Monday, November 26, 2007

Moving Forward from our 200th Blog Post

Posted by Phil Whiteway

Now that we’ve passed our 200th blog post—this is #201—our staff leadership is debating “tone.”

Does the Barksdale blog have design and content that reflects the “professional” standards to which we aspire as we create our work on stage? Does our blog seem “business-like” and/or “serious,” encouraging major contributors, Richmond business leaders, and out-of-town cyber-visitors to understand that Barksdale Theatre is a cornerstone institution that takes its art and management seriously?

You can visit Stage Banter, the excellent Arena Stage blog, for an example of what we mean by “professional,” “business-like” and “serious.”

Does our blog have a “folksy,” “personal,” “we’re all part of the Richmond theatre family” feel that reflects Barksdale’s family-oriented past and the personalities of many, if not all, of our current staff leaders, including me? We’re well aware that the Richmond theatre scene is considerably smaller than the D. C. theatre scene, and that Barksdale Theatre is considerably smaller than Arena Stage. But the commitment to artistic and managerial excellence is the same. Does our blog reflect this?

Here’s another way to look at it.

If you didn’t know Barksdale Theatre, and you read the blog as it is now, would you perceive that Barksdale and Theatre IV, working cooperatively, form Richmond’s largest performing arts institution? Do we seem like a leadership organization that strives to meet national standards? Does the blog reflect a maturity, artistic sensibility, intelligence and dedication that Richmond theatre artists can be proud of when actors, directors, and designers from other parts of the country check us out?

Does our blog make it appear that Richmond’s leading professional theatre is a relaxed, welcoming, community-based organization or a serious professional theatre? In many ways we strive to be both. Which impression do we want to make?

Our staff leadership knows who we are and what Barksdale Theatre stands for. When I say "we," I mean the "big tent" we of the entire Barksdale family. Our staff leadership is proud of who we are. Does our blog reflect who we are?

These are important questions, not just for Barksdale, but for our theatre community. There are no wrong answers. Please give it some thought and let us know your opinions. Feel free to speak both favorably and to offer constructive criticism.

An average of 78 people read our blog each day. I’m hoping for 20, 30 or 50 comments. So this means I'm hoping to hear from you. Thanks.

--Phil Whiteway


Thespis' Little Helper said...

I think the variety of "voices" on the blog really represents the diversity of the theatre community and who we're trying to reach.

Stage Banter seemed someone similar to the Buzz in that it was very focused on the people and events that happened in that community, so I didn't find it very captivating...maybe it's just the white background that's not visually interesting...

So...I like that it reflects all of the things that you posed questions about: fun, but professional, but young, but business-like, but etc.

Robinitaface said...

BC is right, when you have a blog that has multiple contributers, those variety of voices will shine through. Luckily, all of these voices read as though this blog is "their baby," which translates to a love for the Barksdale Theatre.

The theatre is an awesome business where you can have professional mixed with a certain level of emotion - you have to. A theatre in the South, you have the advantage of mixing some "charm" in there, and you're golden.

Having a bro-in-law in web design (he brought us & - shameless plug), I'm a blog reader. I generally steer clear of blogs that say, "I went to this restaurant, and it was good." That doesn't give me any insight into what you're about. If you've a funny story to go along with it, then I can figure you out. If I wanted just the facts, I'd stick with your regular website.

I've never read anything on this blog that I would consider unprofessional. Some comments may have been misinterpreted, but I doubt intentions were ever unprofessional. Business blogging is still relatively new territory - it's relatively personal insight to a professional world.

I talk about this over at T-line's blog. Don't try to mold this into something it's not. Let it be what it is. Copying someone else's formula is not, in my opinion, what Richmond is, or should be, about.

One criticism: I'm not a huge fan of the Pivot/Lipton questionnaire feature. Maybe it's the length of the answers...I like to read between the lines with rapid fire answers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil-

I just stumbled on to the Barksdale blog after spending a lot of time on Dave Timberline's blog...I think it looks great, I love how informative it is not only regarding what is going on at Barksdale/Theatre IV but also what is happening regionally and nationally. I like it better than my own blog!! I hope all is well with everyone and let Bruce know I am ready to come home and direct for Barksdale at anytime!!

Rick St. Peter

Anonymous said...

Well, a little perspective from a local theatre goer:
I really enjoy the blog. It is personal and personable, and lets me feel like an "insider" of sorts into what's going on in the Richmond theatre scene. It inspires me to see shows (both at Barksdale/TheatreIV and other theatres in town) that I might not have otherwise given much thought. It helps me appreciate the shows I see in a different light. My daughter, who is an avid theatre goer and aspiring (7 year old) actress, likes when I can give her some inside scoop I picked up on the blog, and it makes local theatre more accessible to her as well.
The blog is informative, educational, and fun for those of us outside the industry. I think it certainly portrays Barksdale/Theatre IV in a positive light, and I have learned more about your organization and have been more inspired to loyalty as a result.
Just keep in mind that you cannot be all things to all people. If you refocus the blog, for example, to portray a more polished and professional image to those within the industry and/or outside RVA who may visit the site, it will consequently lose something for locals and fans. Perhaps you need to consider who your main audience is (or who you would like it to be) and aim in that direction (or keep going in that direction as the case may be).
Happy 200th entry!
Stacy D.

hoosier steve said...

Hi Phil,

I for one love the blog. It is wonderfully informative of what is going on at Barksdale. It also helps me feel connected to the theatre family that was such an important part of my life for so long.
Also, far be it from me to disagree with any Robin, but I love the Pivot/Lipton questions. I will admit I prefer it when it is someone that I know, offering a different insight into a person I have worked with, but it is always a joy to read.
Keep up the good work.

Dave T said...

Dear Phil,

I think the blog is great -- I've loved it since it debuted. Many of my thoughts are echoes of comments already made: I always enjoy the "insider" perspective. I like BC's interview segments but also wonder if they could be more theater-focused, like instead of favorite word, etc., how about favorite play? I would avoid like the plague trying to make the blog something that you, Bruce and all of you great TIV/Bdale people aren't. If your blog was not a little loose and a little playful, I wouldn't read it. I also think it is highly commendable that you all talk about other theaters and the theater world in general. The broader perspective is nice and gives the impression (which I think is sincere) that you all aren't totally self-centered and in fact are theater-lovers who appreciate theater wherever it happens, not just the stuff you are producing.

I've already gone on record about length -- I just can't read some of the long posts and oftentimes end up skimming. Two other suggestions that you can mull over -- offered at no charge! -- or reject:

-- Video posts. More and more people have high-speed connections and theater is such a sound/light/action-intensive medium, I think people would be further enticed to check out a show if you included a snippet of a scene or of a song or even of an interview online.

-- Dramaturgical analysis. (How's that for a mouthful?!) You all have done a great job at introducing your plays and talking about various elements of them: posts about Carson McCullers, for instance, or about women playwrights in general. I wonder -- and maybe this is just me -- whether your audience would also appreciate some more in-depth analysis that places a show in historical or cultural context. I think you generally get across the performance-oriented reasons why a person should see a show, i.e., it's a compelling show! With talented and interesting actors! But people might like to hear why the play was written, what are some of the themes addressed, what was the reaction to the show when it premiered, what has been the lasting impact (if any) of the play, etc. In my mind, it would be another way to tranform the reader of the blog to the patron at the box office, pushing someone subtly from thinking "that's a cool thing I just read" to "that's a show I really need to see." It's the kind of thing I'd like to do in my reviews but, you know, you can only do so much in 500 words.

A show like "Doubt" is ripe for this kind of treatment, perhaps in several parts. Just a thought.

Keep up the excellent work!

Jacquie O. said...

Hi Phil. I wanted to follow up on something Stacy D said…”for example, to portray a more polished and professional image to those within the industry and/or outside RVA who may visit the site, it will consequently lose something for locals and fans.”

The folks that are reading your blog now are your Richmond locals and fans, and those people are bringing their personalities, opinions and love of the theatre scene to your blog. Barksdale should always strive to keep that Mom and Pop feel…it is what it was built on. Professional…YES, but still the kind of place that that makes you feel at home. I know it sounds corny, but it is what makes Barksdale so special. I am not sure you would be able to shape your blog away from that unless you start filtering both content and response.

Anonymous said...

Just a short comment from a quiet fan. I enjoy the blog, see a couple Barksdale shows each year and a Theatre IV show once every 4 years or so. Keep up the great work. Have been coming since before Willow Lawn.

Brad Boinest said...

1. I think it’s great you asked. That says a lot about why you guys are successful. You don’t proceed merrily along without doing reality checks, opinion surveys, etc.

2. I didn’t reply right away, because I read your blog only so often. To have a more informed opinion, I actually took the time to go back and read the past hundred or so entries, many of which I’d missed. I checked out the Arena blog too.

3. I like your blog better, because I really felt like I got to know your theatre, whereas the Arena blog is pretty sterile and business-as-usual. Your blog is quirky, very informative, and all over the map. Interestingly enough, this all made you seem more self-confident. As others have said, you welcome in a variety of voices, some of which are to my taste and some of which aren’t. But the mere fact that you welcome them all, including the ones that seem silly or sophomoric, makes you seem strong and assured.

4. I really like the dramaturgical pieces (and I agree with Dave Timberline’s earlier comments in this regard). Bruce Miller either knows a hell of a lot or does a lot of research. I think his pieces on the women playwrights, Barksdale history, connections between the local theatre scene and the national theatre scene, etc., are outstanding. I like it that he’s so open to speaking favorably about other Richmond theatres. And I like his self-deprecating honesty too. You sure don’t find Molly Smith writing blog entries about her screw-ups, and you know she has them.

5. I'll tell you what I don’t like, but it really shouldn't matter. Different strokes and all that. I don’t like cutesy blog names like Thespis Little Helper and Billy Blogopher. I’m much more impressed when Billy Christopher uses his real name. It goes back to that confidence thing. I don’t like using random images to illustrate a blog entry. I don’t need to see a picture of a double bass when Bruce says that he was attending his son’s orchestra concert, or a picture of Ronald McDonald shoes when someone mentions clowns. I don’t like asking actors to talk about their favorite curse words. It seems demeaning.

6. All in all, I think you’re doing a good job of painting a picture of an active, smart, committed, enthusiastic theatre family. And I agree that more video blogs would be great.

Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

For the most part, I enjoy reading the Barksdale blog. The blog helps me to keep informed about a lot of theatre news, local and national. A lot of the articles on the blog are fun and/or very interesting.

Having said this, I am one of several Richmond theatre artists who feel that the writers on the blog are sometimes too goofy and self-indulgent. We're all for the Barksdale blog welcoming different "voices," but we think that each of the voices should meet at least minimal writing standards.

There are some blog entries that would earn no better than a C in a sophomore English class in most Virginia high schools. We believe that those entries do not reflect the quality of Barksdale's work and commitment. We believe that, by association, those entries portray the Richmond theatre scene as less than it is. If we don't take our work seriously, no one else will either.

Our suggestion is to keep the 90% of the blog that is intelligently written and replace the 10% that seems like it's written as some sort of a goofball joke. Others may disagree, but that's our honest opinion.

Thanks for asking.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

I'm curious about who "we" is and also about what in particular falls into that 10%.

A friend and professor said...

What you seem to have is that most typical of corporate culture problems: old school vs young mavericks. If either side gets defensive or dictatorial the battle is lost.

I'll admit my bias up front. I'm a "by the book" kind of guy.

Sadly, in my opinion, when it comes to writing, even business writing, "old school" represents maintaining correct grammar and the consistent sense of style that was hammered into our heads in the 40s through 70s. Remember when we learned the difference between "social" and "business" writing?

The opposite of "old school" (saying "new school" would make me so "old school") reflects the anything goes, "whole language" trends that were prevalent in American education between approximately 1980 and 1995.

Since 1995, our educational gurus seem to be back in the "old school" camp. Who knows about tomorrow?

It sounds like what you need to solve this problem is an editor. Most other publications have one. Particularly when you have multiple "reporters," everyone (reporters, readers, publishers) benefits from having someone stand at the helm making sure that everything is grammatically correct and written within the guidelines of a "style book."

At least that's my opinion.

A good editor doesn't take anything away from the individuality of the voices. In fact, a good editor can help her (his) writers find and refine their voices. His (her) job is to ensure that everyone is working at the same standard of acceptable writing.

But that's from someone (me) who believes there is such a thing as "acceptable" writing. Your readers between the ages of 24 and 39 may disagree, depending on where they went to school.

Your problem will be convincing those who were brought up with a whole language approach that there is such a thing as "acceptable writing." The whole language concept was that any and everything that you put down on paper was good, as long as it reflected your personality and your individual sense of intellectual curiousity. Ebonics gained some educational acceptance during the same period. It doesn't matter how you spell it, it doesn't matter how you pronounce it, as long as it reflects "you," it's all good.

Those who grew up before and after the whole language period were taught exactly the opposite. They were forced by their teachers to write within the confines of "acceptable" guidelines. Now that they've mastered those guidelines, they expect the rest of the world to master them as well. And the whole language crowd thinks that they're a bunch of fuddy-duddies.

Good luck with your journey, and congratulations for taking it.

TL said...

I didn't write the anonymous comment that talked about 90% good stuff and 10% bad, but I'll answer Thespis's Helper from what I think. Here are my examples of the 10% bad and all that it really is are the items that didn't seem intresting to me.

If its intresting to somebody else that's fine.

Moonlight and Magnolias Makes Many Merry by John Steils was boring to me. Just give me links to the reviews if you want me to read them. And I guess thats an example of bad grammar too. There is an extra s on Makes.

Jacqueline Jones Teaches Us Many Things ect by Billy Christopher Maupin goes on too long and talks about a lot of stuff I don't know anything about or care anything about. It really seems insider. At least I think it does. I couldn't read much of it cause it was boring.

Reviewers Hail Boogie Woogie ect is just like the other review thing. Just links please.

Moonlight Makes Movie Memory Magic is just about who was at the opening night party. Who cares? I wasn't there. I wasn't even invited. LOL. And I HATE!!! the headlines that try to be so funny by having every word begin with teh same letter.

Money Woes Convince Ambush ect is about some guy in who doesn't live here anymore NOT taking a job someplace else. Need I say more

Taking Stock and Giving Thanks seems like a lot of butt kissing.

Playing to a Diverse Audience I just didn't get what Bruce Miller was even trying to say.

A Tiger by the tail seems to just stop right in the middle, which is awful because it was about Firehouse. It doesn't seem polite to just stop. But at least it was short

I like the parts about the favorite curse words and the Broadway strike and anything funny or about other theaters.

I don't come see many of your plays cause I think their a little boring, but I do read the blog sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Are there seriously other blogs that have editors? I wasn't aware of that.
I can write professionally, with polished grammar, when it is called for. I'm sure the writers on this blog are in the same boat. That said, I don't think a blog is the place for a rigid writing style.
Perhaps being educated in the 70s and 80s, and falling at the end of the "young" age range given, gives me some balance on the issue. On my blog, and on my comments on other blogs, I feel that a much more relaxed style is appropriate. I have always felt that blogs are for writing in a conversational manner. This means that traditional, strict grammar rules are sometimes bent or disregarded. I love grammar. I took an entire semester (unrequired) in college, just for fun. And what I love about it (notice the "and" at the beginning of the sentence and the odd paranthetical here?) is that by using it (or not) to suit your particular medium can have great effect. Poets bend or follow grammar in pointed ways. I think, though less lofty, bloggers can do the same thing.
I think if you want something more polished, you are looking for an online newsletter, which would be a different feature of teh website (and could feasibly have an editor). The blog should be the spot to let your hair down a little.
And, for the record, there is certainly goofiness here. I can see how some would not like this. I am rather fond of the goofiness myself.
a local fan

Robinitaface said...

I graduated from high school in 1997, so I'm not sure where I fall in the language education gap.

That being said:

Alliteration is a perfect valid literary device. Overuse of any device in one medium should be cautioned.

"Moonlight and Magnolias Makes Many Merry" is correct. "Makes" should have that "s" on the end. While magnolias are plural, they are included in the title of a play. There is only one play listed. The subject and verb do agree.

Nearing the end of my twenty-somethings, I'm saddened by the way the dictionary simply bends to slang and poor grammar.

"These are they?"

This was a question that drew ridicule from co-workers when a waitress asked if two particular plates of food were the ones she had previously requested.

"What did she say? Nobody talks like that anymore."

"My wife does," my husband replied.

Oh, I also read.

I agree with Professor in that it is possible to maintain personality while using proper grammar. In fact, one can express much of their personality through word choice and sentence structure.

I'm not sure whether it has anything to do with "old school" or "new school." It just has to do with school.

notablogger said...

As only an occasional reader of the Blog, I want to say that I think it is great. When I want information about soemthing I can go and get it in any other place on the net,,, etc, etc, etc. But when I want to know what the people who work on the show feel about about it where else is there to go. I do ask one question, have you ever thought of doing a main character blog, something that may get us invested in the show even before we see it? I feel that when people have spent time reading something they are invested and want to see the outcome. I also want to thank Robin for her last post. I was going to say something along those lines. If you are insulting grammer, make sure you are correct. I personally like the alliteration in the titles of your blogs, I do sometimes wonder how much time is spent thinking of titles. At age 23 I think I speak proper grammer 99% of the time. I do think I still have a personality and it is great that you let it shine through, especially as good as Bruce and Phil and everyone at Barksdale are as people.