How can we use web technologies to help generate communities that love theatre?

Convener(s): Gavin O’Carroll

Participants: Greg Wohead, Caroline Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jennifer Peary-Edwards, Sharon Seager, Matthew Uayd, Rachel McGill, Amanda Kelleher.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

We talked about whether or not theatre can use online tech to enable audiences to find the theatre they know they’ll like more easily.  Frustrated by the blanket emailing promotion that currently exists.  We wondered if a more targeted  promotion from theatre companies could be done, or indeed if audiences could use online channels to ‘pull’ recommendations for shows they’d like to see to them. 

We wondered if the audience of a show were in fact a interest community.  And thinking about as a model (where people with the same musical ‘taste’ could easily connect and recommend each other music).  Would this work in theatre?

We discussed how recommendations from people who don’t have a vested interest in a show were so much more powerful in getting people to go.  In other industries people are find people online via Twitter etc and finding people who’s taste they trust, and then trust their recommendations for things to do, see, go and experience.

We talked about what were the best tools for theatre companies to use to market themselves and create communities around their work.  Rather than the tools, it was more important to explain the point of their work, so that people who had an emotional connection to that mission would then congregate around whatever tools they used to promote with work.  Explaining this point being the core requirement to generating a community and cutting through the information overload that audiences experience in the web.

We discussed the need to compliment a kind of for theatre with real life meetups, so that people could congregate around shared interests (that the theatre companies organizing the drinks might be exploring) face to face.  We had examples of where this worked well in other industries such as the design world (‘Service design drinks’ were mentioned as a meetup example – very vibrant). 

We wondered though if people really cared enough about theatre to tell other people? 

We discussed how the properties of the internet were pro transparency and authenticity – we then wondered it the fear of technology that many theatre companies display was actually a fear of being found out?  Was this justified?  It was asked – in the current method of promotion – were theatre companies being dishonest in raising expectations before many shows are even finished rehearsing?  Should theatre companies use video more, and not as a trailer, but as a film of aspects of performance – members of the groups felt it was hard to hide behind video.  If they could move audiences with a 3 min video against a white wall then they would come to the show.   Examples of where companies are involving audiences in early rehearsal footage etc already.  Management of expectations was an important element.

We spoke about the possibility of having an online community for theatre audiences, where it’s ok to say they liked a show or didn’t like it and to give permission to discuss it.  And give a space for the family element of celebration of when something was really good. 

We felt the heart of our conversation so far was that we felt there was no support for audiences.  That we needed to give audiences a focussed support network.  A place where they could validate in a non-intimidating way, their thoughts of ‘that was shit wasn’t it? Am I mad for thinking that?’ or ‘the critics said that was shit, but I though it was the best thing I’ve ever seen.  Am I mad?  Or do I have shit taste?’  A place where they would find out they are part of a group of people who felt the same.  We discussed the possibility of laptops outside shows where people should vote thumbs up and thumbs down about the show they’d just seen, and a place for them to vote again in a month once they’ve reflected on it.  Awesome info for arts council funding applications for the company no?  (possibly!).