June 20, 2007

Broadway Goes Technoculture

If you're reading this blog, I know two things about you: (1) you're interested in Broadway and (2) you feel at least some comfort online. What I wondered was how comfortable Broadway felt not only online but with all the new technology from cellphones to social networking websites that are defining modern life. The big challenge for all the old traditional art forms and institutions—books, museums, opera, theater—is to find new ways to connect to media-savvy audiences, particularly the tweens, teens and twentysomethings who can give them the infusion of fresh blood they'll need to thrive in the 21st century. So I poked around, asked some friends, trolled some sites and found to my delight that Broadway is beginning to get its high-tech act together.

Just this week, the New York Times ran an article on how the folks over at Spring Awakening are inviting audience members to compete for the prize of a backstage tour by sending text messages via their cellphones (click here to read the article). I know some of my fellow bloggers hate this idea because they worry it will lead to more phones going off during the show but I say let's get the kids into the theater and then teach them how to behave once they're there. Avenue Q is trying to lure them in with a series of podcasts that will be downloadable at iTunes. Legally Blonde and the recently departed The Pirate Queen launched extravagant multi-media websites. Rent and other shows offer ringtone versions of their songs. It's all good.

Broadway producers in the past embraced the new technology of their day too—from the first cast album of Oklahoma in 1943 to scores of cast performances on the old Ed Sullivan TV show to D. A. Pennebaker’s now-classic documentary on the cast recording of Company. So I applaud Curtains for joining more obviously youth-friendly shows like Spring Awakening and Legally Blonde and
setting up its own page on MySpace. More producers should put video clips on YouTube too. There are already a few, placed there mainly by fans who seem to have sneaked cameras into theaters and made bootleg videos but productions ought to be uploading their own highlights. It's free advertising and costly production values like those for TV spots aren't necessary since the rough, homemade quality of the videos is consider cool on YouTube. But more than anything a MySpace page or a YouTube clip signals that Broadway is up to date and makes the shows seem as though they want the people who are interested in these sites to be interested in them too.

I think it would be really great if Broadway annexed some space on Second Life, the online site that simulates the real world. Companies like Nike have set up shop there. Politicians like Barack Obama are campaigning there (click here to see him in action and to get a sense of how 2nd Life works). The Louvre has opened a virtual branch. Heck, even the country of Sweden set up a virtual embassy "to promote its image and culture." Now doesn't that sound like exactly what Broadway should be doing?

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

While I respectfully disagree on the whole cell phone thing, I have to agree wholeheartedly on Second Life. A sister company to the one I work for has a presence there and it's just amazing. There's no reason why Broadway couldn't be well represented - let novice theatregoers experience a bit of what they're in for.

And with respect to MySpace and YouTube, if a Broadway show isn't there, they're really missing the boat.