Tuesday, November 29, 2011

After Dark, November 29, 2011

Come Blow Your Horn
CharPo celebrates
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of The Charlebois Post. Last November 30, I responded to a personal attack by a theatre journalist on colleagues of mine (who were doing volunteer work for the theatre community) by filling a void I felt existed in Montreal theatre coverage.

Artists responded wondrously with articles - ostensibly about one show - that were personal, intelligent and, especially, wise.

I had no idea how insanely successful The Charlebois Post - Montreal would be and in such a short time. To show you how much I underestimated its success, I called it The Charlebois Post - a goof, a tongue-in-cheek take on what I always felt was the hubris of Ariana Huffington in calling her site Huff Post. Before I knew it, though, CharPo has become a kind of brand - literally within days.

Within weeks Estelle Rosen, whom I had invited to be Editor-in-Chief and I were seeing booming traffic on the site and realized - ready or not - we would have to expand; enlist volunteers to review and write. Before long we fell into our winning formula: asking artists to SHARE their work (rather than merely plug it). Artists responded wondrously with articles - ostensibly about one show - that were personal, intelligent and, especially, wise. These articles became an essential part of the site, even as reviews of plays by voices other than those of the usual suspects (including myself) also developed huge readerships.

Theatre artists across the country began to suggest a national version of Montreal's site. Estelle and I, only five months into the project, began CONSIDERING it. We needed to consider carefully the time required, the teams we could put into place across the country and what we were demanding of ourselves. The one thing that tipped the balance, I think, was how much fun we were having on the Montreal site and how positive the reaction was. Even when tempers flared in the community - as reflected in comments following articles - they always came back to centre. Very little moderation of comments was required - commentators controlled each other.

The Canadian site is now three months old.

After the Montreal Fringe, where CharPo (with a terrific team of reviewers) truly came into its own, Estelle and I decided to take the next step. The Charlebois Post - Canada. This would not have been possible if my niece and collaborator, Émilie Charlebois, had gone to Columbia instead of Ryerson. I knew we had a solid editor in Toronto. Then Mark Leiren-Young came on for Vancouver, Stewart Legere from Halifax, Natasha Gauthier for Ottawa and Anne Nothof for Edmonton and all was well in our world. The Canadian site is now three months old.

A terrific sidetrack, and a nice fit into the CharPo project, was This Is The CPC. Frank Moher, a writer from Nanaimo and a collaborator from my days with The Canadian Theatre Enclyclopedia (as was Anne Nothof), put a bee in my bonnet: with all the cutbacks to coverage of theatre in newspapers, radio and television, why not do a podcast?

We also want to see more of a conversation among bloggers and theatre websites across the country...

Everything began to fit. The initial idea for CharPo was to promote Montreal English-language theatre (MELT), this could be done by bringing it to national attention at CPC and the podcast as well. And, additionally, Canadian theatre could become the same kind of conversation between artists and then artist and spectator that we had road-tested on CPM.

There are still bugs, needless to say. We want more coverage of Atlantic Canada as well as regular reviewers in Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg...for starters. We also want to see more of a conversation among bloggers and theatre websites across the country so that a complete picture of theatre is given and resources (artist interviews, etc) don't get exhausted. We have no idea how this would work but six months ago we had no idea how to do a podcast either.

And what does this all mean? One of the regular criticisms levelled at websites like CharPo are that they are a kind of private club; theatre people talking to theatre people. There is no doubt that was the case when CPM started. However, if Google Analytics are to be trusted, CharPo has some 10,000 regular UNIQUE readers. (Regular=more than 100 visits in the year) The MELT community is healthy, but it ain't no 10,000. Meanwhile, CPC - growing at almost exactly the same rate as CPM - has over 1500 regular UNIQUE readers. (Regular=more than 25 visits in the three months.)

This is reality. This is artist/journalist/commentator/spectator coming to one place to talk...and about theatre! This is something!

Of this we are proud. For this, we are celebrating.

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