Cue Curtain. Go!By Michael & Laura Clark • Jun 20th, 2014 • Category: ShowBizRadio
Over the past nine years, after attending and reviewing over 700 productions, working backstage and onstage on nearly a dozen shows, interviewing 135 different theater practitioners, writing 400 news articles, publishing nearly 800 reviews from our other reviewers, supporting the Cappies high school theater program by publishing over 450 reviews, providing links to 2,100 auditions and adding 6,000 productions to our production performance calendars, it’s time to close the curtain on ShowBizRadio’s publishing efforts.
Since moving out of the DC area last Fall, it’s been difficult staying connected. Theater is about the people, and learning about productions via email and Facebook doesn’t provide an adequate bond between us as editors and the theaters. As we learned with our efforts to start a ShowBizRadio site in other regions of the country, the editor needs to be involved in local theater activities.
The best thing about the experiences of the past nine years is the people we’ve met. At the very first show we attended (2nd Flight’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Manassas), sitting in the audience before the curtain, as we eavesdropped on the people around us and hearing them discuss the roles they were going to audition for, and the gossip about other actors, we never really thought we would become a part of that community. Everyone we’ve met over the past nine years has been incredibly friendly and supportive.
We’ve made a few mistakes over the years. Sometimes we revealed surprise plot points in a review. Once we gave a snap opinion to a director immediately after the show. We allowed people to post hurtful comments on a review. We occasionally allowed ourselves to be hurt by anonymous insults. We are very grateful to those of you out there who have accepted our apologies for our mistakes and have continued to support us.
One thing we have never apologized for is taking our role of reviewer (and later our role as editor) seriously. We strive to share with our readers both the successes and flaws of a production. We realize that art is very subjective, and it is likely that your reaction to a piece will be different than ours. And that’s ok, we never imagined that anyone would think that our reviews would be the final word. Despite the flaws inherent in the theater awards systems (notably WATCH and Helen Hayes) it was gratifying when those systems agreed with our reviews, either by recognizing an outstanding aspect of a show, or by not recognizing a portion.
What are we proud of?
We’ve always attempted to respect our readers. We include the entire cast and crew lists with each review so that the entire production team gets a bit of credit. We don’t allow pseudonyms on our writers and commenters, we believe that the strongest opinions are those that can be attributed to a specific person. Our web sites don’t do any annoying advertising, such as pop-ups, pop-unders, animated ads, and have limited the number of ads to two banners, despite occasional requests for more ads so the rates could be less expensive. We don’t break articles into multiple pages in order to inflate our page hit counts.
We broadcast the WATCH nominations live, using audio in 2011 and video in 2012 and 2013. We interviewed audience members before and after each broadcast, and broadcast video before the ceremony and during intermission at the 2012 and 2013 WATCH ceremonies. We also live tweeted and liveblogged the WATCH Awards and Helen Hayes Awards several times, starting in 2011.
We have been a supporter of the Cappies since 2007, publishing over 450 reviews. By supporting local high school theater, we’ve been a part of building the love of theater in the next generation of actors, designers and technicians. Many of the high school productions we’ve attended have been excellent, despite huge casts, inexperienced staff, tiny budgets and challenging technical aspects. Please continue to support high school theater by attending your local school’s productions.
We share the site’s revenues with our reviewers. Granted, it wasn’t a lot of money. But it helped offset their travel expenses.
According to our site’s traffic analysis, over 500,000 people have read the site, viewing over 2,000,000 pages.
We also screen people who express interest reviewing. About one in three people don’t continue writing for the site after the screening process. The process involved a phone interview, looking over their theatrical resume and a writing sample, and then reviewing a production attended with Mike and Laura. We then can offer guidance on the review, as well as make sure that whatever they state in the review is justifiable. We also require our reviewers to fully disclose any potential biases they have with a production. If they’ve worked at a theater in the past year, or have a family member or close friend in the show, they are generally unable to review that production.
Our index of theater companies and productions is an never-ending project. This index attempted to list every show produced in the area by every company. We have over 5,000 pages of information cross-referenced on our sites. This takes a huge amount of time to get up and running, but we received comments from artistic directors who used the listings to help plan their future seasons.
We tried to build out a network of sites under the ShowBizRadio brand. We did this in several ways as an experiment to see if our current workflow was scalable. And we learned that the way we were operating really wasn’t. We started three new sites in different regions of the United States. One site simply wasn’t large enough to get any economies of scale despite covering an entire state. One site didn’t get enough traction from the existing theater community to be successful, and the last attempt was a partnership with an existing theater site. That partnership failed, despite a lot of work we did, due to internal problems at that other site. At least we tried!
We joined the American Theatre Critics Association. Being a tiny part of the Tony Award process for recommending the Regional Theatre Award was exciting. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else to our membership, as we weren’t able to afford to travel around the country to attend conferences, and ATCA doesn’t do much online.
What could we have done better?
We should have obtained more help in managing the deluge of information coming in to us. We receive nearly 50 email messages per day (30,504 messages since starting to count on September 1, 2012). We also get many Facebook messages and event invitations, most of which are hidden by Facebook’s horrible messaging system. In the past year we’ve begun receiving press releases from theaters around the country.
We could have used social media better. While we are active on sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are for the most part time sinks, and a money pit. So we made the decision to use them primarily to link to our own articles. We very briefly explored using YouTube and Pinterest, but again, we chose to not use those sites.
We should have varied our monetizing efforts. The only real success we had was selling advertising space on the site. Exploring different ways to generate income earlier in the site’s life would have been fruitful. Last year’s effort at the ShowBizRadio Club brought in some extra revenue, but not enough to help sustain the sites.
The ShowBizRadio web site archives will not be going away. Due to existing scheduling, there will be a few reviews coming out over the next month or so, but we will not be making new press reservations. Our performance and audition calendars will rapidly become outdated, but the time commitment to make changes and corrections is too great to continue.
Thank you to the people who have contributed reviews and articles to the site over the years. Mark Lee Adams, Joe Adcock, Bob Ashby, Genie Baskir, Amy Berlin, Barbara Trainin Blank, Nick Dauley, Mari Davis, Betsy Marks Delaney, McCall Doyle, Courtney Ferguson, Jennifer Gusso, Roman Gusso, Michelle James, Eric Jones, Jacob Kresloff, Bruce Levy, Amanda Lipon, Sara McMullin, Lisa Kay Morton, Rachael Murray, Jose Pineda, Rodrigo Pool, Kari Kitts Rothstein, David Siegel, Daniel Sherrier, Adam Sylvain, Ty Unglebower, Xandra Weaver. ShowBizRadio was better with your efforts.
As always, feel free to send us an email.
Thank you for allowing us to be a small part of the big world of theater. – Mike & Laura
This article can be linked to as: http://showbizradio.com/go/10154.
Michael & Laura Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.