Getting With The Program
Many still don't know what station it's on
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
As I write this it is hot, humid and, to borrow a phrase from David Letterman, I am making my own gravy. It is hard enough just to think, let alone think about the future and plan for it. But that is not only what we at CharPo must do but, also, what theatres across the county must do - now! - as well.
The fact is, theatres must think outside the box and, sadly, many of them are not. How do I know this? Because I have spent the last two weeks putting together a mailing list for CharPo-Canada by visiting web sites for dozens of theatres across the country. To start with, this primordial mode of communication is being ignored or misused by even some of the big companies. The sites are eyesores - throw-backs to the days of free sites like Geocities - with design to match. Oh yes!, they all have their follow-on-Facebook/Twitter buttons but my Twitter feed for the national site (@CharPoCanada), as full of feeds from companies as it is, is getting nary a tweet from most of them. Worse, some of the few who do tweet occasionally are giving me numbskull, non-theatre information even as they should be creating a buzz for upcoming shows (casts, directors, etc.). There were Fringe companies, this last month, who did a better job with the social networks.
This doesn't mean, as some have misinterpreted, that people are lazy or have no attention span.
I know...I harp on this. But it is so key to creating audiences and creating audiences, now, is crucial. Look at the messages we're getting from the powers: the sky is falling! there's no money! it's time theatres (indeed, culture!) stopped expecting government handouts. Clearly, as we mobilize to fight this, we must also find new ways of getting the message of theatre out.
We, first, must get people to theatre or, more likely, getting the theatre to them. We have to understand how Youtube, for instance, has changed consumption. It's there, in people's laps. It's also short. This doesn't mean, as some have misinterpreted, that people are lazy or have no attention span. People do still, indeed, watch and read long works (Game of Thrones, The Millennium Trilogy, even Lord of the Rings, still) but they usually have less patience and far less time. It's not short, they want, it's conciseness. Stop blithering and you grab them. Pages and pages of information is for illumination not for initial message. If there is one thing I've learned from Twitter and Facebook is that writing (not spelling and grammar) is changing. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point. It just is. It is why you are starting to see this acronym popping up now: TLTR (too long to read).
And how do you reach these outsiders? By thinking otherwise.
This all has an impact on what we understand to be culture. Moreover, it shapes the debate on the culture (writers, here at CharPo know all about "TLTR"), and especially how we share that culture with outsiders.
Without recruitment of those outsiders (the young, first-time theatre-goers, people who are not now even THINKING of going to theatre), theatre becomes frozen in time (like opera in this city). And how do you reach these outsiders? By thinking otherwise. First, by cleaning up and updating web sites. Then, by using the mechanisms out there (FB, CharPo, Twitter) to share ideas about the art in short, punchy but clear and especially uncondescending tones.
I devoutly believe that if these first steps are taken by all of us we can not only all help theatre to grow we can even protect it from the comings and goings of governments and funding bodies and the ups and downs of the economy.
We can weather the storms - but it might take a different kind of umbrella.