Tuesday, December 4, 2012

After Dark, December 4, 2012

The Terrible Twos
We celebrate and look to the future
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

On November 30, The Charlebois Post celebrated its second anniversary. Since Estelle Rosen and I launched a little local blog in Montreal, we have grown to three active websites, two in test stage and probably a sixth and seventh to come. We have 30 regular contributors (reviewers, profile writers, interviewers), over 100 artists and theatre people who have contributed to the sites, and have published thousands of items. Each day our sites receive hundreds of visitors and over a thousand pages are viewed. 

And we at CharPo are all, to a person, volunteers. Some of us have contributed money to cover the expenses and all have worked hard to keep the sites hopping with activity. 

Now we are exploring options for expansion and as we do are trying to take into account the kindness of our contributors and to reward them. The reason for this is simple: most of our writers are or have become some of the finest commentators and theatre writers in the country and we'd like to hang on to them. I have already had several of them ask me to write references for them and although I am exuberant in my praise, I am heart-broken to see them move on.

Because there were so many of these companies, coverage by traditional media was thin

What strikes me about these "woes" is that they echo those of print journalism and theatre as well. In my life I have seen pretty good papers come and go (two of which I worked for) and seen dozens of theatre companies, praised and loved by their communities, die (one of them mine). Many of the deaths were about money and the internet.

First there was an explosion in the number of what was initially called semi-professional companies; this was a hybrid in which people waiting for their careers to take off (ie: earn them a living) worked for a vague and usually unrealized percentage of profits. Because there were so many of these companies, coverage by traditional media was thin and the lack of coverage limited subsidy potential and audiences. Moreover, theatre companies didn't dare charge a ticket price that represented real expenses (ie: salaries) and an audience culture of cheap theatre was nurtured.

But this was only the beginning.

Traditional media itself was being killed by a two-pronged attack: the rise of the free weeklies and dailies and the internet. Both were fed by the annoyingly naïve battle-cry of "Information must be free". However, hiding within the free-info "movement" (if you will) were a huge number of cheapskates and thieves. Few ever paid for the shareware they downloaded and used, Napster and torrenting punished and bankrupted musicians and television and film creators worldwide, books were scanned and traded (and even illegally sold) on the web, and all fiscal bets were off. (Was it a coincidence that at the same time the Fringe movement exploded in growth? That's a discussion for another day...)

And this is the dilemma CharPo is now confronting. It IS a Happy Birthday, but we are also entering our terrible twos and we're a little grumpy as well. We are faced with hard decisions and are spending so much time thinking outside the box that we can't even tell you what a square looks like anymore.

All I can say, for the moment, is that since Estelle and I accepted our first review from our first reviewer, we have worked hard to build the organization and find ways to protect it and the people who work - still for free - within it. Finally: we are looking for ways to make the terrible twos less terrible. 

Come along, why don't you?

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