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Theatre For The YouTube Generation

April 4, 2008

The Theatre Communications Group (the body that oversees non-profit theatre in the U.S.) has launched a three-minute theatre video competition as part of the run-up to its 2008 National Conference to be held in Denver in June.

Contestants were asked to make a three-minute video about their theatre companies, including some thoughts about "their vision for theatre in the future."

Browsers to the TCG website can view all eight submissions and then vote for their favorite. The winner(s) will receive the equivalent of two complimentary registrations to the TCG National Conference and the top videos will be screened at the conference.

I'm not sure what the rationale behind this competition is. I'm not sure the theatre community understands it either, otherwise TCG would have received more than just eight submissions. However, It's interesting to see the range of styles and approaches even within such a small group of offerings:

7 Stages in Atlanta's slick, sober effort looks and sounds like an infomercial on the theme of why theatre will change the planet. With the sound down, it could be a video for some environmental or education non-profit.

The Magic Theatre in San Francisco takes a completely opposing tack. Two hip young company members make jokey riffs about theatre while basking in the sunshine with a view of the sparkling Bay and Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The video looks like an MTV short with its rock music soundtrack and pithy soundbytes.

Actors Shakespeare Project of Boston's video comes across as an earnest "artists at work"-type profile for public television. A narrator describes the company's process and approach. Images depict rehearsals. The emphasis is definitely on showing "how a play is made."

A more tongue-in-cheek and intriguing entry comes from The LARK Play Development Center in New York, which manages to combine insights about what the center does from such dramatists as Arthur Kopit and David Henry Hwang and a cheeky look into how the playwrights of the future need to forge ahead with their own creativity rather than rely on churning out plays according to a formula.

Other entries include: Brava Center for the Arts, San Francisco Imagination Stage, Bethesda Kitchen Theatre Company and Ithaca Youth Ensemble of Atlanta

What's clear from the range of approaches to the subject is that the creators don't quite know to whom they are pitching themselves. Creating a video about one's theatre company for the sheer delight of it is a fun and I'm sure worthwhile exercise, but in what way does it really aid a company's cause or the theatre's cause in general? And if the videos are only meant to be seen by a bunch of theatre insiders at the TCG conference, then is there much point in the dudes from the Magic Theatre telling this audience to "get out and see a play!"?

Video can serve a variety of useful purposes in the theatre world for such things as recording rehearsals for the production team's benefit and creating trailers for shows to use as tools to whet audiences' appetites and sell tickets. In this case, though, the purpose seems less clear.

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