Do we want both sides of the coin? Or only the side we called before the coin was tossed? This is the question that we must ask ourselves when extending the world of theatre to the vast Social Networks of the worldwide web. In the olden days (when Valjean was a free man, and the Phantom could wear sunglasses), people still had the same opinions regarding theatre, they just didn’t have the means to spread them. Or the awareness that people would care what they think.

Andrew Bolt, we still don’t care what you think. FYI.

Imagine for a second that you are a in a foyer. You have just seen a show. Could be anything: an opera, a play, some beat poetry — whatever it was, you hated it. You can’t believe someone in their right mind would perform, write, compose, score, or have anything to do with this piece. It insults you as an artist, as a practitioner, and as a human being. Maybe I am being a little dramatic, but you get the drift — you didn’t like it. Now, let’s get in our DeLorean and extend this high-pathetical further…

The year is 1987 (no idea why, I just like that year). You have just seen a show and you had the above reaction. You are polite to the cast and prod team, you say a cursory goodbye to anyone involved, and you leave. Once you have left you hit up a local bar and maybe talk about it some more between yourselves, and you head home. The next day you maybe tell a few work mates, and if you speak to a friend that day, maybe they will as well. By the next time you see these people, your system has purged the show from your body, and it is now merely something you did. You’ve gotten over it. No harm done.

Don’t let the paradoxical name confuse you, you are in 1987.

The year is 2011. Things done changed… You go and see a show, most of the time having read about it, watched excerpts, or tweeted about it before hand, and you most likely have formed your opinions (or integrated many other people's) before you even enter the theatre. You don’t enjoy the show, but you don’t have the above reaction to it either, as your senses have been numbed by over-stimulation, resulting in satiation, and you go home. You don’t go to a bar, because drinking in bars has become way too expensive. You open your laptop, and decide the world needs to know how much you hated what just happened to you in this theatre. Whatever your motivation:  re-tweets, followers, Facebook friends, worldwide awareness of your innermost thoughts, etc, you put it online.

The difference between 1987 and 2011 is that there is now a worldwide conversation happening on basically everything.

It’s now online where billions of people (except if you are in China) (Hi China!!) (Are they even listening?) have access to it by entering a search, or getting it sent to them by a friend. This is great! The world needs to know exactly what you thought of what has happened to you.  Your motivations are no less noble than the person from 1987’s, you just have the power of the internet to spread what you thought across the world.  But as Spiderman and Stan Lee taught us: “With great power comes great responsibility”, and in this case, accountability.

A time-honored and ad-nauseatic catch phrase on our TP Talk forums is “you are entitled to your opinion”, which I avoid saying as much as I can, because I think it is about as true and as meaningful in this day and age as “the customer is always right”. Let me tell you — and anyone that has worked in retail will agree — the customer is frequently wrong! Not to say opinions are wrong, or you are not entitled, but to make you aware that that phrase applies to both sides of the coin that I mentioned at the beginning.

This customer was definitely wrong; He could not get “a little breakfast” after the designated breakfast hours. Though having an assault rifle adds weight to his argument…

In the modern day I feel it is more appropriate to say “you are entitled to be a part of the conversation”. That’s going to be my new motto here. Think about the word conversation, and decide whether you are a part of it. You wouldn’t run up to a bunch of people with a mask on, slam their show, and run away, because you would be thought a coward and of considerably low character. Why would you do it here?

However, if you are wearing this mask, I say well played sir.

Think from now on: “am I part of the conversation, am I here to grow and help others grow, or am I just a douche?” If you wouldn’t post it as your Facebook status for fear of offending people, then we don’t want anything to do with it. This may seem unfair according to the old rules of “being entitled to your opinion”, but we have changed them now. It is not our intention to run a site that participates in the destruction of theatrical pursuits, nor is it the bulk of our reader base’s intention.  If someone is willing to start a conversation about how bad a show was under their own name, then maybe we will post it, but be constructive, not destructive. We are here to grow, and if we are not growing as a community, then we are dying. Take it from Mark Cohen: “The opposite of war is not peace, it’s creation”. So let’s create! We have amazing power through Social Media outlets to do this, and we are here to help, so let’s do it!

THEATRE COMPANIES: Be part of the conversation. Create a profile/brand for your company, and find out what is being said! If someone doesn’t like you, find out why, and create an advocate for your company out of them. Few companies have embraced Social Media as a going concern outside of Facebook events, even fewer do it well (Waterdale, holla!). We will let you know what is being said if we can find you!

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Be part of the conversation. No one respects a slander post in an online environment.  Theatre is a subjective medium; it’s okay to not like stuff and tell people about it. It’s also okay to like stuff and tell people about it! Do it! Engage! Start conversations, tell us what you think of our community, and how we can make it better.

Social Media is a gift for so many reasons, and I believe the greatest gift it gives us is the scariest concept. What if someone doesn’t like it, and tells the world? GOOD! GREAT! Now you are part of the conversation. Through my personal Twitter account, I run a search a few times a week for  what people have been saying about the show I am in at a prominent Melbourne location. Most people slamming it, and there are not many, have never even seen it. The vast majority of tweets are great, positive, and if not, constructive. When I reply, most people are astonished and touched that I have taken the time to seek them out and respond to them.  Even the ones that don’t like it still enjoy a conversation, and some have even agreed to come and check it out. Through this we have now integrated Facebook into the show, and are having great success with being able to address audience concerns instantly, and attend to them. One staff member even got a round of applause for their management of a problem that had arisen.

Overall, don’t be afraid of it. The old adage about any publicity being good has never been more true. It’s not the problem, it’s how you deal with it. Have fun on our forums, and if anybody would like to talk further about this, feel free to hit me up!

Twitter: @bigash65

Facebook: Ashley Weidner

Email: [email protected]