In a recent spate of articles about Broadway theatre and the Web there's been a lot of finger pointing in regards to placing blame for bad buzz about shows playing out-of-town. The first of which was "Gossip! Divas! It's Theater On the Web" written by Jesse McKinley for the New York Times. In this article it was reported that Broadway.com was the first to report on Seussical having problems in Boston. The next was a wonderfully sarcastic article in New York Magazine called "Candor and Web" by Jeremy Gerard. Jeremy points the finger at chat boards and New York theater writers as gossip mongers. The third was on theatre.com by Sean Patrick Flahaven called "That Harlem Sound." Sean implies that producers of The Rhythm Club, which played at Signature in D.C. and is Broadway bound, cancelled their Chicago out-of-town run to avoid the Internet gossip on chat boards, similar to the gossip that Seussical went through.
I think we all need to get a grip here. Let's first take a look at what a chat board is and what its purpose is. A chat board (message board) is simply a place where theatre fans can post messages and others can respond. We have a very popular one which is quite busy (there are many others). Many of our registered users are actors, producers, directors, press people, and Broadway maniacs. This is not your normal demographic, for sure. All these people attend Broadway shows quite regularly. What they are not, and I do have a pulse on our Chatterati, is your average theatre-goer waiting in the TKTS line or heading to the box office.
That being said, let's take a look at the 3 articles I've mentioned. First, the McKinley article in the Times was hardly a revelation to those of us online. Seussical was talked about before Broadway.com had it. Still, the important thing to remember is that they did report on the difficulties in Boston, as did the other major Broadway Websites and New York newspapers. And the Times mentioned "All That Chat" on Talkin' Broadway where fans "can get scoops about casting and struggling shows." Fair enough, informative article for the Times reader and general public.
In the "Candor and Web" piece Jeremy Gerard for New York Magazine states, "This torrent of gossip, news, amusing tidbits and reviews -- most of them unfiltered, unverifiable, and true -- in chatrooms and on bulletin boards at sites such as Playbill.com, Broadway.com and TalkinBroadway.com, is throwing producers and the reporters covering them for a loop." One certainly got a chuckle over New York Post columnist Michael Riedel being referred to as a "fang-in-cheek Broadway columnist." Mr. Gerard also implied that the chat board participants vs. the writers often leaves the writers in the dust. In other words, Mackie_Maniac had the scoop on Seussical before they did, and according to Mr. Gerard "the entrenched elite ain't happy."
Next at bat, Sean Patrick Flahaven, a Broadway writer for www.theatre.com, with his article called "That Harlem Sound." Here, Flahaven makes the ridiculous assumption that the producers of The Rhythm Club cancelled the Chicago run because of the Internet, specifically mentioning chat rooms, of course, not mentioning any columns he may have written about problems in Boston with Seussical. Ridiculous to cancel Chicago you say, or is it?
TalkinBroadway.com has a nice relationship with many Regional theater companies across the United States, including Signature. Our critic went to see The Rhythm Club and when she picked up a Press Kit at the Box Office she was asked not to review the show for this site, even though it would appear in our D.C. Regional section. She was told that they only wanted local press to review the show (even though local press often publish on the Internet). We complied and instead took the opportunity to interview the director of The Rhythm Club, Eric Schaeffer, and of course the first question was about the Internet. You can read it in our D.C. section, but before you do, let me just say that yes, he didn't want Internet (or what he views as non-local) reviews because he didn't want The Rhythm Club to go through the hell that Seussical did. Still, www.curtainup.com reviewed the Signature production and they are clearly an online site and not considered local to D.C.
The big bad Internet is clearly new to Broadway and its movers and shakers. Soon, they will explore ways to exploit the Web to their benefit, at least they should. Harris Polls should be taken to see how the Internet affects theatre-goers and their ticket buying habits, and that really is the bottom line isn't it?. But, until then, let me assure them that chat room buzz only increases ticket sales, even if they have a bomb on their hands. To participate in an internet chat room discussion you have to put your money where your mouth is if you're going to debate a show. And that, of course, is at the box office. The Chatterati are mostly at the box office and not at TKTS!
If, on the other hand, the Internet is really feared, then what is the lesser of two evils, an Internet post on "All That Chat" which lasts for 3 days and disappears into cyberspace, or our finger pointers whose columns report on out-of-town problems and remain archived on the Web for all the world to see for eternity?
It's kinda clear to me which one would affect ticket buyers not buying a ticket to a certain show. While I certainly enjoy reading articles by Internet and newspaper journalists, they're not the only voice anymore. I'd rather hear what Mackie_Maniac has to say any day, and perhaps, this is what's eating at the entrenched elite. The Internet has finally allowed the audience to speak, and it's a voice that rings ever so true.
And you read it here first! ;)
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