Moving ahead by looking back
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
There are goin' to be some big fuckin' changes around here!
That is the battle cry at The Charlebois Post, ltd., as we slide into our third year of life. But as we face our futures we look back at the past and try to make sense of it. That is a puzzle for the ages, dear friends.
One of the things we've done is try to figure out what draws eyes to these websites. We do that quite simply by checking out the stats for which articles, each day, draw the most readers. It didn't take long for us to realize that one thing that pleases readers are reviews. It's tempting to write raves all the time because then the production house receiving the praise will tweet and FB the heck out of the review and sometimes, even - jackpot! - quote a rave in their online and print ads.
But here's the thing. Pans and controversial reviews get readers too. This last week there was an imbroglio on our Montreal site about one review where the artistic director weighed in telling us our review would not sell tickets for his production. (Yeah, like that's anyone's job but his.) The sneering at the review went back and forth and - will wonders never cease? - the review became the most read article of the week! The best case of bad=good was a review where the director not only called the reviewer a "cunt" but signed it. All hell broke loose! The review became the most read review of any show on any CharPo site...ever.
Lesson? Reviews which provoke discussion work but you never know which will provoke discussion.
We do know, however, that well-written (key word, there) first-person pieces explaining behind the scenes, procedure and craft are hugely popular. Articles by opera singers, composers, opera managers and musicians seem to fly high. (Perhaps because the knowledge they are sharing is so arcane to most of us.) Soprano Ambur Braid's interview was particularly popular, probably because it was extremely honest. Shannon Christy's interview with COC boss, Alexander Neef, also did enormously well. Whenever opera director Joel Ivany "speaks", people listen.
Surprising form does well too: artists notebooks for instance (like Andrew Cuk's and Paul Hopkins'). Motion's poem also delighted.
But then there is the dark side. Articles reflecting Sturm und Drang are at the top of our hit parades. The most popular article ever at CharPo-Toronto is Ken Gass's rebuttal to the board which fired him from Factory Theatre. In Montreal, a humour piece exploded in the writer's face when Patrick Goddard wrote about ten things he hates about theatre. It is the most read article on that site. At CharPo-Canada Brad Fraser's essay on the Healey Affair is the SECOND most read article (a review of an Ottawa production of Rent is the most read).
What is most interesting about the provenance of the readers to those three controversial articles is that in all three cases it was not just local. Fraser's piece on Healey had an international readership, while the pieces at the other two sites had viewers from across the nation.
And that is the lesson with which we are heading into 2013 and why changes are coming. Beyond reviews, theatre - its past and future - is a national dialogue and even an international one. (One popular column was actually shared and reshared in the U.S. and the UK.) So, yes, CharPo and its contributors and artists who fill the sites are, as our slogan says, Montreal theatre, Toronto theatre or Canadian theatre. But to survive, we feel, we all need to be theatre.
Just that and all that.