The authors proposed the minimizing of million-dollar web sites in favor of blogs in which the employee, the manager, the owner, the consumer, and anyone else who wanted to talk about the product could do so without intermediaries. Stop the monologue, start the dialogue. Nine years later, the ideas of The ClueTrain Manifesto have gone mainstream, and corporate blogs are ubiquitous. That's how fast things move in the business world.
It is interesting to read the ClueTrain Manifesto now, and transfer some of the ideas to the regional theatre scene. Here are seven of the 95 theses -- read them substituting "theatres" everywhere it says "companies."
34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.A year earlier, arts marketer and designer Edwin Schloassberg wrote Interactive Excellence: Defining and Developing New Standards for the Twenty-First Century, in which he addressed similar issues to the authors of ClueTrain Manifesto, except with a focus on the experience of the arts and museums. In it, he writes about a shadow puppet performance he attended in Indonesia, where he was "overwhelmed by an entirely new audience/theater/artist paradigm." He goes on:
35. But first, they must belong to a community.
36. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
38. Human communities are based on discourse -- on human speech about human concerns.
39. The community of discourse is the market.
40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
The story told in the wayang kulit performances is always based on one of the Hindu classcs, such as the Ramyana or the Mahabhrata, with which the audience is familiar. Because the audience knows the story before going in, it is primarily interested in comparing this performance to previous ones. The performance, which lasts eight hours, begins around midnight on the night of the full moon. Throughout the entire performance and then afterward, the audience quietly chats about the show--how it is going and how it went. The whole experience is a way for the community to get together and have a shared experience.
Before the show I sat down in the front of the krato, the king's palace, and saw a large white curtain, like a makeshift movie screen, strung across the middle of a platform. A strong lamp hung in what I thought was the backstage area. The gamelan musicians sat in what perceived to be the front, with the shadow from the puppets projected on the white cloth. As the performance started, some of the audience sat in front and watched the shadows dance. But others got up and moved behind the stage to watch the puppeteer and the puppets. One part of the audience chose to step into illusion, listening and watching from the front, while the other part chose to be with the performer, to explore the art of his presentation. This practice, so alien to Western tradition, allows the audience to learn how something is made and how well it can be done. Their understanding, discussion, and appreciation of all facets of the play are part of the presentation. The culture values the audience's active role in the process as equal in importance to that ofthe puppeteer or the musician. A performance is considered from all these points of view, not simply on the basis of the performance alone.
I'm certain that most of my readers are reacting with horror right now. Talking during the show? Unbelievable! Going backstage while the show is going on??? Absurd! Why, English actors complain bitterly about spectators crinkling candy wrappers while they're acting. Everyone knows that audiences are supposed to be seen and not heard. They should buy their over-priced ticket, sit quietly in the dark in their uncomfortable seats and not be heard from again until the show is over, when they should stand up and applaud enthusiastically, and then go home as quickly as possible while the actors scurry back to their dressing rooms, get out of costume and makeup, and slink into the night to their favorite artist hangout where they speak only to each other.
How long will it take until the leaders of American regional theatres realize that they must be part of their communities? That the only way to belong to a community of discourse is to have continuity in your artistic staff (actors, directors, designers, playwrights), not just your management staff? That theatres do not sell a commodity, they sell an experience, and part of that experience involves discourse, conversation, exchange? We can't continue to hide ourselves away before, during, and after a show. We must learn to engage our audience.
Perhaps we need our own ClueTrain Manifesto to wake us up to the idea that the miracle of live theatre is the opportunity for exchange, discourse -- something film can't compete with in any way. But the fact is that most of us are shy, don't you think? When we encounter someone in the grocery store who has seen us perform, for instance, we are flattered to be recognized and praised, but we have no real idea how to behave, and I suspect we never ask anything about the other person themself. It's sort of like being visited as we step out of the shower -- we feel naked and awkward, and so we cut the conversation short. Similarly, our natural inclination is to try to make our performances one-way communication where we know all our lines and you just listen to what we have to say.
I'm not suggesting interactive theatre -- even in the example Schlosser describes, the spectators do not interrupt or participate in the performance in any way -- but rather an interactive context that encourages spectators to talk to each other and to the artists in an informal, non-talkback-Q-&-A kind of way. Maybe meet in the bar across the street after the show, or have a place where people can gather inside the theatre where they can talk and where the artists visit afterwards.
And where the same artists visit month after month, year after year. So that John and Laura not only buy a ticket to the show, but they also plan on seeing actor Tony after the show to say hey.
Anyone getting on the cluetrain?