O the ill-lit, often lonely corners of the Internet where theater-company blogs reside!
O the carefully eked-out production notes and interviews and dramaturgy, still photos and videos and audio conversations—sometimes engaging, sometimes profound, sometimes beautiful—that end for eternity with Comments (0)!
Unless a relative, friend, or fellow company member sees it, in which case Comments (1)!
O the virtual quiet corners, so near the on-line Hamsterdams where stories, photos, and ideas bustle and thrive!
O what can be done?
Tennessee Williams did a useful thing: useful for him as a playwright, and useful for his Broadway producers. On Sunday mornings before the Broadway opening of A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the New York Times published a personal essay by Williams about his new play. These essays, which now serve as introductions in the print version of each play, are pure Tennessee: funny, tragic, melodic, baroque, sentimental, and—if his writing is your thing—as good as the plays themselves.
If Williams had, instead, published these essays in the program for the play, or in a newsletter for Broadway subscribers, he would only be reaching theatergoers.
Instead, Williams was able to reach people who might not go to plays, might assume that Broadway plays are always as jaunty as The Man Who Came to Dinner, and who, if asked, would say that theater is not for them.
But the voice of Tennessee Williams reached non-theatergoing readers, some of whom would connect deeply with that voice, or be entertained by it, and would want to follow that writer into his chosen medium.
It would benefit a theater company to ask: is there a publication (print or, more likely, on-line) that would have an interest in what we’re doing, in this particular show? Is there a community discussing the issues of this play, or a group that overlaps with its cultural context or else the background or professions of its characters? Is there a place to write about this play—or have a conversation about it, or post photos or interviews— somewhere where no theater company has ever tread before?
A theater company’s blog is the equivalent of signs in a theater lobby, giving deeper or redundant information to those who have already found the show. And it certainly can serve a purpose for subscribers, giving regular theatergoers (and potential ones who are considering clicking the mouse to buy tickets) a context and impression for the show.
But will it reach the folks who are passionate about the subject matter of the play, or the setting, or the particular style, but who do not have an active interest in theater itself?
What Williams did is one useful example. Here’s another.
Oracle Theater is a small Chicago storefront company. Its space holds about 25 seats. Its current show is Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata.
A few weeks ago, a film critic with deeper bona fides in his field than any working theater critic in town, happened to see The Ghost Sonata, and happened to write about and recommend it on his blog. He is not a regular theatergoer, but had a particular interest in this play. In turn, his blog post reached many readers who both respect Rosenbaum’s perspective and are not regular theatergoers.
Similarly, Monica Eng, a food reporter for the Chicago Tribune, recently wrote about Albany Park Theater Project’s Feast, and by doing so reached an entirely new audience who never see plays but would likely take interest in this particular one. Eng writes: “I walked in as a curious local foodie, but walked out as an astonished food-policy journalist with a new perspective on her beat.”
Almost no one can get Ebert to review their play, or get the New York Times to publish their essay. But who is out there—among all the writers who write with authority and passion about something other than theater, among all the websites, publications, and conversations that might overlap with your production—who might take a great interest in the work your company is making? Who might not care at all about the medium of theater, or even the arts in general, but cares deeply about the matter within?