Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.
December 16, 2009, by

Blog this, Canada: a theatrospherical State of the Union – Round 2

Guest Post by Simon Ogden of Vancouver’s The Next Stage – second in a series…


Greetings, my fellow Canadians (and theatre fans around the world), my name is Simon and I’m a blogging advocate. Which basically means I’m enamored with the potential power of internet self-publication as a business tool. I’ve been using it to much success in the past few years, and so I’m officially convinced of both its practicality and potency. Mike asked me if I would care to elaborate here (and over on my own blog), and having just publicly declared myself a blogging advocate, I had really no choice. We’re going to ping-pong a conversation about the Canadian theatrosphere spurred by Michael Rubenfeld over at Summerworks between us for a while, and see where it goes. We would be delighted if you would join the conversation, if you do your comments may be published in the hard-copy compilation in Works magazine. And we hope you do.

Preamble over, on to the business at hand…


(it will really help to understand what follows)

Thanks M-Dub (if no one calls you that they should, it’s dope. S.O. just sounds like a shrug). It’s a topic that I have a peculiar amount of verve about, so this should be a good conversation. And hopefully an inspiring one.

“While the digital revolution hasn’t changed theatre much…”

Four years ago I made a prediction that the rise of the blogosphere would radically change theatre in Canada. Change it in the way practitioners thought about the way they produce work, in the way resources were shared and in the dramatic expansion of the audience base. At this point I’m prepared to say that I wasn’t altogether wrong in this prediction, but I would certainly excise the word “radically” from that sentence. The internet is proving to be a tough monster to wrangle for our particular discipline, the growth of the Canadian theatrosphere so far has proven to be relatively slow. That is, relative to tech-centric arts communities; photographers and digital artists have a surfeit of chatter to engage with on line.

It’s essential here at the outset that we define what we mean by ‘the theatrosphere’, and what exactly it means when it uses the term ‘theatre blogging’. There are a lot of active theatre blogs that aren’t really part of the theatrosphere, these are self-contained sites – usually company blogs – that post solely on their own business. These are marketing sites, and have little or no interaction with the rest of the industry online. The theatrosphere uses social media for two distinct agendas – and yes, sometimes those agendas get muddied – to market our work, and to engage in dynamic, real-time conversation with our fellows. If you’re not connecting across borders, you’re not part of the conversation. This, in a nutshell, is the great hope of the core concept of theatre blogging: to create an inter-connected, self-supported, crowd-sourcing resource hub that anyone can plug into.

To put it another way, the theatrosphere is a big ol’ cocktail party that’s always running. It’s a klatch full of a crazy array of personalities, from brash and irritating to gentle and wise. But always highly opinionated, and therein lies its true promise. I hear young theatre artists constantly complaining about how cliquey an industry independent theatre is, about how tough it is to break into ‘the scene’. What they’re talking about is information sharing; where does your audience come from, what is it about your process that works for you, how do you get to know the critics? Etc, etc. I don’t believe that we’re cliquey at all, actually, we’re an art form that does its work in little groups in little dark rooms that require a certain bond of trust to get the most from the process itself. We’re not snobby, we’re just busy. And we’d all like to meet regularly to socialize and network, but who has the time? Making the time to make connections is the next stage in the evolution of the indie theatre industry, and the internet offers the most economic solution to time-manage our networking and marketing efforts.

And yet we still lack a true National connectivity. Or even a regional one. I have amazing connections in my niche across the country (not even counting the inspiration and assistance I get from theatre bloggers in the US – which has a busier if not a more comprehensive blog community – and the rest of the world), but the actual amount of theatre practitioners walking into this cocktail party is shockingly small. Engagement is so easy to measure on the blogosphere, because the platforms themselves tell you when someone is talking to you or about you. There is still only a handful of engaged theatre bloggers across the entire country. I know of exactly zero East of the Rockies until you hit Toronto, then a couple in Ottawa and…that’s pretty much it. Where are the theatre bloggers, Canada? Edmonton? Winnipeg? What’s up?

As for the question of comics marketing themselves on social media better than theatre, well, maybe. But it’s kind of apples and oranges, stand-up comedy is YouTube friendly, it fulfils it’s core objective – to make you laugh – on the computer almost as much as it does live. But theatre’s objectives – to make you feel, connect, respond viscerally – just don’t translate that well to 2D. Televised theatre looks like crap, unless it’s shot well and then it suffers the iniquity of being mutated into a different medium. On top of that, the public at large understands stand-up, it’s something they already want, while they still mostly think of us as tight-wearing, Elizabethan-blathering bores. So we have to get mighty creative with how we sell ourselves on the web. It’s happening, there are some wonderful explorations in digital marketing going on in our corner of art, but it is truly in its infancy. To grow it’s going to need a movement. We have to find some way of selling the power of blogging to the world of theatre, to create a true National presence. To brand independent theatre as a mighty, united force to be reckoned with. And then the people will come.

Simon, I certainly agree with what you say in terms of comedy being a much friendlier video medium. I haven’t figured out any way to create a video to promote a play reading festival so if someone has ideas I’d love to listen.

I know for me that I’m a lot less engaged in blogs, even my own, because of needing more time away from the computer and from Twitter. Twitter’s much less time consuming way of receiving and conveying information. I’m not sure if that says something about me or if that’s a trend in general. The more growth there is, the more overwhelmed I feel by it all.

I’m curious to see where this experiment between the two of you leads. I’m one of those lucky people who have met both of you and have a ton of respect for how the two of you manage to stay engaged in the blogosphere on top of all the other things you do.

Twitter’s really got you, eh? I totally get it, there’s been a real waning of the blogoshpere since twitter tipped. And that’s probably a good thing, full posts tend to be fewer and farther between, but the quality has escalated.

Another tick in the win column for twitter.

There actually were a ton of theatre co’s here that had never blogged that jumped on twitter, it’s my sincere hope that it proves a gateway to full blogging. Because I’d really love to hear about their work from the artist’s perspective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. Michael says:

    Wow. That’s a lot to respond to.

    First off – Thanks for joining in MK. Certainly Twitter a less demanding mode of communication. Still, I tried to explain what Twitter was to my family last weekend and they were all like, “why on earth would anyone do that?” Despite it catching on with politicians, journalists, celebrities, etc. a lot of “normal” people are wary of another thing they have to add to their lists of things they have to do that they didn’t have to do before. So your fatigue is widespread I think. If they keep inventing new things, (lets not even go into foursquare today) they can’t expect us all to use all of them.

    Simon – I want to grab on to something interesting and possibly controversial that I agree with that you wrote:

    “There are a lot of active theatre blogs that aren’t really part of the theatrosphere, these are self-contained sites – usually company blogs – that post solely on their own business. These are marketing sites, and have little or no interaction with the rest of the industry online.”

    I agree. If a blog is just a clearinghouse for press releases and opening night photos – dedicated only to materials that directly promote the company that runs the blog – it’s not part of the theatrosphere. I mean, every site is a marketing site, so I’m don’t think that’s what disqualifies them, but the interconnectivity and community that is created by talking to and linking to other artists and ideas is a core characteristic.

    There is a little bit of humble pie to be eaten by theatre artists here too, because this is true in part because periodic updates about our organizations are not interesting enough on their own. People simply won’t come back on a regular basis to check in on what has been cut-and-pasted lately. There has to be a more rewarding relationship to attract regular readership. This requires something I’m not sure a lot of organizations have wrapped their minds around yet:

    Good theatre blogging costs money.

    If you actually want people to come to your website regularly and gain an attachment and interest in your artists and art you are creating through this medium, then you probably need to pay someone smart and articulate to organize that for you. Because essentially you are committing to running a mini-newspaper about yourselves and it can’t be run by whatever high school intern shows up that week. This is not necessarily something a chronically under-funded industry wants to hear, but I think it’s probably the biggest barrier to growth and the only way these stand-alone sites can actually participate in and be members of the theatrosphere in a meaningful way.

    I have more to say about YouTube and theatre and comedy differences, but I’ll save it for now – what do you think: Can theatres find a way to include social media as a staffing cost in their budgets? Should they? Is it a valuable enough return to justify the expense?

  2. Manda Kennedy says:

    I feel like I have to answer your question because when I eventually sit down to update my job description here at Tarragon, it will have to include something along the lines of “Investigating social media opportunities, as well as creating and implementing Tarragon’s social media strategy” in addition to the regular updating of the website.

    I am being paid to be on Facebook. To understand how to advertise there, how to run a Fan Page, how to engage (and when not too), how, when and what to post. I’m paid to help maintain the e-mail database, and to determine who to contact, how and why, and on top of all that, I’m paid to read blogs like this. Learning what other people are doing and using, and what they think of those tools and techniques is part of my job.

    This isn’t necessarily the job I was hired to do, but it’s what my job has become, partly because of my own skill set, but mostly because I have the good fortune to be involved with a company that is willing to explore social media and online content in a thoughtful and deliberate way.

    There is a lot that Tarragon (meaning the whole team here) don’t do. We don’t blog. We aren’t on Twitter. We are only very recently begun creating a YouTube presence.

    We don’t blog (and we aren’t on Twitter) because of the very reason you mentioned: I want to engage, not broadcast. We aren’t willing to commit as an organization to putting in the resources to blog effectively, and I agree with that choice. I’m one of the main advocates of us not having blog at the moment! I’ll spare you my exhaustive thoughts on Twitter: I just don’t think it’s an efficient tool for us.

    Would I like to do more? Yes! Am I happy with what we’ve achieved with the limited money and time we’ve got? Definitely, I think we’ve made some good choices. Will I continue to troll all sorts of blogs, Twitter accounts, Fan Pages and other sites to discover new tools and justifications for my time spent on social media? Absolutely.

    There is so much I could address in the earlier posts, but before I succumb to all the fascinating questions I’ve not answered and the brilliant tangents that are possible, I wanted to address your final question, since it’s certainly extremely relevant to business of creating theatre: What is the return on investment?

    I think we need to recognize that the investment made and the objective of blogs and other social media will be, and probably should be, different for every company, every one-off production and every individual creator. Our mandates are different and we have different goals which will determine which of the plethora of tools we use, and also, how we determine and measure the ROI.

    I cannot turn to you and say that every $1 of time and money I invest in Tarragon’s presence on Facebook returns X amount of dollars (Yet! On a show-by-show basis, I actually can make some sensible estimates). I have several gauges and several different goals I keep in mind when I track online engagement with tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and YouTube statistics, as well as our own box office database. When I look at these in the context of our mandate and our goals, I think we are making progress in the right direction.

    Obviously, you can’t measure your ROI until you know what goals you have for that investment. As non-profits or ‘social profits’ some of what we do will not be strictly tied to the bottom line, but tied instead to what we seek to provide to the community we serve.

    So my questions for any company or creator that isn’t currently investing in social media or their online presence in a serious way are these:
    What goals do you have which can be served by social media?
    Which tools will be an effective and economic way to serve those goals?

  3. Kris Joseph says:

    Manda — I did NOT just see you write “I don’t blog because I want to engage”. Oh wait — yes I did! There it is — in your comment, where you engaged with this blog!

    Aside from my general thoughts on the Canadian theatre (and world theatre) fear of new media, I am particularly galvanized by this discussion’s slant towards the notion that blogs and Twitter require immense amounts of work. And I find it so typically Canadian that the response to this has been — for many “larger” theatres — to create STAFF positions to address the problem. So you’ve got some person in the office who’s paid to blog and tweet and manage a fan page, but that person is not an engaged artist working with the company, so that person has to find out what the engaged artists are doing and then package that in a way that’s “engaging” and then send it out. The notion is so odd — creating a staff position to handle new media is actually an exercise in spinning wheels. No wonder nobody gets traction.

    I think the engagement of theatre arts with the ‘net has to come from the ground: the designers, crew, actors, directors, and playwrights working directly on material. If I have PERMISSION from the relevant guilds and unions (and there’s ANOTHER bear of an issue) all I have to do is carry an iPhone in my pocket and I can shoot footage of my wig fitting and snap pics of my set being built and record clips of rehearsal and BINGO — the content creates itself.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t take work — but the notion of building a silo in the theatre building from within which this work must emanate somehow — magically — is mind-boggling to me. Theatre companies are RIGHT not to want to do it that way.

  4. Manda Kennedy says:

    I don’t blog in the sense I don’t manage a blog for my organization, nor support the idea of us having a blog at the moment. Apologies, if that wasn’t clear.

    You nailed a few really important points: There is the issue of that damn permissions that we are told are so necessary and so vague (much of which is rooted in the fear of new media I think), and I’m huge fan of the idea of identifying content, rather than thinking of our ourselves as having to go out and create it. The content is right in front of us.

    But in the middle of six other fittings and needing to have lunch and a production meeting before running off to the preview of another show or an audition, or whatever one of the dozen balls that many artists and arts workers have to keep in the air in order to making a decent living… I think it’s fair to seriously ask yourself: Who wants to see my wig fitting? Is there enough of audience to warrant this investment of time? What is the method of sharing it and how do I attract the audience I think I have? I’m all for trying something and seeing what sticks, but in a situation short on money and people, I think you have to make some choices up front as well. That is why I ask how do your tools and your content serve your goals.

    There is no point in just broadcasting, and broadcasting can be a set rendering as easily as it can be a dull old press release. People are getting fatigued, and they have more ways each day to ignore you.

    It’s not the doing that takes the largest chunk of the time, it’s the thinking about how to do this in a purposeful and effective way.

    I’m not going to argue for a second against engaged artists taking the lead on this. That would be fantastic and a really interesting departure from the the what does seem to be the common approach. The largest hurdle for me is that the vast majority of our artists are one with the organization for a limited period of very tightly scheduled time. Individuals, or theaters with resident companies, might have any easier time making their artists direct engagement with the ‘net a consistent and expected thing.

    I can’t agree that there is an intrinsic problem with a staff person taking this on: You hire a graphic designer, you probably hire someone to build a website, you might even hire a publicist or a telemarketer, you might hire someone who does a large chunk of your grant writing… An arts organization or an individual artist may hire a lot of different people who are responsive and responsible to the artist and the work, and whose job is to help to craft messages for the desired purpose, and then “package … in a way that’s “engaging” and then send it out”. There is nothing magical or silo-esque about any of that. It’s hard damn work and requires constant dialogue.

    Obviously I have a rather narrow perspective on this. As I mentioned in my first post, this is my first job post-graduation and this job is evolving, a lot. I wont hold myself up as someone who does this really well, but I will advocate, regardless of who does it, they better be very serious about doing it well and consistently, or else they are definitely be spinning their wheels.

  5. Kris Joseph says:

    I certainly don’t mean to imply that having staff to support the activity of a theatre company has no value — certainly not, and I can bend your ear with great stories of how my new-media-exploits on my current contract are being supported and facilitated by staff people. I do think the “silo” approach to theatre is inefficient, though. But that’s a little off-topic, so I’ll just point you at one of Chad Bauman’s great blog posts on the subject, here:

    I think there’s great value in referring back to Simon’s metaphor of the theatrosphere as a ongoing cocktail party. Right now there are a growing number of people who’ve heard there’s a cocktail party going on. “Some cool people are there,” they think, “and cocktail parties seem like a really good idea. But I have to be up early in the morning, and I’m really not sure what I want to get OUT of the cocktail party, so maybe this isn’t the right time. It’s not the kind of cocktail party I like, anyway — the music is loud, and let’s be honest: I prefer the kind of party where everyone is sitting politely in the dark with their cell-phones off watching important people play charades and reflecting on how awesome the experience is. Besides, I think it’s really important that we have a vision for what OUR Cocktail Party Experience should be before we go rushing off to just any old party. Is this party using industry-proven Best Party Practices? Because unless I can prove to my friends that I met at least Six Valuable People, which is a Clearly-Defined Goal for my Planned Party-Going Experience, the whole thing will be a waste of my time! And if I DO go, we’ll have to have a Party Post-Mortem tomorrow to figure out if the party was a good idea, and whether or not we should go to the next one.” Well… in the meantime, the party’s going on without those people. And the people AT the party are meeting other people, sometimes connecting and MANY times not connecting. Success ISN’T guaranteed — life sucks that way — but you have to be present, at least, to get any benefit.

    So COME ON, people. Just put on a clean shirt and GO TO THE PARTY. Leave yourself open to who you might meet and what you might talk about once you’re there. You can test the waters by DOING, or you can plan too much, and miss the party altogether. I don’t care how much I get teased for it: snapping a quick pic and tweeting a caption only takes a few seconds, and costs nothing. MAYBE nobody will like it. Maybe everybody will. I may be sick of rehearsing Scene Four for 30 hours, but to somebody who never rehearses anything (read: someone who normally doesn’t ATTEND THEATRE), this could be cool and interesting stuff they’ve never heard before. Or maybe the ONE person who has a wig fitting fetish and loves my twitpic is also a patron, or a media person, or a philanthropist, or a historian, or a playwright, and that person responds, which starts a relationship that can bear an infinite variety of fruit over time.

    ARTISTS, I firmly believe, need to start looking at this stuff with the same level of priority they give to things like keeping their resume up-to-date and keeping on top of audition postings and agent relationships. It’s a critical part of the business and, Manda, your job will get EASIER once you have artists around you who come to YOU and say “how can I help?”. Right now, the average theatre artists’ response to technology like this is like the marketing director asking for cast headshots and hearing “oh, I don’t HAVE one of those. Is that important?” in response.

    And I want to talk about the issue with permissions, as well, because it is a constant source of frustration for me. We live in a world where average, normal people are using these tools ALL THE TIME: my neighbours have their own channel on YouTube. My buddy updates his Flickr stream constantly. Some kid at MIT has a Twitter account for his FLOWER GARDEN. Students half my age are shooting great-looking and creative videos, using their iPhones, on their weekends. And WE have a bunch of guilds and unions — everyone from Equity to ACTRA to IATSE — reacting in varying degrees with the same kind of outdated, protectionist claptrap that is killing the traditional broadcast and recording industries. They are (back to the metaphor) standing OUTSIDE the cocktail party, peeking in the window between bouts of navel-gazing, fretting about how going to the party will affect their income and the livelihood of old codgers who never liked parties in the first place. The problem definitely lies in their court, but folks who are making headway in this area need to throw that window open, show them the air is fertile rather than toxic, and invite them in.

    Sometimes — I’ll freely admit it — I break the rules ON PURPOSE, just to prove that nobody has to go on the dole because I shot a 30-second clip of a lit set. In fact, these things sell tickets; they raise the profile of the work; they connect artists to one another. Hell, sometimes they do NONE of those things — but they DON’T HURT and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

    One final point, on inundation. Some people get DO annoyed by all the email and Facebook messages. And at that cocktail party — as Simon said — some folks are gentle and wise, and some are obnoxious and crass. There is work to be done in matching content to the right tool, and in terms of style and etiquette, but this comes with learning and experimentation — we can all participate here and learn together. In the early days of the web and email, people did all sorts of silly things, but we learn by doing and by sharing with other people who are doing. For example, I can tweet a pic of a wig fitting, but I dare not spend three hours writing a blog post about it, or an evening editing a video of a wig being put on my head. And NOBODY wants an email newsletter with “SEE A PIC OF MY WIG FITTING!” as a headline.

    Some media — like email — is serial: people are expected to read every piece they get. Other media — like Twitter — is parallel: it’s like having 200 channels on my TV; I’m NEVER going to sit down and watch everything that was broadcast on every channel, but my friends tell me what shows they like, and once in a while I get told about something cool that I then choose to track down. Trepidation about getting into some forms of new media is sometimes a belief that the new thing is serial (like THEATRE — the thing we KNOW — AHA!), rather than parallel (the thing we’re afraid of).

  6. […] back-and-forth between us and Praxis Theatre soon, for now there’s a comment on the last entry left by Ottawa actor/blogger/bon vivante Kris Joseph that demands its own post. Because it manages […]

  7. […] theatrosphere started by Michael Wheeler from Praxis Theatre in Toronto. Read Round 1 here, Round 2 here, and Round 2.5: a Kris Joseph Intermezzo here. It always amazes me that the people who should be […]

  8. […] can read Round 1 here, Round 2 here, and Round 2.5: a Kris Joseph Intermezzo […]

  9. ridwanzero says:

    Everyone has their favorite way of using the internet. Many of us search to find what we want, click in to a specific website, read what’s available and click out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s efficient. We learn to tune out things we don’t need and go straight for what’s essential.


  10. […] between The Next Stage and Praxis Theatre, the Canadian branch of the theatrosphere: Round 1, Round 2, Round 2.5, Round 3. There is a lot of good stuff in each post. While I already have made some […]

  11. […] been talking about this with Mike and some others here recently, and basically getting down on my knees and begging theatre […]

  12. […] Canadian theatrosphere, hosted by Simon at The Next Stage and Michael at Praxis Theatre. (Round 1, Round 2, Round 2.5, Round 3, for those who want to read the whole thing. An abbreviated version will show […]