Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Some Theatres Get the Blogosphere, Some Don't

There's a very interesting post up at Chloe Veltman's Lies Like Truth today called The Perils of Institutional Blogging. Give this a quick read:

Many arts institutions are launching blogs these days. In some ways, the advent of institutional blogging makes perfect sense: Blogs provide an easy, interactive and cheap way to reach out to audiences and provide them with more detailed insights into such areas as the artistic process, the latest ticket deals and how an organization runs on a day-to-day basis.

But in the process of figuring out what content to put on their blogs, the tone and style of entries, whom should be responsible for authoring them and with what regularity posts should be added, arts organizations frequently come unstuck. Lately, I've heard several slightly worrying stories concerning issues that have arisen as a result of institutional blogging which highlights the differences between blogging as an outsider (like me) and blogging as the spokesperson for an institution.

The most alarming tale I've heard was of a young staffer at a theatre company who was given the job of blogging about the process of rehearsing a production of a play by a famous playwright. The playwright was closely involved in the rehearsal process and the blog focused quite significantly on his presence in the rehearsal room. The blogger did what most outside bloggers do: He gave his opinions. Unfortunately, these opinions weren't altogether positive. When the playwright saw the blog entries on the theatre company's website, he demanded an apology from the theatre company. The young blogger got his fingers burned and the incident put a strain on the company's relationship with the playwright.

And this got me thinking: Why do some theatres get it and some don't? After all, here in New York many of the nonprofit institutional theatres are continuing to invite certain members of the theatrosphere to see early previews, knowing fully that their latest production may be reviewed prior to the rest of the media crew, thus running the real risk of hurting the playwright, director and the actors, but offering them something theoretically tangible in terms of potential buzz and all the other things that have been debated ad nauseum. Other theatres, meanwhile, sort of get the idea of the blogosphere but fail to anticipate situations like the one Veltman describes. I put a comment on her blog:
Part of the problem, too, is that theatres don't think through just who the audience is for such blogs. For example, if the idea is to create a production blog so that subscribers can have another window into the process -- some theatres are doing virtually the same thing with so-called "open rehearsals" -- then I think the institution can put on some controls, such as not allowing comments. I realize this doesn't directly address the question of what an insider can or should blog about, for example, the comportment of a playwright during a difficult moment, but perhaps the theatre can also have an agreement with the playwright before the process begins in terms of what will or will not appear on the blog. When you think about it, in a situation like the one you describe, how is a blog unlike a reality TV show? People who agree to appear on reality TV receive and sign extensive contracts; they know what they're getting into before things move forward. Why shouldn't theatres be up front about who may or may not be blogging, and what may or may not be written in those blogs, before the blogging begins? At that point, all the creative stakeholders may voice their objection and the theatre can either smooth things out or not. I mean, if an insider blogs about an actor -- positive or negative -- does that mean Equity implicitly approves? I tend to think not. Unless theatres think about blog in a comprehensive way, these kinds of tales will continue to crop up, and I fear with ever more problematic endings. (I'd love to be on your blogroll, by the way.)


Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

I second the need for arts orgs to think through a.) who is actually reading the blog and b.) the audience they want to read the blog. I believe that some analysis of who's clicking many of the institutional blogs would reveal an overwhelming percentage of hits coming from inside the building. Especially is the blog is a carbon copy (remember those?) of PR and marketing materials.

For one with personality, check out the Indianapolis Museum of Art's blog at

Lou Harry
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Indianapolis Business Journal

Art said...

Smaller, younger companies have an advantage in that egos don't seem to be as much in play.

Here in Boston, the two large LORT's, the ART and the Huntington, take very different approaches.

The Huntington blog is maintained, very regularly, by Production Manager Todd Williams. It provides some great backstage photos of sets being constructed, video interviews with cast and crew and is a good source for some early news about the productions. But it doesn't take many risks at all. But the blog does link to outside blogs, Thom Garvey and I have been mentioned there.

The ART takes a very different approach. Each show they do seems to shape the blog.

During their production of Cardenio, they posted audience feedback, unfiltered. This was actually a surprising bit of transparency - some of the comments were not at all flattering.

Often the participants in the production will become the official bloggers for production. Some of these types of posts will tend toward the "everybody-gets-along-great" variety. But every now and then there is an artist who has no qualms about opening it up.

I function in the corporate world as well, and a very hard thing for organizations to get a handle on.

Thomas Garvey said...

I second Art's note about the American Repertory Theatre - I, too, have been surprised by the very negative comments they've allowed on their blog. On the other hand, the Huntington's blog is usually more fun, actually - and it's clearly a form of advertising for the theatre. I don't think there's anything wrong with that; and can we all stop pretending it's somehow desirable to open up a blog to whoever feels like posting? (I recently shut down comments on my blog after crazy attacks and physical threats began coming over the transom.) The practice of inviting bloggers in before the mainstream press, in the hope that they'll build "buzz" (but keep their mouths shut if they don't like what they see), is of course a different kettle of fish, and actually strikes me as undermining the "mission" of blogs (if there is one). I'd never do that, and I'd wonder at any blogger who did.