Putting the stage on (even smaller) screens: 4 things to know when covering theatre on Snapchat
When I started this project, I wondered why there wasn’t much theatre coverage on social media. Now I know.
A journey I recently took to disrupt theatre coverage by producing it natively on Snapchat started with a personal desire: As a theatre kid who grew up in the heart of New York, I’ve long been accustomed to being up to date on the latest shows and theatre news. I was reading The New York Times’ theatre section by the time I started middle school. But as my media habits evolved to include social media, I wanted this coverage to evolve too.
However, when I looked for theatre coverage on social media, I was mainly left with PR from the shows themselves. No one was really providing independent coverage and reviews other than through traditional text articles. As a double major in theatre and journalism at the University of Southern California, I became interested in finding ways to produce more creative criticism, particularly through social media.
After a semester of researching, pitching, planning, interviewing and attending shows, I managed to publish a review on Snapchat for Annenberg Media, a student-run news outlet at USC.
I chose Snapchat because both it shares an ephemeral nature with theatre, and it’s also a place to reach a young audience. As I was working on this project, I also published theatre reviews in the traditional article format. I learned a lot in the process of working on these two formats simultaneously, and I’ll offer a few takeaways if you’re interested in producing criticism on Snapchat too. But, spoiler alert: I’m not sure whether you’ll really want to, though I do have another idea that I’d like to try.
Lesson 1: Snapchat isn’t broadcast
This is pretty obvious, but it’s something to remember when you’re shooting for Snapchat. For my first interview, I filmed with a traditional camera, but you honestly just need your phone. Filming with a regular camera and then trying to fit the footage into Snapchat results in awkwardly cropped videos. So always remember to shoot vertically and on your phone. You don’t have to record within the Snapchat app, either, since you can import footage from your camera roll to Stories (more on that later).
Lesson 2: It’s hard to get visuals
Filming both interviews and productions turned out to be more complicated than I originally thought. In fact, this was one of my biggest hurdles and meant that I didn’t meet my original goal of producing three Snapchat reviews this semester.
I knew I would need a variety of strong and engaging visuals to produce a Snapchat Story. I wanted to intersperse interviews with footage from rehearsals and productions into my Stories. Turns out this is easier said than done. There were situations in which I was given permission to film, only to show up and learn that, due to copyright concerns, I wasn’t allowed to. Pro-tip: Make sure to check with the actual theater about its filming policies, not just with publicists. For most traditional theaters, it seems that recording the actual production is hard. It’s easier to get footage of rehearsals, but, of course, the rehearsals may not reflect the actual production that the rest of the audience will see.
Lesson 3: See the show, storyboard, then go get footage
The one show that I was able to get footage of was “The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Jurassic Park” at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Angeles. The theater is an unconventional one: a performance venue under a restaurant, featuring tables and bars. So its overall vibe and experience is a lot more interactive, casual and wild compared to the average theatrical experience, which made it perfect for Snapchat.
However, it was hard to pay attention to the show while also trying to capture moments on camera. I wanted to genuinely enjoy and experience the show, but I felt stressed about trying to get a good shot. There were also moments where I was genuinely enjoying the show but forgot to film a moment that I ended up wanting to use later. I worried this would affect my perception of the show. If I had been seeing a more dramatic, and less silly, show, I probably would have been worried about being distracted from the emotional core of the show.
Even though I had storyboarded my Snapchat Story and had an idea of what footage I wanted to gather, it was hard to know what I wanted from a show I hadn’t yet seen. So: Go see the show first, without gathering footage. Then storyboard and go to the show again to get interviews and footage of the production.
Lesson 4: Storyboarding will help you with Snapchat’s quirks
The order in which you create your snaps matters when you’re uploading them to Snapchat, which posts them in your Story in the order the files are created, not uploaded to the app. So if you create snaps out of the order in which you want them to appear, or if you try to add a clip in the middle, your Story will be out of order. But, there is a hack, and it requires a storyboard.
Once you’ve gathered your interviews and footage from the show, you can edit them into 10-second clips on your computer or your phone. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to upload to Snapchat, though. You need to make sure your Story will embrace Snapchat’s native features, such as stickers, gifs and text on screen.
Now, stay with me because this gets a bit complicated: That means you need to upload your clips to Snapchat, add the native features, then — instead of posting — send those files to your computer in the order you want them to appear in Snapchat, save them, then upload them to Snapchat again and share them to your Story. Saving the snaps to your computer in the order you want them to appear gives a each of them a new creation date that will ensure they show up in correct order.
Got that? OK, one more thing: When you are adding the native Snapchat features to your clips, be sure to check the saved slide in your camera roll before exiting the editing page on Snapchat. It’s important to make sure your slide is exactly how you want it before you save it. If you have a typo or want to move something, you’ll have to start over entirely.
One question remains: Is text just a better medium for theatre reviews?
Text is simple and able to capture wonders. It makes it easier to go in depth about the nuances of a theatre performance. Acting isn’t purely visual — there’s also the aura you get from actors, the vibe and presence they give off when physically sharing space with one another and with an audience.
And acting for stage doesn’t usually translate well to the screen. Film acting training and theatrical acting training are different styles and methods, and since film acting is more about subtlety, the larger style of theatre acting could read poorly on camera.
Using Snapchat Stories was a fun way to break away from the norm, and could work well for the occasional, unconventional live performance. But moving forward, I’d like to try something else that I think is a better fit, considering the concerns I outlined: audio. So hopefully in the future you’ll be able to listen to my theatre review podcast 🎙