A Proposal for an Organization of Theater Bloggers

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Our challenge is that not everyone in the theater blogosphere has the same focus or agenda. This list is in no particular order:
1) There are critics — people writing reviews, long- or short-form criticism. They choose to self-identify as critics. In an old media world, they’d be writing reviews for a print product or would be on radio or TV (and still could be).
2) There are producers — not just Ken Davenport, but Michael Roderick and Jodi Schoenbrun Carter — folks who understand the nonprofit and/or commercial worlds. In an old media world, they’d all be doing the same thing: seeking new ways to sell tickets and promote product. In the new media world, they blog — and seek new ways to sell tickets and promote product
3) There are practitioners — people like Zack Calhoon, Michael Criscuolo, Donell James Foreman and Mike Daisey (actors/performers); Sheila Callaghan, James Comtois, Matt Freeman, Jason Grote and Doric Wilson (playwrights); Jaime Green (literary managers/dramaturgs); Isaac Butler, Ryan J. Davis, Jeremy Dobrish and John Clancy (directors).
4) There are the old-media equivalent of feature reporters — people like Corine Cohen, Adam Rothenberg, Moxie the Maven and Steve on Broadway.
5) There are administrative and production professionals — people like Emily Owens and Katie Rosin (e.g., public relations) and One NYC Stagehand (technical).
6) There are nonprofessionals — fans, theatergoers, students, community-theater folks, folks with day-jobs. Theater bloggers who don’t necessarily have professional aspirations, although they could.
7) There are academics, theoreticians and arts advocates — people like George Hunka, Ian David Moss and Scott Walters.
8) There are corporate entities — people like the MTI crew, or those running corporate blogs, like Time Out New York.
Again, there’s lots of crossover between any and all of these.
The point is, I envision a theater bloggers association inviting all these individuals — except #8 — to be a part. Why not #8? Because we’re “Independent.”
The purpose? Networking, schmoozing, community, tickets, education, driving traffic, raising profiles, celebrating the theater. It could be Broadway, Off- or Off-Off. It could be musicals or plays, puppets or performance art. Name that genre, style, discipline. You blog — seriously? Like…6 months, 12 posts a month, 3 or so a week? You’re in. Welcome to the group.
No dues. Not now. Just opportunities to attend events, parties, panels. Sponsors can hawk their products as long as no one is charged for anything. Only if and when there’s a critical mass of members does commerce — revenue — enter the fray. A critical mass could happen quickly. Right now, this is social, professional, blog-centric.
When you “apply” for membership — via online website — it’s all about capturing information. Applications are kept simple. We ask theater bloggers to self-identify: Are you #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7? Are you more than one? Fine if you are.
A small membership committee “reviews” applications. And seriously, I just outlined what I think the criteria should be. Yes, the committee can turn down applications, but it does need a reason. If a “Clorox Theater Blog” pops up and it’s some spammy corporate nightmare, ok, say no. This committee would be empowered to refine criteria as things progress. But at first there should basically be an open berth.
Now to the thorny part. Some people are uncomfortable with awards, saying there are too many already, that artists don’t (and won’t) vote for fellow artists if they’re possibly working for or going to hire those people. Some are uncomfortable with the idea of awards profiled on the Tonys — or the Drama Desk, Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel, Obies or the Drama League. Some people see little utility in awards that only come around yearly, that doesn’t promote good work while the good work is actually running. Some are leery or fear commercial producers. No one wants New York’s theater bloggers hijacked, leveraged, snowed, used, played or conned. No one.
If you choose to self-identify as a reviewer or critic, you’re invited to participate in the awards. It isn’t mandatory. From this self-selected group, a separate committee would answer all the key questions, such as voting guidelines. This committee would decide whether those who self-identify in any of the other categories would be eligible to partake in the awards. It could decide on a case by case or category by category basis. The bottom line is, this committee would decide how the awards would work. It is not the decision of any one person. We agree that the awards need integrity. Democracy confers integrity.
The organization as a whole should have a board and co-presidents. The board could be the same group as the membership committee, but it shouldn’t be. Maybe a few board members sit on the membership committee, maybe not. I feel the organization’s board manages the organization and charts its growth. The membership committee manages membership.
I believe this organizational model works horizontally and vertically — it can be replicated by discipline (music, books, etc.) and by city or region. This is what I’m working on now. Again, democracy confers integrity — and allows as many theater bloggers as want to join in to feel comfortable in doing so. Old top-down organizational models are wrong for the blogosphere. Bottom-up is what we need.
Our next meeting is set for Aug. 27. All theater bloggers are invited. I’d love to have your feedback before this event, which is going to be mainly social. Please feel free to email me directly at leonardjacobs2@gmail.com. All replies will be kept confidential.