Twitter as a measure of commercial viability
We know all about star casting in the West End: it’s why Russell Grant took over from Michael Crawford in The Wizard of Oz, it’s why Kelly Osbourne once starred as Mama Morton in Chicago. Never mind whether they were actually qualified to play the roles; their names might have drawn in a few punters.
Now, however, there’s a new (and instantly quantifiable) measure of a performer’s reach, even if they’re not a star themselves: Twitter. Last week agent Stuart Piper wrote a column for The Stage in which he commented,
Routinely, when suggesting clients for projects, the subject of their ‘number of followers’ has started to come up in conversation. I know that a prominent theatre owner/producer uses the number of Google results to quickly measure someone’s real reach with the public when considering them for West End play castings, and at West End musical auditions casting directors will often inform the panel of Twitter stats of the auditionee about to enter.
In the correspondence that ensued on the blog, Piper added, “Someone who’s not as famous as Stephen Fry, but has starred in Les Mis, Phantom or Wicked, as as a result has over 10k Twitter followers, many producers may take that into account, and consider casting them over an actor without any fan base at all.” I duly replied,
I’ve got 12,032 twitter followers — can I get a part in a West End musical, please?
I’ve started getting offers already…
It’s not just who follows you, but who you follow that counts
In an interesting blog on the people that politicians follow themselves on Twitter in The Guardian earlier this week, Tom Meltzer noticed that when David Cameron joined the service last weekend,
he started out following just three people: Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and William Hague. Not, one suspects, because those are his three best buddies, but perhaps because those are the people he simply couldn’t be seen to have snubbed. If a person’s “following” list is the new window to their soul, then the 30 people the PM has since added tell us quite a lot about him: every single one is a Tory MP.
Miller, to be fair, is now following more museums, galleries and charities than her predecessor in the role; of the 103 people Hunt follows, almost all are either politicians or political journalists. There are just two spots reserved for cultural types, which go to Stephen Fry and Kevin Spacey, who Hunt presumably felt would give him all the information on the arts he’d ever need.When Maria Miller took over from Jeremy Hunt as secretary of state for culture, media and sport, it was quickly noticed how she wasn’t following any small to medium arts organisations, festivals or human rights organisations. Meltzer comments,
But actually its not just a question of who you follow, but how many you follow: if you follow too many people, it’s more than likely you’re not reading any of the tweets that are being posted at all. I regularly try to prune my list, so that they don’t rush by in an unintelligible garble. But I’m also sometimes caught out by people I suddenly unfollow, who notice I’ve done so. It’s a whole new way of snubbing people and being snubbed.
Tweeting about the theatre
Last week the Guardian held a tweet night at the Young Vic, with a discussion after a performance of Three Sisters on the impact of twitter and other social media on the theatre. Guardian theatre editor Andrew Dickson, who chaired the discussion with a panel that included Michael Billington, Young Vic artistic director David Lan and Vanessa Kirby who was one of the eponymous siblings, wrote a blog afterwards in which he commented,
One of the most illuminating aspects of the discussion, at least for me, was Vanessa saying that she reads print reviews, but holds social media at bay, at least when performing: ‘You’ve got to go on night after night. The idea of everyone’s reactions reaching you all the time, live, is a bit terrifying’.
Twitter is a big part of my life now as a critic; not only do I use it as an outlet for a brief review after the show (which makes it not so much an overnight review as an instant one), but also find that it creates an interactive forum for me with my readers and even, at times, my subjects.
The other night, straight after tweeting about the opening of Cabaret, I got two very interesting (and contradictory) responses:
Well that’s a first.. Thoroughly disagreed with @shentonstage on a production. Possibly better tonight than last night?
— Tori Jo Lau (@mstorijo) October 9, 2012
@shentonstage The final tableaux was chilling (and that’s coming from someone that has always wanted to see Will’s arse).
— West End Boy (@WestEnd_Boy) October 9, 2012
Quote of the week
Michael Grandage interviewed in The Daily Telegraph on his new West End company:
The West End used to be the centre of theatre in this country to which everyone flocked. My thinking is: can’t it still have the excitement and sense of event it used to have? What we want to do is shift the axis of the West End so that it feels like this is where it’s all happening again. I don’t see any reason why it can’t work!
Observation of the week
The West End Whingers, writing about Our Boys, in the West End:
We must pose the question: is this production the most Lewis-heavy play in the West End ever? Written by Jonathan Lewis, featuring Lewis Reeves, Matthew Lewis and Laurence Fox who is best-known for seven series of Lewis. Woolwich – where the play’s located – is very close to the borough of Lewisham. Jenny Topper, one of the producers of the play also produced Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Virginia Woolf once owned a house in Lewes (E Sussex). Also, it was Juliette Lewis‘ West End stage debut in Fool For Love that started us Whinging in the first place. Spooky or what?
Reviews of the week
Michael Coveney on Howard Barker, in his review of Scenes from an Execution for Whatsonstage:
Although Barker will despise me for saying it, and for being so patronising, the occasion marks a significant rehabilitation of the playwright in our major theatres. It is many years since there was an unforgettable RSC season of his work (playing in The Pit while Les Misérables was on the Barbican main stage). It’s high time the National followed suit, and quickly, too. There’s a pugnacious tone, and a liberated style, about Barker at his best that is unlike anything else on our stages today. And that is because he doesn’t write plays. He writes theatre. The audience is hungry.
Kate Kellaway on the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Racine’s Berenice for the Observer:
As a postscript I must add I’ve been surprised to find myself far more moved in retrospect by this production than I was in real time. And I wonder if that is the point: Berenice settles in the mind as a piercing tableau, a still life.