Monday, June 25, 2018

Platonic critics break up (but still remain good friends)

We tried. We really did.

For quite a while fellow-critic Jenn McKee and I have been trying to come up with creative ways to provide both theaters and theatergoers with an alternative platform for theater news and criticism. Our first proposal (a unique, twice-monthly, online-only theater magazine that focused on news, previews and interviews rather than reviews) went down in flames for reasons too detailed to go into here. Other ideas we explored together or separately, such as short video reviews, podcasts and a weekly half-hour video series, all bit the dust, as well.

Then, Jenn had an idea she thought would be fun: Since we sometimes found each other at the same shows, how about co-writing reviews – but as a conversation between us rather than the same old tired format we’ve all become accustomed to?

And thus was born the Platonic Theater Date series. It debuted at the end of March, and the immediate feedback we received was very encouraging; apparently, some found reading our chats was as much fun for them as it was for us writing them.

But after nine dates, Jenn and I have decided to break off our engagement (so to speak); that is, to end our little experiment.

It’s not that we didn’t enjoy doing them. Rather, we looked forward to sitting down – her at her house in front of her computer and me at mine doing the same – and letting our “chat” on Facebook Messenger travel in whatever directions our conversation took us. There were never any discussions beforehand; what you read is how the conversation transpired (with a couple rounds of editing and polishing, of course).

So why, then, are we discontinuing the series?

In part, for the same reason the above-mentioned projects never took off: We haven’t found a way to get paid for all of the time and effort we put into the project.

Pretty much every media outlet today is struggling to figure out how to monetize online content. Not even the big behemoths have discovered the solution, and for new endeavors like ours, it’s especially tough. And forget advertising; we’re too small at this point to be noticed, even by Google. Nor will we consider asking theaters to help fund this project due to “pay to play” and “favoritism” concerns.

But more importantly, we face the paradox Jenn recently discussed on Facebook: because mainstream news sites have neither the resources nor the will to feature much local arts coverage, those of us in the “flyover states” are largely left with only blogs. And unless artists and companies share these obscure blog reviews via Facebook, websites, social media, or email blasts – which many won’t want to do when the assessments are critical, of course, which just makes sense - we can’t gain traction in the marketplace and build something more sustainable.

Bottom line: very few people are reading our reviews. Of the first eight published, only one made it to four digits; the others averaged a measly 347 views. And our last one? It finally hit 122. We’re expending all our energies for only a handful of readers, the numbers of which are trending downward.

So we’re calling it a day.

We sincerely thank the theaters that reached out and invited us to their shows, who gave us free tickets, and seemed to appreciate our efforts on their behalf. And we also thank our readers who offered words of encouragement, or said positive things about our work.

But now it’s time for us both to move on to other things.

For Don, he’s limiting his reviews to brief comments on Facebook for the time being. Future blog entries will occur when the spirit moves him. He will, however, continue writing show previews and interviews for Between The Lines and elsewhere as opportunities arise. And he’ll continue to think about ways to promote theater in this new age of media uncertainty.

Jenn will still write occasional reviews for Pulp, We Love Ann Arbor, and any other sites that will pay for her work, in addition to a couple of Patreon-funded indie reviews for her blog per month. Otherwise, she hopes to dive further into the script she recently starting writing - when she’s not carting her kids around to day camps and working part-time shifts at her local library.

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