The presence of the Shotgun Players and the American Conservatory Theater on social networks is evolving greatly in order to create online communities for theater lovers and have more visibility online. But it does not always work as planned. Social networks tend to make us believe that as members of theater pages, we create an online community because we are gathered in one “place” linked to one common interest, but is that all an online theater community requires ?
A community on social networks is basically defined as a group of people with a common interest that are gathered on a page and use it to share contents, publish reviews, comment on other members’ publications and most importantly interact with one another on a social platform. Because social networks have no geographical boundaries, they are platforms that are accessible to all on a global level. Thus, they allow the creation of broad, universal and diverse communities of members of all age, sex and origins who have probably never met but are held together by a common interest.
Browsing the different social networks used by the Shotgun Players and the A.C.T. helps distinguish two types of theater communities, the active ones which are composed of involved participants willing to share and interact with other members creating an effective and useful group. Whereas the passive ones comprise uninvested people who do not contribute to the activity of the group.
Active and Working ON-line Theater Communities
Facebook and Google+ are the platforms that are the most adequately conceived to develop efficient communities for the Shotgun Players’ and A.C.T.‘s members.
Facebook provides specific pages on different topics and a space for their members to express themselves and react to others’ publications. This has proven to be very beneficial for the Shotgun Players’ lovers who are actively present of their Facebook page. It represents everything a social network should have in order to build active communities : members interact with other participants, share their opinion on theater shows and even promote their personal work. It is the perfect platform for theater websites to nest in.
In Search of Conviviality
Social networks constitute a powerful point of the Internet. They represent the most logical way for theater websites to assemble groups of people and provide them with a virtual roof with a name on it. That roof will create a new and unique community where similar people will be given a theater themed place where they will bond, share theater related information, talk to other participants, and promote personal work. It is really demonstrative of online theater communities on social networks for the members to be supportive of each other. Because they have the same perspective of the world and/or identical interpretations on shows for example, they are turning a virtual link into a real bond. Facebook and Google+ members of online theater communities are often really friendly to one another. They frequently start their post by saying « Hello Friends », or even « Hello my theater friends » which proves the positive atmosphere that reigns on online theater communities on social networks.
Because of the popularity of Facebook, we understand that the activity of its members is a lot more considerable. A lot of exchange and sharing happens on that platform which creates a sense of communion.
The Sharing Spirit of Theater Lovers
The same goes for Google+ which also enables its members to interact with other members on a community dedicated to the interest of their choice. Different communities can be joined by Google+ members.
For example, the « theatre » community allows you to start discussions with the other members as well as post comments, reviews and even promote your own artwork. Indeed, the main ideology of online communities is to: share. And when participants post publications about a theater show they saw, other members essentially like it, comment it, and add more things to it. That whole pattern truly shows the interaction and support that exist on active communities of theater.
Not only do members build up the community by interacting together, but they also learn and discover new things. Which is the whole purpose of a community. To share and discover.
“ There are two things that compel online community members to stick around: the urge to contribute to the community and the perception of benefitting from the community ”
The Honesty Rule
The opportunity to express oneself more bravely and freely given by the Internet to online users and « social networkers » is undoubtedly considerable. The online context enables theater community members to really stick to their opinions. Being behind a screen empowers them. Therefore, they write what they genuinely think. Their reviews seem to be completely honest because there is nothing they can be afraid of. It is not as if they were talking to a group face to face, and have to be careful in order not to offend anyone. Even if somebody disagrees or gets offended with/by a person’s opinion online and replies harshly to them, that person has the choice to ignore or to reply as they wish. That whole « honesty rule » is a real factor of the working of online theater communities on social networks. There is a lot of freedom given to people online compared to the restrictions implied offline.
The Tools of Passivity
Among online communities, there are members considered as « passive » because they do not engage discussions with other members or interact with them. They only appear as members, but do not entirely act as such. That could also be explained by the lack of commitment of those members who do not want to endorse any role for the group. When a group of people is only constituted of those types of members that creates passive communities. And if you have followed correctly, they should actually be referred as “passive groups of people” rather, since the notion of community does not include passivity.
Obviously, members tend to act passively when the right tools are not properly provided for them. Indeed, no instruction is provided to them by the Shotgun Players’ website or the A.C.T one. People are simply redirected to social networks and they should apparently be able to figure them out on their own. There is a complete autonomy of the members provoked by a total abandon of the websites which can cause issues and unexpected results. For example, if there is no space clearly meant for members to publish all kinds of contents, it reduces their will to create interaction and activity on the page. If it is not within easy reach, members will not take time to understand how to publish a review, or to reply to a comment. I mean, it is the Internet, right? Everything is supposed to be handed to you…or at least shown to you. Sometimes, everything is provided by the social network but members do not use them as planned. If they do not have examples of active members interacting between one another, they might not think of doing it on their own and will turn into passive members. Thus, it is the responsibility of theater websites wanting to create real communities to convey an atmosphere of interaction and sharing by providing all that is needed.
As far as Shotgun Players’ and A.C.T.’s are concerned, their presence on Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud resulted in building passive groups of people because of the lack of space dedicated to members exchange with one another which did not fit the needs of an online theater community. There is little interaction or no interaction at all compared to Facebook and Google+.
Theaters now use a lot of different social networks to both offer new ways of expression to their audience members and thus increase the links they have with them. However, the kind of links they build with these members is heavily constrained by the tools they offer on the social platforms they choose and the room for action users have. In the building of communities, the limited possibility for activity make some platforms of very little use for theaters as they are not really a place of exchange between people sharing common interests.