So where do we go?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Some of this is info you need, some of it is bitching and moaning. You are warned...
CharPo-Canada is sliding into its second anniversary in September but before we launched officially we test-drove for two months to see if such a project had legs - would it be as popular as our Montreal site? During the test period it passed that test and since we became a unique site in January traffic has exploded - going up 500% since then.
I'm proud of that and the site, proud of the dozens of collaborators, delighted that CharPo is an integral part of the national discussion on theatre. What it has shown us is that the bet national editor-in-chief Estelle Rosen and I made at the project's beginning - that theatre (pitifully covered in newspapers - a situation getting worse) needed more coverage.
What we didn't bet on was that the explosive growth in our readership would be reflected in an explosive growth in work. Despite having magnificent editors bearing huge burdens in three other cities, it is not unusual for Estelle and I to put in 40-60 hours a week each; maintaining the site, frequenting our Twitter and Facebook feeds, reading press kits and trying to stay up on theatre news. I can do this because I am on a disability allowance. The project, however, has also cost money. Not much, but enough to make things difficult.
The internet continues to be the hub of discussion, networking and creativity.
Now, whining over, here are some lessons I have learned and some are less happy than others:
- the Canada Council is broken. I knew this a long time ago, from the many, many theatre people - highly talented and relentlessly hard-working - who gave up on theatre while waiting for grants. That there is nothing in the Council which vaguely deals with online cultural discussion says a lot about this anachronistic dinosaur.
- you can get all the praise in the universe but it will probably never translate into one red cent of support. This is not a whine; this is becoming a reality of the internet. "Cyber-serf" is a fact - ask any freelance writer, journalist, or - especially - a non-commercial internet-site manager. There are hundreds of theories as to why that is but they boil down to "people are cheap" - if it's free, yes, if not I'll move on to the porn, torrent, or a streaming site that is. Personally, I blame Napster. Then there is me: I have personally trained people to expect something for nothing: by ceding internet rights to my articles to publishers, by creating the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia reference site, and by innocently embarking on a grand project and dragging people into it I swore to pay some day. That day may come! Don't get me wrong! But no organization can hold onto committed volunteers forever. I know - I have burnt out at several organizations I've worked at and have seriously burnt out days on this one.
- a culture-supporting internet visionary is now vitally necessary. Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs and Bezos created interesting paradigms that actually seemed artistically enabling in their time but a sea-change may be in the works that has the internet collapsing in on itself. In this world - and this is already the case in theatre - creativity once again becomes seen as eccentric and artists as hobbyists. Theatres - real and metaphorical - are being torn down for office towers and shopping malls.
- an organization like CharPo and, for that matter, a non-funded theatre, needs a full time business manager working on commission - a percentage of funds raised. These kinds of professionals are not a dime a dozen.
The internet continues to be the hub of discussion, networking and creativity. One must believe that - probably in this new generation which has never not known the internet and its capabilities - there is an artist/coder à la Jacob Niedzwiecki who will find that key.
In the meantime, people like me will continue to tend to the feudal lord's farms. We will exhaust ourselves reading, researching, studying trends, articles and stats not just to find our way outside the box, but in hopes of finding a brand new one.