Using Technology for Theater?

Using Technology for Theater?

Every year I try to update my vision of how to create more theater, and what that theater should look like.

What exactly is my role this year as a theatre-maker in the 21st century? What can I personally do to develop, produce and promote more theater?

Is theater dying? Or is the way we make theater today dying?

The old Danny Newman subscription model doesn’t work anymore. Regional theaters and downsizing, or closing their doors. All of this has of course been accelerated by nearly two years of shutdown in theater.

Theater isn’t dying – it will always be around – but we need to examine how to build new audiences, to speak to those audiences and to market them off the sofas and into theaters.

Can we use technology to help us create more theater?


Strengths of 21st Century Theater


Let’s review at the beginning of the year what we’re doing right:

  1. We were a diverse society from the beginning. Thus, we are and must continue to be a diverse and inclusive theater if we are to develop new audiences.
  2. Theater takes the invisible idea, the invisible thought, and makes it visible. Today theater is doing it more creatively than ever, utilizing technology, “game theory,” and innovative performance techniques (immersive, site-specific, experimental structures, etc.)
  3. We all acknowledge that staging performing arts performances in a community accelerates the economic growth of that area and leads to a revitalized community. The arts are good for local businesses.
  4. The arts have a positive impact on academic achievement and personal growth of young people, as well as other marginalized groups and the elderly. The arts are good for society in general.
  5. The “live” component of theatrical performance create social engagements that build social empathy and understanding that can help heal fractures that are increasingly dividing us everywhere.

All of the above are true, but apparently we’ve done a terrible job communicating these strengths to the public. How can we entice new audiences in when ticket prices are stratospheric, yet thanks to technology, movies and videos are everywhere?

Surely we can use this same technology to promote theater.


Technology Makes Entertainment More Accessible


We are now surrounded with more entertainment options than any other time in human history – accessible any time on the little device we all carry in our pockets. YouTube is free, and paying for entertainment is over (except for live concert and sporting events) for many people.

Why not use technology to build an appetite for live theater?

Streaming theater is a viable option, if for no other reason than to serve our audiences. Allowing my college students to view bootleg videos of past musicals on Broadway or great plays at the National Theatre creates more of a desire to see theatre, not less. I love watching students discover HEDDA GABLER or SPRING AWAKENING for the first time, and getting excited about the work and the ideas.

Also, audiences are reluctant to buy expensive tickets for shows they don’t know. Familiarity with Harry Potter drives a desire to buy a ticket to that show, or a ticket to the parody musicals  of “The Office” or “Friends.”

How can audiences become familiar with your show? Where and what can you post online to drive a desire to see your show?

Here are some ideas that I see working:

  • Record bits of your play or musical being rehearsed (even if there’s no planned production yet) to post on social media
  • Create a promo clips or sizzle reel and post on social media and on your website (a necessity now).
  • Grab your friends and shoot a video of your show scene by scene. Edit and post on YouTube (this works especially well if you’re a millennial or Gen Z creator)
  • Go live and play your musical one song at a time, with an introduction. Post on YouTube to create a playlist, and on your website
  • Writing a play? Record a monologue or an especially dramatic moment, and post online
  • Have a local staged reading? Hire a videographer to record it. Don’t forget to capture the audience’s reactions at the end. Post it on YouTube for a short time (if allowed).

Social Media is the new word of mouth. I’m not a “digital native,” but hey, I can learn. So can you.


Always Promote Yourself


The end goal of all this promotion is, of course, to get your show onstage. You’ll still have to do the traditional activities to make people aware of you and your work:

  • Continually submitting to every play submissions contest you can find
  • Networking with Artistic Directors, producers and literary managers, in person and online
  • Volunteering at your local theater, or attending their galas – and donating
  • Be active on the New Play Exchange and participate in the community
  • Designing a modern website and keeping it updated
  • Maintaining an email list of friends, family and followers
  • Participating in online communities like CreateTheater, The Playwrights Center, the Dramatist’s Guild, and the BMI Musical Theater Workshop (to name a few) where you can network with other industry professionals.

Yes, it is exhausting to build an audience for your work, and to invest time in your social networks. It takes time, consistent effort, and passion. It. Is. Exhausting. I get it.

I am exhausted, too. But I’m always learning new ways to promote good work and stage good work. I will continually adapt our storytelling onstage to allow new audiences to experience theatre in new ways (look for an immersive show coming soon to a Brooklyn restaurant, and the resurrection of our 2020 Monday Night Reading Series online).

Because we’re theater people, and this is what we do. We adapt, and go where the audiences are. We don’t stand there and shout at them to come to us. That’s so “twentieth century.” We go to them.

Write good stuff and send it to me. I’m looking to develop new musicals and plays in the 2024 CreateTheater New Works Festival in NYC, and beyond.

It’s Time to Go Virtual

It’s Time to Go Virtual

Is it necessary to add virtual to your development tasks? YES. Are you uncertain or even scared about this? YES. Should you continue to do it anyway? YES.

But only if you want to get your play in front of more people.


Why Virtual


I remember when cable tv was just beginning to be a force in the industry in the 80’s. At the time I was the new Programming Director for a new cable channel (I was young and came cheap), and my task was to find and develop programming for a voracious new 24-hour cable channel. The demands of providing content were enormous, as the beast was insatiable. We had to air everything we could license as often as possible, with multiple repeats of every episode to make sure that something was on the air 24 hours a day, every day. It was exhausting.

The need today is similar with social media. You should always be broadcasting something to create an awareness of yourself as a professional in the industry. This is not easy! I constantly try to do better, because I must. As theater professionals we must first do the work but then also promote and  disseminate it to as broad an audience as possible (hence the term broadcasting). It  is as exhausting today as it was back in the early days of cable.

Virtual readings and performances, promotional videos and “happenings” are all proven strategies to promote yourself as a successful playwright (even if you don’t consider yourself one yet). But you must first carve a space for yourself online.


How to Add Virtual Content


The ability to add virtual content to your website and promotional materials is well worth the effort. Plays and musicals that consistently promote themselves online brand themselves as ready for production. Is your show ready for production?

If the answer is yes, then concentrate regularly on broadcasting yourself and your play to the public by embracing virtual content.

  1. Promote your show online. It goes without saying that each of your shows should have a website, Facebook page and/or an Instagram site, and a NPX page. Musicals should add a YouTube channel. You must be “discoverable” when people look you up, and have a contact page if people want to make contact. Update these as often as possible with audience testimonials, “coming soon” notices, sizzle reels, etc.
  2. Plan a reading. Put it out to your email list and promote free tickets to attend. Build up to the reading with regular content to promote your actors, director, and yourself. If you can record the reading (for archival use only), do so in order to share later with interested prospects. Capture outstanding feedback from audience members for written (or video) content.
  3. Make demos of your music. Record excellent quality musical demos to put on your website and on YouTube with playlists.
  4. Plan “happenings.” Be creative and plan events at local spaces to promote an awareness of your work. Have a play about immigrants? Interview real life characters that speak to the themes in your play and livestream the discussion on Facebook live. Do you have a musical that speaks to young girls? Partner with an establishment that has that audience and then plan an event centered around your musical to promote it. Get your work in front of your target audience as often as possible, and record everything.
  5. Have a professional sizzle reel. A great sizzle reel makes your work stand out from the others online and makes it memorable. A sizzle reel becomes your online pitch that works even when you sleep – so make sure it is everywhere you have want to have a presence. Also, a good strategy is to link your sizzle reel to your email signature page so it’s available to everyone that you communicate with – if they know you they should know about your show.


Scared? Do It Anyway


I have a phrase that has helped me get through everything in life that has frightened me out of my wits, but the I knew I had to do anyway.

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

That may seem counter-intuitive to you, and you may even be shocked that I’m recommending it. But the way I think of it is, this saying gives me permission not to be perfect. Sometimes just crossing the finish line, even in last place, is a success. And, if repeated often enough, you’ll just get better and better each time.

So give yourself permission to go virtual “imperfectly.” Just do it.

Rinse and repeat.


I’ll be taking my own advice this year and helping others do go virtual with me. Will you be one of them? Join ETC and get in on the action. We’re adding new members in September.

Get your Virtual Checklist here to use as a reminder.

Interested in learning more about The Experts Theater Company? Register for our free OPEN HOUSE on August 30th!