A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The #Forum
On Saturday afternoon, Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk hosted their first-ever twitter chat to talk about this month’s edition of their ongoing contest, #New2YouTube, and “Anyway,” one of their newest songs from Tales From The Bad Years. At the twitter chat, they asked questions, they answered questions, and they even got a twitter lesson from the great Lin-Manuel Miranda. All in all, it was a fun time (and I’m not just saying that because I co-moderated from @nmtsongs); if you missed out, you can read a transcript of the chat. And because I’m endlessly fascinated with how people within the theater community can connect with each other – especially how digital forums, like twitter or this very blog, can influence that – I’m here to give you a little analysis with your twitter recap.
More and more people in the theater industry are taking to social media as a self-marketing tool. There’s a great piece by Tony Howell about why that’s important. In one sense, it boils down to a perceived connection: “Your online fans want to engage with YOU,” Howell writes. “They want exclusive access. They want to be your Friend – not just [to] be another Like on a Page.” From a purely promotional perspective, there’s a lot to be said about using social media in this way. Being Facebook friends demands a two-way interaction while liking a page is necessarily one-way; for that reason, you feel like it’s personal, even if you know that the performer or writer or whoever in question adds everyone who requests them. But social media doesn’t have to be exclusively – or even primarily – a self-promotion tool. Belying that perception of connection is the potential for real connection.
Cut to: Saturday morning, pre-twitter-chat. After I sent my friend the beautiful new video of Lauren Samuels performing Anyway from the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk London concerts, she wondered what inspired the song. Completely coincidentally, a few hours later, one of the first questions asked in the chat (from another friend, #NMTblogger Margaret Turner White) was almost the same: “’Anyway’ is such a beautiful song. Can you share anything about how it came to be?” The ensuing back-and-forth provided a fascinating inside look at Anyway and allowed any interested twitter participants to discuss the song with the people who wrote it. I was so excited to experience the same question in two different forums. The question exists whether social media does or doesn’t; social media gives access, a place to have – and continue – the conversation.
But I think there’s more to connection than just the existence of social media – dialogue can happen on social media anytime, after all. It’s the twitter chat’s concentrated format that makes it even more connective. Everyone participating in a twitter chat is there because they’re looking for dialogue; the attendees are extra-ready to talk and the organizers are extra-ready to respond. One of my favorite twitter chat series is the HowlRound Weekly Howl, which – from 2-3pm every Thursday – invites all of twitter to participate in a discussion on a topic announced in advance with the hashtag #newplay. Those thought-provoking discussions couldn’t happen in at all the same way if not for the concentrated time frame.
And so what? I’m not suggesting that performers glue themselves to their twitter accounts or that writers crowdsource their projects to their fans through social media. But it seems to me that forums like the twitter chat are much more enriching than making it onto a Facebook friend list, even if they’re much more ephemeral (though services like Storify make them much less so). They’re free to run, free to participate in, and don’t have to be time-consuming for anyone involved; they’re an exciting hybrid of marketing and connecting. Theater professionals, theater fans, and everyone in between shouldn’t disregard twitter as a place antithetical to critical thought or meaningful connection. If you have a topic you want to discuss, all you need is a handle and a hashtag.