Playing on the Web
Twitter, Facebook, the net and the plays we're not seeing in our theatres.
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
This week, twice, I wondered why I was better informed than many artistic directors.
Let me go back.
I am an ardent Twitter follower. I also have a Facebook profile, separate from the ones I have for CharPo. In both cases, I am fairly restrictive about whom I follow and beFriend. I make sure that if there is a critic I admire on Twitter and FB, I want to hear from them. I also want to follow small companies. I will also read mountains of reviews in the New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, The Telegraph. I won't spend too much time reading about the nth production of a show that won the Pulitzer years ago (Proof, Doubt and on and on and on). I want to know what's at ground level. The critics I beFriend and follow, make an effort to see those shows. The theatre blogs I read take their time to write about them. Simply, I want to know the future - not just what's new but also what is rising to the top. (New for the sake of new is as tedious as revivals which bring nothing new to the theatrical conversation.)
Artistic directors can be on Facebook or have their peons follow Twitter but they are not getting the point of the social networks and the web.
Twice, this week, as I said, I wondered why I was excited about two works that seem to be largely ignored by all the houses across the nation who just announced their new seasons and offered - with some surprises - a whole heap o' same old, same old.
The first instance was Our Class, playing in Toronto. (Read Kelly Nestruck's Globe and Mail rave review here and it played at the National in London - to raves - last year). This is an exciting new work that should be in several seasons aacross the country. But is it? Nope.
The far more enraging example of an ignored work is Brad Fraser's 5@50. It premiered, last night, in Manchester. Yup, the one t'England. Fraser's play is about five women at 50. Canada is jam-packed with brilliant female actors "of a certain age." This is a rare play written for them. I do not know if it is good or bad. I just know it's a play I want to read. It also happens to be by a playwright who is important and Canadian. I contacted Mr. Fraser, an FB friend, and asked him if anyone here - in the whole country - had contacted him or his agent to at least read his new play.
I say it again: no one. Not an artistic director, not a theatre reader, not a producer. No...one.
What this tells me is that artistic directors can be on Facebook or have their peons follow Twitter but they are not getting two points about the social networks and the web: a) these things are not just there to flog products and chat with fans and to appear hip but also to actually be at the forefront of theatrical discourse b) they are there to get the news about theatre.
Equus is a great work, in context....
One other thing these communication networks are for is getting into the heads of the new generation of theatre-goers. For instance, this week, my young colleague Rachel Zuroff wrote a review of Village Scene's production of Equus. Right away, on reading it, I entered an e-mail discussion with CharPo's Editor-in-Chief, Estelle Rosen. What we realized is that the play, a work the two of us saw as a monument, had not hit Rachel at all the same way. Moreover, the points she made about it were perfectly valid. Equus is a great work, in context....but think about it: the fingerprints of that play are all over works of the 30 years since the play was presented (Tableau d'Hote's recent Humans comes immediately to mind). Equus may very well have become a cliché even if it is the source of all those clichés! (There's a discussion for your next dinner party!)
The point is that our cultural leaders must do more than pretend to be in the know about world theatre and how it is changing, they must go beyond the latest issue of the Sunday New York Times and use the new technologies to save their companies and, in the process, secure the future of the art itself.