‘It’s like something out of a dream.”

~ Luke Skywalker

This is how I’ve felt lately. Like I’ve woken up from some kind of dream. This often occurs when I connect with someone who I haven’t talked to since before March 13th 2020. I imagine that the more our collective consciousness rebounds back into various states of pre-pandemic behavior these last 15 months will more and more feel like a dream. I’m still undecided whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Probably both.

Speaking of awakening from a dream, there is a mental fog I’d like to clear with our performing arts community. Namely, what the heck is happening over at Playlist?

 

Let’s start with the obvious

Perhaps you’ve recently navigated to this website and found ALL the images missing. Even now you may be using the Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser and not see a single image on the site. You would be correct in assuming that there is something terribly wrong with the Playlist site. And I thank those folks who have reached out to let me know.

You may also have navigated over to the talent page and found that not only are there missing images the whole talent page looks like it jumped in a time machine back to 1996 and decided to be reprogrammed by a 12 year old who ‘wants to be a coder’.

Yeah. There are some issues over here.

TL;DR (historical context incoming)

When I purchased Playlist from the founders I was extremely lucky that it came with a backend developer. This individual had worked with the founders for years on the site and was the backbone of ensuring the site ran as expected. They implemented many of the cool features that we take for granted (like when you tag an active profile in your calendar posting, that performer or designer shows up next to the show description). 

This was HUGE for me as I don’t know squat about Drupal (the open-source web content management framework that Playlist is built on), web hosting, Cloudflare, dev sites, etc. So keeping Playlist running was very much a behind the scenes partnership. In the first two years I was able to glean some info about how this all worked. But not enough to fix things, or make major changes. And so in early 2020 when my developer had to step out of the role I was left hoping things would just kinda work for awhile.

And surprisingly they did.

Until they didn’t.

Just as we (the collective we) were discovering that the anticipated six to eight week pandemic was going to stretch out a LOT longer, things started crashing on the site and I needed help. Luckily, a member of our community who had the chops to do stuff commented on our Facebook page and we struck up a relationship to keep Playlist functioning through the pandemic. But now as the world begins to wake up from its fever dream that individual can no longer dedicate the time to support us. 

So I had a choice: keep working with independent contractors on an as needs basis and hope they can stick around, or contract with a company who can support Playlist for the long term.

I’ve opted for the latter. (If you’ve made it this far in the TL;DR section, congrats. Your patience for my rambling diatribe is borderline heroic.)

 

The Fix

I’m excited to be working with a local developer who can provide the time and resources for Playlist. This means more than just fixing the things that break. It means starting to look at what the next iteration of Playlist might be. My goal is to start implementing features as early as end of this calendar year. And perhaps a whole new look, feel, and set of features for Playlist by 2022.

This has been a long time coming. Having a dedicated team who is available for support on the website means that your content is up and available to the community nearly all the time. It will also mean that I can learn more about how the site works. Like when you clean out your basement and learn all kinds of stuff (“I didn’t know we owned this.” “I’ve been looking for that, and here is where it was the whole time!”) I look forward to learning more about the site and how it functions when we migrate to Drupal 9 next year. I’ll get a chance to look under the hood so to speak and do so with someone pointing out what I’m looking at, why it is (or isn’t) important and can guide decision making based on years of experience and a broad range of knowledge. And can ultimately help me make technology decisions that are in the best interest of our performing arts community. Not just to make playlist shiny and new, but to address the needs of you all.

As it always has, Playlist exists to serve the community. We are a platform for you. It is that unique aspect that makes it different from the national audition and job posting sites. So with that in mind:

What features would you like to see on playlist? (Got an idea submit it here!)

 

The case for (less fewer) writers

One of the other unique factors about Playlist is that it was conceived as a digital town commons. A place where you can buy an ad (classifieds), spin up some self promotion (talent profiles), showcase what you are working on (calendar), and learn what’s going on in your community (magazine).

It is that last one that I’m excited to talk to you about today. Since its inception Playlist has used a slew of writers to create the content you read in the magazine. These writers have almost exclusively been community members like yourself who provide one, some, or many articles. They come and they go and my job (until Erin McNeil took over as lead editor) was to wrangle those folks and try to cobble together content that we could publish.

The inherent challenge has been in keeping a consistent pipeline of content. Between Erin (who has recently stepped down as lead editor) and myself, we have struggled to keep people engaged in writing for Playlist regularly. So with her stepping down I figured now might be a good time to try something new that we had been discussing prior to the pandemic.

Playlist is hiring part-time journalists. We are assembling a small team (4-6) of writers to be our journalism department and to provide consistent weekly content for our community. These writers will be focusing on editorials, interviews, researched articles, opinion pieces, and pre-press. 

If you are interested in applying please review our job posting here. Our journalism roles will remain open until filled at which point our team will begin working on creating content for the magazine. We are strongly seeking BIPOC writers. If you have connections to the BIPOC community your word of mouth of this journalism opportunity would be greatly appreciated.

 

This feels like a good time to talk about reviews. 

Reviews are a challenge. Why you ask? (Here’s a short list. I love lists)

#1 Reviews are written by your working peers (read: primarily actors) and so there is often a hesitancy to bring the level of critical analysis that is warranted in writing a review in the first place. See also the perceived “bite the hand that feeds” analogy.

#2 Reviews are often read or published after the fact, or late in the run. The bread and butter of companies that Playlist supports, are often smaller with short runs (2-3 weekends). Even when we get a reviewer to a show on opening night, that review might not be published until the following Wednesday, which may mean there are only a few performances left. And that’s a best case scenario.

#3 And finally, reviews are insider baseball. They rarely generate new audience to attend a show. A positive review typically reflects a show that already has some momentum. In reviewing website data from Google Analytics on Playlist and interaction data on Playlist’s Facebook page I can confidently say that reviews reflect the lowest of our metrics. Most of the other content from the magazine does better than a review. 

Instead of reviews our writing team is going to focus on pre-press. 

How can you ensure you are considered for pre-press you ask? (Great question! Oh and look, another list)

  1. Post your performance on our FREE calendar. This will be the first place our journalists look for what to cover. Having your show in our calendar early ensures we know about it.
  2. Send us a press release early. Email it to: [email protected]
  3. Give us a unique reason to pick your performance over others. When crafting your press release help us see the story worth sharing with the community. Because everyone is doing a show, everyone has a world premier, everyone is putting a spin on a classic, etc.
    As my day-time employer says “think different.” What makes your story unique?

But what about reviews Damon? Are you just bailing on reviews?

Nope.

We’ll still be supporting reviews from the community. If you are interested in writing reviews for Playlist you can email me at [email protected] for details. We are just shifting the focus of our investment of time and money to something I think will have a greater impact. 

If you are a blogger in town and you’d like to cross post your content please also reach out to me. Playlist would be happy to support the local bloggers and get them in front of the community (there’s that platform concept again.)

 

What now?

Back in March I put out a call for articles from the community on “What now?" What now has been a question that has cropped up in a lot of my conversations. Thanks to those who have submitted content. 

If you have thoughts on what now, I encourage you to check out the call for submissions, and then to write. Write your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your desires, your opinions, your facts (please keep your alternative facts to yourself though), and your expectations for what the future holds. Send them in. We are publishing everything that is sent to us.

As I clear the fog from my mind, waking up from the dream (nightmare) of the past year, and begin to see the next phase of Playlist, I recognize that more now than ever we are a platform for you. And that concept of a platform is critical as we work to build the community we want to see. Not everyone in our community can stand up and shout and be heard. Playlist has a big megaphone and many an ear (eye?) connected to us. Now more than ever I encourage you to use this platform, share this platform with others, encourage those around you to take advantage of this platform. And to know, and trust, that the decisions I make for the future of this website will always remain in service to this community. 

Your input is always welcome. 

In fact is it necessary.