Last month, my friend Gwydion Suilebhan, a fellow Dramatists Guild regional rep from Washington, DC, was in town for a meeting at the Playwrights Center about the development of the New Play Exchange, a project of the National New Play Network. While he was here, I roped him into joining me at a Dramatists Guild event to present his talk on “Dramatists in the Age of Social Media.”
I had heard Gwydion speak on the topic at a meeting of regional reps from all across the country—a room full of people that ranged from fluent social media users to defiant non-users who were particularly Twitter-averse. I fell right in the middle, just like a lot of people I’ve been talking to lately. You know (or are) the type: “I already spend way too much time on Facebook and I don’t really get Twitter and aren’t they really the same thing anyway?” (Answer: No.) I had been operating under the assumption that whether I used social media or not was irrelevant to my career as a theater artist, more of a distraction than anything else. I recognized that it could be a useful tool, but my personal “media strategy” was nothing more than avoiding flame wars (pretty successful) and attempting to keep unflattering photos of myself from hitting my timeline (not so much).
So Gwydion’s talk was a bit of a revelation. Gwydion admits an intellectual debt to Steven Johnson, author of Future Perfect, when he explains how the governing metaphors we playwrights and theater makers are operating under have changed in the age of new media. The hierarchical structure that once governed a theater’s submission process dissolves when a playwright has peer-to-peer access in the world of social media.
One hypothetical: on Twitter, you, dear Minnesota Playwright, might find yourself in direct relationship with an Artistic Director of a theater in Texas who may be interested in a play just like the one you are self-producing right now, and instead of submitting your play to a nameless, faceless literary manager and waiting a year or more for no response, said AD might just ask you to send that play to them directly, landing you a production.
But the peer-to-peer access—the relationship (yes, real relationship)—doesn’t exist if you don’t participate in the network. Gwydion will tell you that he has landed more productions from being on Twitter than from anything else he’s done in the last three years. Creating and maintaining a presence on Twitter does take a time investment, especially at first, but I’m understanding more and more that unless I want to be left behind, I have to jump in and engage.
And how, exactly, does one engage on Twitter? Gwydion lays out his seven steps for playwrights on his website. The tips range from technical (use a third-party management tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck instead of Twitter.com) to practical (don’t spend all of your Twitter time promoting yourself) to simple yet maddening (be patient and give yourself time to learn the ropes). HowlRoundTV has also posted Gwydion’s informative presentation on this topic at the Dramatists Guild conference this past August, including a useful Q&A moderated by Seth Cotterman.
As crass as it sounds, in the world of social media, we all have a brand, and mine needs some work. I don’t even have a website—yet. I’m eagerly awaiting announcement of the dates of the next round of Springboard for the Arts workshops. They have a “Build Your Own Website” workshop, and my resolution for 2014 is to do just that. As the Twin Cites regional rep for the Dramatists Guild, I want to connect with you. Heck, as a human being, as a playwright, as a theater artist—as a friend, I want to connect with you. Find me on Twitter @LaurieFlanigan. #mnpl