Blogger Night, UStream, and the New Broadway Publicity Train

On 19 April 2011, a group of New York City area bloggers will be given free tickets to a preview performance of the upcoming Broadway musical Baby, It's You. The night is called Blogger Night and the producers of the new show are inviting theater, music, history, and NYC bloggers to apply. The ticket includes a pre-show cocktail party and a post-show question and answer session with cast members. It's pretty obvious the producers want to build up some word of mouth about the show. You'll probably be told if you receive tickets that you have to write up your experience and provide a link back or other such requirement. It actually sounds like one of those strategies film distributors use to get blogs on their side before a film is released. I doubt the intentions are as manipulative as that, but concepts like Blogger Night seem to be coming up more and more in the world of professional theater.

Take, for instance, Wonderland, a new Broadway adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, reset with an adult Alice in NYC. A few weeks ago, they planned on having an interactive pre-show question and answer session with fans using UStream. Their camera never arrived and they tried to substitute a phone; it didn't work. Last week, the event actually took place and it was a great success. Fans asked questions and the ensemble answered with wit and grace. Kate Shindle, who plays the Mad Hatter, was on vocal rest, so she answered her questions by scrawling them down on a notepad and randomly passing the pages to her cast mates to read. If there was a flaw, it was too many people were crammed into the dressing room. That meant not everyone could be seen at all times and some questions went unanswered.

This use of new media has been picking up in recent years. Even short lived shows like La Bete and Lend Me A Tenor had Twitter accounts and Facebook pages to promote the show. Their marketing team searched for anyone posting about theater and followed them. How do I know? Because I just cleared thirty dead shows out of my Twitter followers.

While the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark were rightfully upset that the professional critics reviewed their show in previews, they also knew there was nothing they could do to stop every fan with a blog, Twitter, Facebook profile, or theater message board account from posting reviews starting from the first ever public intermission. Think of it this way: we only have video footage of the stunt double's awful accident because a fan was illegally recording the show with some inconspicuous camera (or even his phone) to put up on various bootleg sites.

Whether the old theater institution likes it or not, the Internet--social media in particular--is revolutionizing how they have to market their shows. Show sites are nothing new. I remember joining the community to share bootleg tapes and trade fan stories. What's new is the integration with social media. Some shows are subtle--The Book of Mormon has small Twitter and Facebook sharing icons on the bottom of their page--while other shows set up entire sections for the fans--Wonderland just rolled out a new interactive video feature. You can cross over through their Looking Glass projection used in the show if you have a webcam and save the photo to share online.

Through the Looking Glass We Go

I'm just waiting for the integrated web/theater packages. Imagine if, when you buy your ticket, you can upgrade your package to get a behind the scenes look at the show on a different night through web cameras. Or, if that's impractical, access to exclusive online bonus content, like photos, video, and features on sets, costumes, music, direction, and other aspects of the production. That would be great, wouldn't it? They could even forget the fee and have it be some kind of hidden code in the theater or playbill that you punch in online to access everything.

Enjoy your Blogger Night if you're chosen to attend. It could become a pretty common event, or it could be brushed aside when something based in digital media can easily replace it. There could be a day in the near future where that Blogger Night offer is a streaming video of selected scenes and a post-sneak peak web chat.