wit: Give bloggers press comps; sponsor meetups for blogging visitors; arrange group interviews with theatre professionals for bloggers.
- Make it understood throughout the organization that everything, everywhere, with no exceptions, is open to being blogged about, podcasted and videoblogged within the organization and generally observed, commented upon, praised or criticized by anyone and everyone within and without the organization. Get on the offensive and negotiate industry-benchmark agreements with Equity.
- Secure the necessary personnel to implement these initiatives. Make certain their positions report neither to marketing, to IT or any of the other old guard. These types usually have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, frequently avowing a teary-eyed affection for “tradition” and “history” which translates into a ferocious defense of personal fiefdoms and resistance to change.