What a blog can do for a theatre festival and what it cannot do: four years of Theatertreffen-Blog (applications now open, see below)
Do you know these children’s books where you match different heads of animals to different bodies and feet of animals? Thus, you create pelican-cat-cows or dog-zebra-seagulls. For me, this is what blogs can do for you also. Ideally, they put thoughts, people, medias together and create something distinct – a distinct voice, a distinct place for information, entertainment and networking amongst the other pelican-cat-cows that have some interest in your event. When someone, be it an individual or an institution, starts blogging, they need to find out about this idiosyncrasy: What makes my event special and who is part of it? If this does not become clear, their blog will not be read or noticed. Be aware, death in the internet comes along quickly. The German weekly Die Zeit once collected dead web pages in a digital cemetery on their website, and even this cemetery is dead now…
Let me repeat in other words: the strength of a blog is that it is doing several things at once. It reflects, serves as an archive and a professional network and, above all, it is, a laboratory – to find out about your audience, about the echoes of certain topics in the digital community and about the communication possibilities in the internet. But, like in every laboratory, you need to invest money, personnel and professional knowhow. By all this, I mean: someone has to set up the blog in an attractive and user-friendly design, someone needs to take the responsibility for the concept, development and communication of the blog internally and externally, someone needs to create content and upload images, articles, informational material, someone even might need to curate, edit, proof-read, and someone needs to evaluate the statistics and do something about it. It can be the director of an institution or the intern who starts blogging, in either case he or she has to invest time and ideas and needs support and credit by every department of the institution.
When we transformed the festival newspaper of Theatertreffen – the most important theatre festival of the German speaking theatre scene – into a blog in 2009, I had to write a “blog’s guide“ in order to explain to users what a blog actually was. Nobody seemed to know, although the first weblog had already been created in 1997: Robot Wisdom by John Barger. The German speaking theatre public was not very used to new media. Now, the blog will be running in its fourth year, it has been quoted by The Guardian online and by German media and it has about 1,000 unique visitors a day. As the number of seats of the main hall of Berliner Festspiele counts 986, this is not too bad. So, things have changed, many theatres started a facebook page, some have inhouse bloggers (Theater Basel), invite online guest writers (Volksbühne Berlin), or casually include illustrations on their website, a form of creative micro blogging (Burgtheater Wien). But there is still a long way to go: a lot of institutions in Germany still use the Internet Explorer as browser, if you know what I mean.
My experience is that international festivals such as the Theatertreffen of Berliner Festspiele profit a lot from communicating via a blog. Festivals provide loads of visual, thematic, emotional stuff to think and write about during a couple of days. In addition, festivals’ audiences are diverse but specialised, they consist of the typical pelican-cat-cows. There is even an absent audience which is interested, but cannot afford the tickets or the journey, that is tied up with other business, an audience that might check in into the festival via the web. And like the pelican-cat-cow, each year, the blog’s editorial team consisting of chosen arts bloggers creates a distinct voice, a distinct character. A blog is defined by its different parts and pieces. You only need to put them together. In your style.
For 2012, we are again looking for young arts critics, photographers, graphic artists and audio journalists up to 35 years who would like to be part of this mosaic and participate in the editorial team of www.theatertreffen-blog.de in May 2012 in Berlin, be it in English, in German, with pictures, illustration or by means of other creative formats. You will find more detailed information on the website of Berliner Festspiele.