Facebook has rapidly become my first port of call for many scenarios - casting, producing advice, tour booking and even as a writer crowdsourcing ideas for lyrics. For my touring company Metta Theatre social media is not so much a marketing tool to sell tickets, as is often the case for venues, but a really effective way for our audiences to engage with us instantly and directly to discuss everything from how one of our extraordinary costumes has been made or whether one of our family shows is appropriate for their child.
I increasingly cast through Facebook recommendations - Spotlight is great but for niche castings like circus artists who are also multi-instrumentalists - Facebook has been my saviour and connected me to artists who I would never have come across. Also personal recommendations tend to weed out ‘difficult’ company members.
In terms of venue relationships - perhaps half of the Artistic Directors of regional theatres that we regularly tour to are my friends on Facebook. We share commiserations over our children’s chicken pox as frequently as we celebrate each other's five star reviews. When we lost our opening venue for a tour, somewhat late in the day, I immediately shared our predicament on Facebook. Through that post we found a replacement immediately (with a venue we’d never toured to) - a relationship that has since evolved to now co-producing two future productions.
The UK Theatre Producers group on Facebook is a hive of activity and advice for producers at all stages of their careers. Although it boasts over 5000 members it feels a remarkably safe space in which to discuss sometimes thorny and complex ethical issues surrounding producing. Partly this is achieved by posted being moderated, but also there is a sense of community within the forum that’s rare for those within often solitary production roles to experience. As founded Jake Orr says ‘No question or request is too big, and the real joy comes from producers connecting with each other over topics raised. It brings the community closer, and moves producing away from a lone wolf approach to a community driven activity.’
It’s true that sensitivity and tact must be used - the internet doesn’t rust - and ill-thought late night posts can come back to haunt us. But what’s so great about forums like the Producer’s group and the equally wonderful Women Who Write Musicals group (created and curated by another exemplar of online community creation Jenifer Toksvig) is that they do feel like safe spaces. There is a culture both of support and of gentle provocation.
Everyone thinks of theatre as a touchy feely, people-y sort of sector - which of course it is - but for so many production roles - Director, Designer, Producer, Administrator - it can also be quite isolated, there tends to be only one of you across a production or a company. But it feels like our sector is finally waking up to the power of social media to form hubs, tribes and communities, and using those communities to answer questions both mundane and profound. As Jenifer Toksvig says “In these disconnected times, facilitated tribes of any kind, online or face to face, can provide us with reminders that we are social creatures at heart, who need each other in order to be our best selves.”