Dramatist Social Media Summit
The Dramatists Guild Fund Presents the Dramatist Social Media Summit with a panel discussion featuring Kristoffer Diaz (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity), Rachel Griffin (We Have Apples), Kait Kerrigan (The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown), Michael Kooman (Dani Girl), and Madhuri Shekar (In Love and Warcraft); moderated by Laura Heywood (@BroadwayGirlNYC).
Seth Cotterman — Hi, I’m Seth, the Director of marketing and outreach for the Dramatists Guild Fund. Welcome to the Music Hall at DGF. Thank you for being a part of the conversation here today. We are talking about social media so we encourage you to open up our discussion on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with today’s hashtag (#DGFSocial). I also want to thank our panelists Kristoffer Diaz, Rachel Griffin, Kait Kerrigan, Michael Kooman, and Madhuri Shekar for sharing their experience with us. Thank you to our moderator Laura Heywood, who is a social media expert as well as a huge supporter of writers and DGF. Thank you. With that, I will turn it over to Laura.
Laura Heywood — Great! As Seth said I’m Laura Heywood. I am known around these parts for running a very popular Broadway twitter account called BroadwayGirlNYC which has 31,000 followers and has branched out into Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat. Basically if you can have a username on something I’ve reserved BroadwayGirlNYC on but Twitter is still where I make my main home. I am a big fan of the theater, obviously, but writers in general. I especially admire writers because you create something and then turn it out into the world and face the challenge of remaining associated with it even when you have moved on to something else. Other peoples’ faces, names, and identities are sort of plastered all over what is essentially your baby. I feel like social media and the community that can be created with it will allow you to stay connected to the work -if you do it well. What all of you have in common is that you are all doing social media well and you’re all doing it differently. You all bring different skill sets and perspectives into why and how you do that well. So, today I want to focus on how the six of us can learn from each other and how everyone in the room can pick and choose the pieces of what works well for each of you and how those things might apply to them. It’s very much going to be a conversation.
I think the best place for us to start is to just go down the line and say your name. Everyone has bios of what we’ve accomplished but maybe what you’re working on now and the social media platforms you use, especially if you have a favorite. Does that sound good?
Kristoffer Diaz — I’m Kristoffer Diaz @KristofferDiaz. I teach at playwriting at NYU. I am writing for a television show called Glow on Netflix that is hopefully going to be premiering next summer. I’m writing four plays and I don’t know if I’m doing any of those things well.
Madhuri Shekar — My name is Madhuri Shekar. I’m @MadPlays on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. I’m also on Facebook like everybody else. I just started Julliard so I’m in the playwriting program. I’m working on a play that’s going up in Chicago next year called Queen, and writing new stuff. Also, interestingly enough my day job is in social media marketing so I’m so excited to meet Laura, who is great at this. I literally came from my job and I’m hoping to learn stuff and take it back to my job.
Michael Kooman — I’m Michael Kooman I’m one half of Kooman and Dimond, a writing team and we are @KoomanandDimond (since we’re all saying our handles) I prefer Facebook, though. Let’s see what am I working on right now…I’m writing music for a Disney animated series which will premier next summer on the Disney channel and I’m really excited about that. I also just started my own personal twitter account. Which I didn’t realize (we can talk about it later) is a great thing to do. I mostly used my Kooman and Dimond account. My personal account is @yaykooman.
RG — Hi I’m Rachel, I’m writing a mental health musical called We Have Apples and I’m also a mental health advocate and a public school music teacher. My favorite social media is probably Twitter and my Twitter handle is @rachelgriffin22. I also have one for the musical, @wehaveapples. I find I’m able to connect with a lot of fans and people in the industry on Twitter. I’m really excited to learn about other social media outlets as well!
Kait Kerrigan –I’m Kait Kerrigan. I’m part of a writing team. Together, we have a Twitter handle that is @KaitandBrian. We also use Instagram. We’re newer to Instagram and we talk about whether or not we’re going to start using Snapchat all the time but so far we haven’t jumped. We just finished a bunch of workshops in the last couple of months including an immersive workshop production called The Bad Years. It’s an immersive house party and that had its own Twitter handle and I think it was on Snapchat? Snapchat is like the great unknown for me right now. I keep dipping my toe in and then deciding “I can’t. I can’t.” It also had an Instagram handle that was @TheBadYearsMusical. We are very interested in social media in a very general way and I’m especially very interested. I think it’s a fascinating and a cool way to try and expand the way you talk to your audience. I also think about it in terms of your character as a writer. Oh and so I have @KaitKerrigan on Twitter and Instagram.
LH — So I want to start with Twitter since we’re all on Twitter and I know we all have different levels of experience with Instagram and Snapchat and Facebook. A couple of you mentioned personal accounts vs. professional accounts. I also have a personal and professional account. I have @BroadwayGirlNYC and my personal account @laurahey. For me it was sort of a necessary thing because I ran @BroadwaygirlNYC anonymously for a long time so I had a separate account for a long time. I found it really useful since not everyone wants to see pictures of my nieces, or my food, or know what my opinion on the debate was if what they signed up for was a Broadway fan account. It makes sense to me for people who are professionally branded as a pair to be able to have a voice that is yours individually.
Can you talk about your decisions to have separate voices for your work vs. for your individual selves? I know Michael, yours is recent and, Kait, yours is not so recent.
KK — Yeah, my thought was always that — exactly like you said — it’s a different voice; it’s a different audience. I have a baby; I post pictures of the baby on there but I only post some pictures of the baby. I’m pretty careful about how far I go outside of my friend zone with that stuff. At this moment in history, there’s no such thing as being a completely private person if you’re trying to be a person who makes a public work. People are interested in knowing who you are and knowing why you’re trying to make something and knowing what influences you and what makes you the kind of person and the kind of writer that you are. And as weird as it seems, my cats and my baby totally influence those things. But, just like Laura and the BroadwayGirl handle, if people are following me and Brian that they’re not necessarily interested in my cats or my baby or what I ate for breakfast. There is a subset of people who find that very interesting because they not only like my writing but they identify with me — they’re similar to me in some way maybe. Maybe they love cats too or maybe they have a baby or they’re trying to figure out how to be a working parent and so I try to talk about those things from my perspective as a writer. We did a panel a couple weeks ago, Michael [Kooman] and I, with someone outside of the theater world talking about social media and talking a lot about who your audience is and how you’re connecting to them and what the voice of your character is. That was really illuminating to me because it felt connected to writing itself and it felt very easy to transpose into the way I think about the world. I understand audience and I understand character and so if I can take those things and use them to apply them to my social media account that becomes a lot easier for me to understand what I’m supposed to do with it.
LH — Do you think you would have made the decision to have separate accounts if you were not part of a team?
KK — No. I would definitely just have one. I’d still be strategic about it. I wouldn’t post every picture I take of my baby, for example. It’s about thinking of the social media fans as an extension of your friend network. Your kid takes her first steps and you’re excited so you share that. It shouldn’t feel like it’s all marketing anyway. It’s about rounding out the person who is the writer about rounding out the person who is trying to share something with the world. It’s not the writing itself.
It shouldn’t feel like it’s all marketing anyway. It’s about rounding out the person who is the writer about rounding out the person who is trying to share something with the world. — Kait Kerrigan
MK — Our audience as Kooman and Diamond is a theater centric audience because we built that audience based on our work in musical theater. I do like to tweet about things that are not musical theater sometimes, though. But there are things I would never tweet about from that account as well. For example, I’m also not a political person, but I would never put a political thing on my Kooman and Dimond account because that’s not what the brand its. I don’t think it’s what the audience wants and I actually think it would create more harm than good. When we did the social media panel one of the things I discovered it’s really just about creating content and another retweet.
LH — Madhuri, you work in the world of branding. I try to teach in my social media workshops (which I really don’t want this to be) but I talk a lot about and think a lot about the difference between branding and identity. I think branding is for a product to sell and an identity is for an authentic, genuine connection to your community. Do you have any thoughts on that?
MS — Well brands keep trying to achieve that same thing which is, to me, a little ridiculous. It’s possible. I feel like a brand is a collection of more people so obviously the authenticity gets watered down in a certain way. When it comes to playwrights and the way we use social media obviously we are conscious of the image that we present. We can call it our brand especially if we’re part of a team but I think, no matter how we think of it, we’re always conscious of “how am I presenting myself? What version of myself do I want to show the world?” and I think that is perfectly fine and that is authentic too. We do it all the time; we’re doing it right now. Social media gives you your own little bit of control over “this is what I want to contribute, this is what I want to put out, this is how I want to be seen these are the things I think are important to highlight or amplify.
LH — I feel like a brand and, in particular, branding as a verb is a buzzword that puts kind of a bad taste in my mouth. There’s something inherently inauthentic about it.
MS — Yeah, a lot of people talk about a personal brand and that does kind of turn you off now because we’ve gone over the hill with that particular buzzword.
LH — Unfortunately, even words like authentic are also turning like that because branding and authenticity have become intertwined in a way that is inherently inauthentic. I want to actually turn to you, Rachel, because you have found an intersection of your activism and your art that is vulnerable and shows a part of you that I think a lot of people might want to push away when choosing the version of their character that they want to put forward. I think that’s incredibly brave and I think that’s also exactly what draws people to you. Can you talk about your experience with putting yourself forward? How your activism and art inform each other on social media?
RG — I really like a quote by Adam Szymkowicz recently the Dramatists Guild Fund posted which is about writing about what scares you. When you write from that vulnerable place and say, “Here I am! I’m not afraid!” people are attracted to that boldness. I did think “Oh no, I’m not sure I want to write this musical because then people will know I have experience with mental health conditions” but then I realized that was stigma itself keeping me from sharing, so I realized how important it is. And I think where you are willing to be vulnerable, it gives other people permission to do the same and to connect with you and slowly everyone contributes to a topic becoming less stigmatized. I think it’s hard but then I think once you see the effects of that it’s worth the vulnerability. It’s worth it when you see people healing and feeling touched by it. With the “I’m not ashamed campaign” seeing parents say, “I lost my child to suicide and I’m not ashamed.” They shouldn’t feel ashamed because they lost a child to an illness. We live once in this life, we only have one chance, why not say what’s really going on and help people? Why not be brave? I think I do have a line that I don’t cross with my own story and I have all these characters and I can share their stories but for me when something is that important and peoples lives really depend on stigma changing and these conversations changing about mental health you’re like, “Why wouldn’t I be brave and do that?” But it does feel scary sometimes, scary and worth it.
LH — How did you establish that line?
RG — I think I just want to keep some really personal experiences private. I don’t think I need to go any further into it to help people. I do think it’s really important to have that line. I keep my personal life pretty private but seeing the effects of saying “This is my mental health care experience” and that can help other people and help the movement towards better mental health care and a more open conversation. I don’t mind doing that. But I do think it’s important to have a line of privacy. But some people don’t feel they need to be private at all! They just want to be famous and that’s great but I do feel like it’s important for me to have that line.
It does feel scary sometimes, scary and worth it. — Rachel Griffin
LH — Kristoffer, I want to jump to you because I know you work with college students. I think that it’s one thing for an adult to make a decision to talk about their past as an empowerment tool. I don’t know about you guys but I’m grateful every day that social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager because I know how public I would’ve gone with my struggles. I talk about them now a little bit with the perspective of a couple of decades. Do you talk to your students about social media? How to make the decision to bring people in, setting boundaries between vulnerability and the invitation to community?
KD — A little bit. Most of my students are writers and one of the conversations that we have a lot is “Don’t Waste It.” Don’t waste the good stuff on a tweet. One of the things when I was writing early on, I didn’t have an outlet. I didn’t have an outlet to put the anger and the pain and the sadness. You can get it out in conversations and you can get it out with your friends but where else are you going to throw all that stuff? I spent a lot of time locked in a room writing a play with all that stuff. So on some level we’re having that part conversation. You need the stuff that’s churning inside of you processed and worked out in an artistic piece in a way that it isn’t necessarily worked out in a tweet. You can engage in these conversations and in these back and forth and sometimes that safety valve is really wonderful. I think there’s a line of what’s going to make you a great writer and what’s going to make you a functioning human being and I would propose to my students to always choose the functioning human being side. Being a good writer, great writer is not all it’s cracked up to be! But there’s a balance and figuring out how to and how not spend your time. Not to get too specific about today and about last night but there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now and there’s a lot of space where you can tweet about it and be done with it or engage in arguments with people online. There’s something to that but I think the ability to take it and deal with it and grapple with it and turn it into characters and lock yourself into that feeling is where the heart comes from. That’s one thing. The second thing is, when I was a teenager and not until I was 30 or 32 (maybe not until I was married, maybe not until I was a dad) I would have say some incredibly stupid stuff. (And that I probably did somewhere in a message board somewhere under an assumed name somewhere years and years and years ago.) I use Twitter and if I use any other social media it’s not for public consumption. It’s for my friends. If there are pictures of my kids, or any conversations about the ridiculous things my kids say, there’s a hard line. Twitter is a very public space to me whereas even Facebook is going to be something more closed, for friends and family only.
LH — Do you achieve that with your privacy settings?
KD — Yeah, and I just don’t invite people. On Facebook you have the big question when you meet somebody or you don’t meet somebody or they’re a friend of a friend and they send you invitations. You have to draw these hard and fast lines. Unless I feel comfortable with someone knowing about my family life I’m not going to let him or her be part of that conversation. On twitter I think anything that’s related to writing and the work of that and the emotions you feel connected to that are in play. It’s sort of like, where do you silo things at whatever age you are? Who do you think needs to hear these things that you’re saying? Most of you don’t need to hear the silly conversations I have with my kid.
LH — I love that you brought up the idea of wasting something on Twitter. I believe it was Louis C.K. who shut his Twitter account down because he said he’d waste all his good jokes. He said if it’s good enough to put out into the world ‘I want to save it for my act and if it’s not good enough for my act why would I want to put it out into the world at all’? Whereas my experience is as a social media personality, at this point for me it’s about the retweets. It’s about the one pithy tweet that’s going to help build my identity as a personality. Whereas for the five of you the tweet isn’t the endgame, the tweet is about raising your profile as a writer. Because the tweet, or the Facebook post, is actually something that’s written (perhaps a visual medium like Instagram is different in that way) I imagine each of you have had moments where you thought about something that felt brilliant and you had to make the decision to post it or save it.
MS — I think that’s so interesting about saving it. I’ve been on Twitter since it was almost started, 2007 or 2008. My first two years I was so funny and I was so witty I had all these amazing one-liners and then when I started playwriting seriously they just went away. So it’s almost like I don’t have a choice these days and if I do think of something that does fit in 140 characters it has nothing to do with the play I’m working on, it has nothing to do with anything. So that’s a very interesting idea. Sometimes I feel like Twitter has made me a smarter, better person actually. As much as there’s so much s*!t out there, on Twitter ,I follow people who I think are really smart. I feel like I’ve become a more socially conscious and aware person. I get to see so many nuanced debates about everything on Twitter every day. I feel like it has made me a more interesting human being, which has, hopefully, made me a more interesting writer. I think you can carefully curate your social media feeds. I have my political leanings but I also follow people from the other end of the political spectrum that I think are saying interesting things. It’s constantly stimulating your brain every day it’s like “Oh my god I didn’t think of that! Now what do I think about the world?” Oh my god nuanced arguments! What I thing!
LH — I’m so glad you brought up the idea of whom you follow on Twitter not just what you’re posting. I often forget about that side of it. I certainly follow a lot of theatrical personalities and actors and theater makers and writers. I tend to think of the output more than the input and I think the idea of using a very carefully curated timeline to inform yourself, perhaps about issues you’re writing about, must be a really valuable real time tool for writers.
It’s all about connecting with people who might not be in the same room as you, at the same time, and getting to know them a little bit. — Laura Heywood
RG — I do that all the time with the hashtag I started (#ImNotAshamed.) I read about people’s experiences with mental health care and with stigma and then they go into the characters’ experiences. It’s a cool way to help advocate for better mental health care. I see, “oh, people are waiting three months to see a psychiatrist” and then I put it in my show. I can do research on the topic with the hashtag which is really cool and I find it to be really valuable research for the show. It’s amazing how that advocacy can inform the show and the show can inform the advocacy.
KD — There’s something about the Twitter feed especially that provides these unexpected connections and clashes and meeting points between different ideas. I follow some theater people; I follow a lot of basketball writers, and a lot of political people. You’ll find sometimes that the quote from Mets Daily butts up against Lin-Manuel’s tweet or somebody else’s tweet and you realize “Oh! These are the same stories!” Like the Jeremy Linn thing that’s happening right now is somehow connected to xyz stories in the world. At least in my brain, you can start seeing all of these connections and that part of it feels like a really fertile, creative place for a writer who needs to traffic and filter these ideas. I don’t know if it’s every happened before in that way but you’re not just locked into one point of view or one set of stories you’re constantly sort of bombarded with them.
LH — Have any of you ever used a social media platform to find the spark of an idea for something totally brand new? I think about writing exercises that I did when I was in college and we would do this thing where you would reach into a bag and pick out a word and then that had to have a major feature. Like if you just randomly chose an Instagram picture and had to create a narrative of what’s going on, have any of you ever done that?
KK — No but you certainly could. It would be a great project for a classroom setting especially, where you’re trying to get people to start thinking out of the box and find brand new ideas. At this point, I’ve got a backlog of things that I want to do. Generally it’s exactly what Kristoffer was saying, it’s a sense of having a bunch of different things that butt up against each other and then somewhere in my brain I can say “Oh, these seven ideas connect and make one thing.”
MS — I actually have a question for that. Have any of us done a trans-media story telling project using social media? That’s something else entirely.
KK — I did one right before Twitter really took off. Facebook had happened but Twitter and Instagram weren’t really happening yet. Brian and I wrote a musical on a website with two teenagers who we had blogging for us. They were both freshmen in college and we called it “The Freshman Experiment.” We wrote songs based on their experiences and it was really awesome. Because it wasn’t on a larger platform, it was really hard to push beyond the cult audience we found. We had these devoted fans and we knew exactly who all of them were. We got to know them very well because there were only 40 or 50 that were with us. It was really exciting and I think if we’d done it a couple years later, we would’ve done it on Tumblr and we would have been able to find a bigger audience for it. It was really satisfying and really exciting. Especially at a time when you’re young enough, at the time when nobody is paying particular attention to you or nobody cares what you’re doing yet at all, we were able to find this audience and generate a lot of work. We wrote a bunch of songs that actually ended up in The Bad Years, the house party musical we just workshopped. The project was the genesis of a lot of stuff that we are now working on.
LH — So let’s talk about platforms. I want to move away from Twitter. I want to talk to you [Michael] about Snapchat because I understand you’re the Snapchat king.
MK — I don’t know if that the most correct way to put it!
LH — Actually, lets just go down the line and say what social media we use on a regular basis for your audience.
KK — I use Instagram and Twitter and Facebook as a composite. Facebook is just a place where everything else goes and lands. We have a fan page on there. We use all those platforms for newmusicaltheatre.com as well.
RG — I use the same. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.
MK — Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat.
LH — No Instagram?
Mk — No Instagram. I know! I don’t know why. I’m like only person not on Instagram.
RG — It’s not that great.
MK — I mean I get my visual stuff on Facebook. It seems like people cross post all the time.
LH — After we talk about Snapchat I’m going to bring it back to cross posting because I have very strong feelings about that but before I express mine I want to talk to you guys about yours. First, lets finish
MS — I’m on Twitter and Facebook all the time. I check Snapchat once a day and Instagram I check every other day or so.
LH — You check them, do you post on them?
MS — I am so careful with my Instagram feed I only post the most spectacular pictures so I post like every three months or so.
LH — Now I definitely want to follow you those pictures must be amazing!
MS — Last picture’s a baby so maybe I’m selling it a little.
LH — Babies are pretty spectacular.
KD — Twitter. I have a public Kristoffer Diaz playwright Facebook page that I probably haven’t updated in 4 years.
LH — I hope that it has your Pulitzer nomination on there!
KD — Well I lost, I didn’t win. Similarly I have a Tumblr page where I was doing a thing. I’m fascinated by Tumblr but I’m also too old and I don’t really have time for it. So those exist but Twitter is the one I use.
LH — Michael, tell us about Snapchat. Why did you decide to sign up for it, what do you use it for and do we all need to get one? I have one and I occasionally will use it to put a crown on my head.
MK — It really is the teenager thing. I did these three workshops in a row with different colleges and literally every one of these kids were on Snapchat. So I was like ‘Ok ‘ll try it.’ and it was fun to keep in touch with them because one college was in Oklahoma and one college was in Connecticut so I never see these people but I got on it because they were all crazy about it. So it was literally these kids pulling me into this app. But you know its kind of fun and you can show your personality in many different ways because you can do both videos and pictures and there are all these filters. I am so not the best, there are people I feel are Snapchat geniuses. I think it’s a little harder to cultivate an audience with that medium. I will say it’s really fun and I will say 100% of everyone that’s on it is well below my age. It feels pretty exclusively like a young audience thing but that’s an awesome audience too.
LH — Do you imagine that it’s something that could have value as a resource for writers?
MK — Absolutely. Think the coolest thing about it is it’s temporary. You know with Snapchat you take a picture or video and it’s gone after 6–10 seconds or whatever you set. And it’s a cool way to share something that I’m working on really quickly. Film an song or a scene for 6 seconds, don’t do anything illegally if there are union actors involved, and it is literally gone within seconds.
LH — It’s a little tease.
MK — It’s a little tease and it’s not like I’m posting it on YouTube. You know what I mean? It’s a way to share my work directly. It’s also a little bit private too. Because it’s more of a curated audience I can share this thing and the stakes are so low. Whether it sucks, whether it’s amazing, it’s gone. I think that’s the big benefit to the theater world that could be used more; you can share whatever you’re working on. Maybe share a monologue or share a song or share 10 seconds of a song, and then you never see it again.
LH — I have a theory about Snapchat and the age bracket of people using Snapchat. I want to talk about some of the writers that we follow on social media that are not here that are really doing it well. One of them, of course, is Lin-Manuel Miranda who is kind of the epitome of writers who are killing it on social media right now. He talks about how making mix tapes as a teenager totally informed the way he writes musical theater. He expressed at some point some sadness about the lost art of the mix tape and how much it informed who he became as an artist. I have a theory that there are kids out there using Snapchat who are becoming informed in a way we can’t even imagine who are going to create new versions of theatrical art that are completely based and informed their use of various platforms the same way that he had that inspiration. Before we move on to other writers that are killing it on social media, I’m pulling you out of the audience. This is Felicia, who does social media for Playbill and she is brilliant at Snapchat and I want to see if you have anything to add to the Snapchat discussion.
Felicia — Sure, I’m honored. Thank you. I think what I love most about Snapchat in terms of Playbill is that Facebook and Twitter are definitely more of a news focus for us where we’re tweeting the new cast of American In Paris tour all of these things. And Snapchat is more of a one to one conversation where you can provide this informal intimacy. I like to be a fan girl on it. So if I see Lin at an event I’m like “oh my god, remain calm Lin-Manuel’s in the room!” It’s more of a “we’re buddies and we’re here together” rather than “this is the news that we’re presenting as a voice for theater journalism.”
MK — I also want to give a shout out to Courtney who does the Samuel French Snapchat.
Courtney — I was like “don’t share that! No don’t share that video there are vultures in the room!”
MK — Even if it’s six seconds?
Courtney — If the writer says yes then it’s cool. But it is actually a thing. We go to Lincoln Nebraska every summer with all these students and they had Chicago and Zombie Prom and the director asked “Can you film us on Snapchat doing a 10 second thing?” and I was like, “I really can’t.” Even though it’s on Snapchat and it goes away, but if the writer says yes then there’s a difference.
MK — Going back to your Louis CK comment I think it makes sense for Louis CK because he is literally a joke writer. If he’s giving his product away for free then yeah that makes sense but I want to share my work with as much of an audience as possible. I would rather over share my work. In fact, I’m working on an album and my cowriter and I are thinking about releasing it for free because we just want it to get out there. Sheet music sales are more lucrative for us than actual album sales. My mindset at this moment is to share the content and that is hopefully what they’re coming to twitter or our website for. I’d rather get it out there than keep it in. That’s sort of my mentality.
LH — I wonder would you feel comfortable making sort of a blanket statement as a writer (and I’m not asking for you to go on record right now but just something to think about) to say to Samuel French, to say “I invite theatrical artists who are working on my projects to share it openly on social media.”
MK — I would say yes.
LH — And would a publishing company be able to make those?
Courtney — It just goes back to the writer. We’ve tried to do blanket statement thing but unfortunately it’s so particular to each writer and to each state. But there are tons of writers who go back and they say ‘hey, the kids want to film it for this reason or the other or it’s for social media.’ You know, Heathers is happening a lot right now and Larry and Kevin are like, “This is great!” You know, I think they like to be informed of it but yeah, and you’re right, it does get the word out.
LH — Shane?
Shane — I would advise from a production standpoint that when things are out there and you have this production going on and someone else puts it out there it takes away from the actual production.
LH — Shane do you want say who you are and what you do?
Shane — I’m the publicist for Hamilton and Avenue Q so I come from a publicity standpoint and a production standpoint.
KK — Our experience has been that when people see video of a performance, they want to then see it in the room. They want to be there then, I mean. I haven’t had any experience so far where being able to watch some bootleg of something hasn’t created just more desire to be in a room where it’s done beautifully and to be right up close next to something. We just did this immersive workshop and one of the things was that we let people go crazy with social media.
Shane — Yeah there are great social media things there.
KK — Yeah who knew? I was really confused, I didn’t know what was going on because we did a workshop a year and a half ago and everything was on Instagram and it was all hashtags and I sort of ran the entire campaign and I knew the ins and outs of it and this time I was like, “it’s going ok but there’s not that much happening.” And suddenly I had this moment where I turned to one of the people who was helping run it and I was like, “Wait, is everything that’s happening on Snapchat?” and they were like, “Yeah. Snapchat is what’s happening.” And I was like “Oh. Instagram is over.” Snapchat is happening and Snapchat is where our show was happening in this major way. I’m not on there; I had no idea what was going on there. We were in this position where every time someone saw a snippet something they just wanted to come to see the show more. It didn’t change the fact that they wanted to see it.
LH — I want to make sure we don’t get side tracked into a conversation about bootlegging. I think that there’s a difference between the writer being in that room giving the permission and, especially something as high profile as Hamilton, people putting on unauthorized productions and tweeting that out. I think what we’re talking about is the artists, the creators, making a decision of whether it’s worth while to share inside versus someone totally unauthorized doing something on an unrelated social media account. Even being inside an immersive experience or something like Fuerza Bruta where they’re like “We want you to take pictures and tweet them out” and making it an official declaration of what’s allowed.
Courtney — I actually have a question on that related note. A big thing we always talk about at Samuel French are playwright’s rights. And part of the reason that you don’t want bootleg versions is because it literally takes away the money from you guys. So is that a thing that’s ever on your mind when you are saying, “oh we want to share this stuff from tech and all of this.” Is that ever on your radar of how much do you share to tease people but enough that they’re still going to want to come see it or they’re still going to say, “I want to do this show in Iowa at my community theater.” Do you know what I mean? Is that something on your radar?
KK — Very much so. There is a video footage of a workshop of our show, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, on the internet that 50,000 people have watched and between that and other videos of songs from the show, we get requests every week to do that show. We haven’t had the seminal production of that show but as a result of that we literally get 5 emails a week asking us for the rights to that show. And sure, there are plenty of other people who might be desirous of just doing it on their own as a bootleg but they’re not. It’s not out there; you can’t just put it together without having some sort of something. Videos are the way we’ve created our brand. It’s the way we’ve created our entire relationship with our fans. They still buy sheet music. They buy the rights to do something. They want to do right by us. I think one of the other things we get out of having these relationships with fans is they feel connected to us. They feel like they know us. They want to do a good job. They want to be in this community. In order to be in this community, they have to act appropriately to be in the community. They feel bad if we tell them that something hurts us as writers.
LH — I want to jump in and specifically highlight the word community that you said because today that’s what all of this is all about. It’s all about connecting with people who might not be in the same room as you, at the same time, and getting them to know you a little bit. Madhuri and I have been following each other on Twitter for literally years. Rachel and I have known each other through twitter for a long time. Kait and I first connected in 2009 over twitter and I felt like all of these people are part of my community. [Kristoffer and I] have been following each other on Twitter too; I’ve been following the Kooman and Dimond account for a long time too. I didn’t have nerves of coming in and talking to five strangers today because I feel like we have genuine relationships. Those might be curated relationships based on information that we choose to share but the fact is that we are a community and when you can put information out through whatever platforms you have (and social media is a democratic platform) you’re able to create community and find the people who want to do right by you. I find that the more I give away the more people want to be generous back to me. I’m hoping that the way that they respond to writers is not; “sweet I got that hilarious joke from Kristoffer Diaz so I don’t have to read his new play.” Rather, “Whoa, he makes me think and he makes me laugh and he has a fascinating perspective I can’t wait to see what comes next. And when I see his name on the marquee that’s going to make me buy that ticket.”
KD — Yeah, I have fifty gazillion things I want to say to all of this. People are like, “oh I’m a big Kristoffer Diaz fan.” I’ve written one play that anybody knows and most people haven’t seen it. But I have these relationships with people, real relationships, like I know who they are and they know who I am. They’ll talk to me. There’s a writer who I have a relationship with him via Twitter, we talk about theater and now I’m going to mentor him on this project he’s writing. We’ve developed this actual relationship and I think it’s a crazy thing and it presents this real opportunity. The community aspect of it is really fantastic and I think it’s one of the magical things about Lin-Manuel is that during In the Heights that relationship was 100% formed and it was formed as a relationship. It was just a good dude talking to people about being a good dude and about them being cool and contributing to this amazing thing they were making. Making specific content for those people like the “Run This Town” video they made. All that stuff was just like come be a part of this thing and it wasn’t like about “One day I’m going to write a big big musical that is going to change the face of everything.” It’s just like we share something together. And because of that, you talked about authenticity early on, because of that when the Hamilton thing starts later on you’re able to tap in to a community that already exists.
LH — Madhuri, told me backstage that you actually got a production of one of your plays based on a relationship that you formed on twitter. That seems like the social media writers dream.
MS — Absolutely. Yeah. Every writer knows that you get productions through relationships. 95% of the time you get productions through relationships. And Tony Adams from Halcyon Theater in Chicago had heard about In Love and Warcraft because I was tweeting about it and he looked into it, read the play, and then he DM’d me to ask if it was cool. I was like “Of course! Yay!’ So I met Tony in real life during rehearsal after we’d been following each other for three years. I have really good playwright friends. Because I’ve been in LA for 8 years and I just moved to New York this year, I’m meeting all of my playwright friends that I’ve known for years on Twitter now which is really cool.
LH — I want to just clarify that, in my experience from following you, I know that you were tweeting about those plays and about that work and about your belief in all of the things that you’re passionate about from the perspective of being excited to talk about it not to try to sell your play. I think that’s something that I observe a lot of is people saying, “I’m going to get on social media to advertise myself, as a marketing tool.”
MS — If I can say something to that, I was just thinking as we were talking about it. I really think you should only do social media if it’s fun for you. If it’s not fun for you don’t do social media, there are so many better things to be doing with your time. But if you find yourself on a platform and you only remember to post when it’s time to publicize something you shouldn’t be on that platform. Go be on the platform that you enjoy spending time on and you don’t have to be on social media to be a successful playwright or musical writer either. You truly don’t. I know these unicorns who are totally silent online but keep getting work. You just have to form relationships however you’re forming relationships. I often find its easier forming relationships online and I’ve been like that since I was a teenager. The important thing is relationships and community and social media is one way to do that.
LH — That’s so brilliantly said. Shane?
Shane — How often do you engage with someone who’s talking to you on social media?
MS — Always, that’s awesome!
RG — Yeah I always try to.
MK — Yeah I’m not at the point where I’m getting almost 2000 tweets a day at me.
KK — People get so excited when you write back to them and their response is so gratifying and it feels so worth it. So, yeah, as much as you possibly can.
RG — I think the community you build, they want to feel special. And everyone is special! They want to be part of the process and through social media they can be part of it. So I say to people that I’ve connected with that this is your show. You know, I put up a song that was brand new called “Silence” about access to mental health care. I put it up and I was like, “What do you guys think?” and then based on the response I was like you know what, I’m going to do this at 54 Below because I really love what you guys said about this. So I think making the fans feel like they’re part of the show because nothing just exists within itself. So making everybody feel like a community and that we’re making the show to make a difference and here’s a hashtag we can all use and asking opinions. I love getting feedback and sometimes I’ll put something out and people won’t respond well to it and I’ll be like “Ok this was a good way to test it.” I think just making everybody a part of it is really cool.
LH — I would answer that question by saying that if they have something specific and enthusiastic to say, I will respond. I love engaging in conversation. I respond to joy and enthusiasm. That’s what I want to be around. I sort of make the same decision whether or not to engage based on how I would if someone approached me on the street.
KD — I have had to change the theaters I follow. I think the only theater that I follow is the Public because the Public is having a conversation with me all the time. With the public forum and the way that they’re talking about stuff. It’s not the only theater that does it but it’s the only theater I follow who does it. But Samuel French does this, its like people who engage. It’s not just like I get an email from you, I get four emails from you a week about the show you’re doing like that, I’m not interested in that. But any of those sort of abilities to convert me. I’ve had conversations with Mr. Samuel French in character.
Courtney — We actually are changing next week our thing because it’s Mr. Samuel French. We’re doing panels on identity this week and we’re like, “that’s wrong. It should not be Mr. Samuel French.” So, it’s actually changing.
KD — My thing is that there’s a personal relationship.
RG — And asking questions. Ask questions of people
Courtney -Well it’s a character not just an advertising tool. There has to be something beyond just advertising.
LH — I will close with something I do teach in my social media workshops. Which is, exactly what you said, you can’t just advertise. My background before the Broadway Girl phenomenon hit was as a radio personality both on the national level and in major local markets. The one thing that anyone who has ever listened to the radio understands is that you can’t play 24 hours a day of commercials. You can’t play 60 minutes an hour of commercials. Through 100 years of trial and error the radio business has figured out that 12 minutes an hour of commercials (which is 20% of their content) is the threshold. I’ll make up these numbers for easy math, let’s say you got paid $1,000 a minute for commercials then you can make $12,000 an hour. You still have to fill that extra 48 minutes. Why wouldn’t you do 13 minutes an hour of commercials and make $13,000? Because you’d lose half your audience and you’d only be able to charge half so you’d be able to make just over half of the amount of money. It’s the same with your social media accounts. You have to find, in addition to your 20%, your 1 tweet out of 5, that makes for a great advertising promotion for your next concert or for your cd or for the script you want people to buy, you have to come up with 4 tweets that will just entertain them. The same way that you listen to the music between the commercials on the radio.
RG — Do a cute puppy video, inspirational quote, advertise your show, and then do another cute animal.
KK — And also, respond to things that other people are saying. That’s a huge part of it.
LH — A great way to respond to people too is, instead of just retweeting someone, quote them so you post their tweet and write a comment. Even if it’s just “thank you so much!” You can also make those advertise-y tweets much more content-y. Like, I’ve worked with some comedians. Instead of saying, “Hey I’m coming to Austin next week. Here’s a link to tickets hope to see you there.” You say, “I just did my set for my sister in law and milk came out of her nose. See you in Austin.” And there’s the link. You’ve still given them all the same information but you made them giggle. You made them feel good.
RG — That’s good. I’m going to use that.