This is the first week that After Dark, my weekly op-ed, will be published on both CharPo-Montreal (CPM) and CharPo-Canada (CPC). The thoughts I have put in previous columns have mostly been inspired by events local to Montreal; starting this week I will be looking at issues which are inspired from readings and surfings national and, even, international, but which should (I hope!) have a resonance with theatre-goers and creators in Montreal and across the country.
I have spent the last month putting together the links page for CPC (as, also, I gathered names and addresses for our national mailing list). The same criticisms I had of local web sites certainly apply to many, many across the country: aimless design (dead links), use of Flash technology (which cannot be seen by many mobile devices), pages which provide information on last season instead of the next (it's nearly August, fercrissakes!) and not much to create a buzz for the upcoming year. Worse, about 25% of the sites provided names for contacts who don't work there anymore.
I'm sure, somewhere, there were Facebook pages for these events and maybe even Twitter accounts but everything indicated: fly-by-night.
If the major houses are doing "business" this way, then it should come as no surprise the small theatre organizations are even worse.
As I prepared a list of source-sites for the information which will appear here, I also noticed - in the various arts pages and publications - information for shows which were coming, would have short runs and would subsequently disappear into the nether unreviewed and, largely, unviewed. More information for these productions was usually impossible to find elsewhere: no websites for the company, no histories or bios, no lists of previous productions...dick. I'm sure, somewhere, there were Facebook pages for these events and maybe even Twitter accounts but everything indicated: fly-by-night. It is hard for both commentators and audiences to get excited by these theatrical outings. One must assume that, like so many Fringe shows, they're mounted for family and friends and are not expected to be taken seriously at all.
Except I know that's not the case. I know for a fact some of the people involved are serious theatre practitioners - recognizable names - who should know better.
So where is the disconnect? Well, it is partly in approach and partly in hierarchy. PR has to be considered from the very start of the process of creation and someone has got to be assigned to deal with it. In many cases the person creating the show must also be its jack-of-all-trades (designer, dramaturg, director, publicist).
...polyvalence and cooperative thinking in approaching theatre also feeds back into the work of the play.
I get this. I did this. I had a good old-fashioned fritz-out as a young man because of this. What I didn't realize then and what production heads must understand now, is that those "fragile creatures" - the actors - are perfectly capable and willing to help with the scut-work: researching mailing lists, manning phones, creating websites on free sites, answering email. Actors - who aren't utter narcissistic arseholes - are prepared to do this because they all know learning how to do it provides tools for survival in this wicked art form. (You'd also be surprised how many are excited about learning about YouTube, Twitter and Garage Band, too.)
Moreover, most theatre people - members of the chorus, dancers, musicians, set builders (indeed the vast army of "fragile creatures" involved in a show) - know polyvalence and cooperative thinking in approaching theatre also feeds back into the work of the play.
Funny how that works, ain't it? Indeed, it's a good theatre lesson: having proficiencies outside of your core talent is never a bad idea. As a matter of fact, it's a good life lesson too as we never know what we'll need to survive the zombie apocalypse.