Gossip’s Worth Its Weight in Gold…
The internet and social media has taken over so many aspects of everyday life in ways that the current ‘Generation Z’ will never quite be able to understand. Breaking news stories from around the world are now updated live and often as they are happening, defying the traditional methods and means of news communication.
It’s no surprise then that the theatre industry has also had to adapt to these changes, and whether people like it or not, it’s only going to get worse. For a good number of years now producers and creatives have had to suffer at the hands of internet message boards and forums – communities that can be a vital source for people all over the world wanting to feeling connected to the industry, but at the same time places that can also do a lot of damage.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been at a wide range of press launches for new shows, often those that coincide with official press releases about new shows opening. One moment that sticks with me was the opening of a brand new, multi-million pound musical a couple of months ago. Stood next to the press table, I heard one of the key producers turn to a marketing rep who broke the news that the ‘boards’ had already pounced on the show and proclaimed it to be a failure. Some harsh four-letter words were uttered to the relevant poster, and they busied themselves by saying it didn’t matter and “no one really reads them anyway.”
Despite them brushing off the topic quite flippantly, I was shocked that they had even bothered to look in the first place, and sitting in a room full of national press representatives even had the time to consult ‘the boards’ for online chatter. It was remarkable to see how affected the press team were by it, yet quick to dismiss it as nonsense.
Internet opinion has changed the nature of previews beyond recognition – reviews about shows are up within hours of the curtain falling on the first show, often written by those eager to destroy someone’s work in the most public way possible. I always find it strange that those who rush to review first previews rarely do it to offer praise, instead they seem to get glee out of being the first to tell their desired medium that a new show is ‘doomed to failure.’
Twitter has quickly become the biggest social media platform available, and it’s only too easy to offer an opinion in 140 characters or less. Whereas opinions on particular shows or performances is inevitable, and thoroughly justified, what I personally find damaging is the reporting on industry news stories that either are not official or based on pure speculation. There are countless examples of this being damaging, not only to the individuals but also shows, and many rumors that are born from internet message boards find their way into the public eye via Twitter.
I never understand why some people within the industry revel in and in many cases fight to be the first to ‘tweet’ rumours that a show is closing. These people are often ironically the first to claim that the industry itself is unsupportive and cold, yet can’t wait to be the spokesperson for so many people losing their jobs. Obviously theatre news is interesting to many people, and show openings and closures are hot topics, especially when turnaround in the West End is at a premium.
London, unlike Broadway, does not publish box office statistics or figures so it is near impossible to judge exactly how well a certain show is doing. Obviously there are clues – special offers and discounts are an obvious sign that business isn’t booming, but there are certain shows that are constantly discounted and fulfill that certain gap in the market. News from theatre ushers and those within the industry itself is quick to get out, often via twitter, that certain seating sections are closed, obviously meaning that ticket sales (for that performance at least) are at a low.
Ultimately there is no clear way for assumptions to be made on the ‘health’ of a certain show, but more often than not Twitter rumours and message board posts constantly speculate, and sometimes wish, for shows to shutter early. As the old saying goes, there is no smoke without fire, and rumours often are based on some form of truth. I personally find it distasteful and saddening that those within the industry, often critics who use their status on various social media outlets to act as a voice and spokesperson for shows posting closing notice, in many cases announcing before the cast or crew have any idea that their jobs are in jeopardy.
Baz Bamingoye, the Daily Mail’s entertainment correspondent, has become an unofficial ‘official’ source for such news, which is both liberating and detrimental to the industry as a whole. Each Friday he publishes various ‘rumours’ that have been fed to him by PR companies, and these are quickly splashed all over the internet and Twitter, often to the surprise of the people they involve. Whilst many people are careful to not post them as fact until confirmed by an official press release, others race to be the first on their timeline to report the news, in a way that is not only vulgar but disrespectful to everyone involved.
Just last week news of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical Stephen Ward closing early circulated social media without any official word, but delivered as fact from various second and third hand sources. News of The Bodyguard closing at the Adelphi Theatre was also published, along with speculation that its star Beverly Knight was to open in the London premiere of Memphis – something she later confirmed on her personal Twitter page, at the same time telling people she wanted to concentrate on the show she was currently in.
I can’t help but feel sorry for people involved with both productions. Who would like to find out they have lost their job by looking at their Twitter feed or reading on an online blog? Sadly, the public’s hunger for instant news and information overrides the sympathies afforded to those connected with productions, and I fear this is a problem that will only get worse.