Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Buzzin' and Bookin' to Beat the Band

Posted by Bruce Miller
I admit my relationship with the Barksdale Buzz has been an on-again, off-again affair. The reasons are several, having to do with the pull of other responsibilities both personal and professional, a fierce desire to avoid conflict, my tendency to become bored by routine, and a schoolboy’s response to the flirtations of other IT applications.

I believe it’s an important part of the job of the artistic director of any major professional theatre to communicate regularly and publicly about this most popular of all performing art forms. Like it or not, and I admit that I like it, there is a platform that comes with my position. I enjoy speaking in our Coffee & Conversations and Bifocals monthly programs. I’ve been known to get giddy leading walking tours in NYC or London during our annual theatre trips with Covington Travel.

But enjoying communication doesn’t make it easy or effective. Worthwhile, informed, articulate communication takes time and focus.

Not everyone agrees. Blogs and other new technologies encourage casual and free-wheeling correspondence. Several friends insist my writing is way too stuffy for a blog. But the minute I put on my artistic director hat, and more and more I’m realizing that I’m never allowed to take it off, every word I write becomes writ in stone. Sometimes people make judgements about Barksdale and Theatre IV based on little more than my syntax. Each of these judgments has a cash value, and I have 40 to 80 people counting on me every two weeks for their pay checks.

As I was contemplating all this last fall, the siren call of Facebook began to fill my ears. Facebook is not about writing; it’s about connecting. Perhaps here, I thought, I could continue to promote the two nonprofit theatres I represent without needing to pontificate. I kissed blogger goodbye, or at least farewell, and jumped into F’book like a skinny dipping kid on a hot night at the local swimmin’ hole.

Now, 1,575 friends later, I’m beginning to learn the ins and outs of Facebook. Without ever intending to, I’ve made people frustrated and upset; I’ve hurt feelings. I’ve learned to be cautious and to keep a much lower profile.

With only a couple early exceptions, I don’t play the Facebook games or take the surveys or join the causes or throw sheep at people.

Currently I use Facebook, professionally, as follows. I try to keep up with Theatre IV and Barksdale alum, to let them know they will always be remembered and appreciated. I try to befriend theatre students at VCU, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Oklahoma, hoping they will audition for us as they grow their professional careers. I try to befriend professional actors in Broadway, Off Broadway and nationally touring shows, wanting to spread the names of Barksdale and Theatre IV widely throughout our national talent pool. I network with “friends” and supporters of other theatres in town, including the upcoming “Broadway” series at CenterStage, hoping that Barksdale and Theatre IV will show up on everyone’s radar screen. I keep in touch with a full roster of civic and business leaders, reminding one and all that Barksdale and Theatre IV are worthy nonprofits that need broad-based community support.

Will any of it work? Who knows. But I’m trying.

And now, perhaps, I’ll begin writing a bit again on the blog. If and when I do, I hope you’ll all begin reading again, and commenting. Most of all, I hope each and every one of you will become a constant player in the Richmond professional theatre scene. It won’t happen without lots of energy coming from lots of people in lots of places.

Hope to see you at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller

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