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Blogging to promote your show? Who's in control of the message?

As more and more producers are looking at innovative ways to promote and market their shows, legal question start to arise.

Yesterday, I read a report about Jane Fonda's backstage blogging during performances of “33 Vacations” on Broadway. It seems the blog is generating some real buzz… and several others shows, “South Pacific”, “Chicago” and “Phantom of the Opera” among them, have blogs on the web.

So, what happens if a member of your cast, crew or staff is blogging, and for some reason expresses discontent, or artistic “concerns”?

I think it's important for those running the production to supervise and monitor the blogging activities of members of their productions. Certainly, a show's “official” blog needs to remain under the control of the producers (and press agents, advertising agency, etc)… but producers should also build into contracts with all members of the production some right of approval of their ‘personal' online communications about or relating to the show.

Contracts have long included restrictions on “publicity activities” by cast, crew, and others, but blogging, twittering, and other online “social networking” activities aren't traditional forms of “publicity”. Certainly, folks have a right to express themselves outside of work, on matters unrelated to their employment, but where the discussion turns to one's job, the employer has a legitimate interest in controlling the message.

Employee blogging has been a growing issue in many businesses, and many companies have instituted strict policies on the subject. Trouble is, most theatrical productions don't have an employee manual or corporate policy booklet… At the very least, those of us drawing up contracts need to think about this issue, and adjust contract language to clearly address our client's concerns.

Will the guilds and unions play ball on these kinds of restrictions? Time will tell.

As the manner and means for promoting theatrical entertainment move into cyberspace, we've got to keep pace.

3 Responses to Blogging to promote your show? Who's in control of the message?

  1. In my early days of blogging (as a theatre actor) I used to comment on rehearsals of shows I was working on. Oddly enough, I never had problems with it because I always wrote from the perspective of “if I wouldn’t say this to the director or producer directly, I won’t say it on my blog”. That tempers the writing quite a bit; it’s also a rule I use for ALL my online writing, since it is all public. It would be suicidal to vent grievances or frustrations in any forum that bypasses the “professional” way to deal with those concerns — i.e. talking to the boss directly.

    Oddly, I did get bitten once for critiquing a show I *wasn’t* involved with, because the company that produced the show was a potential employer. Even though the criticism was constructive and was even defended from within that company, it caused some consternation among administrators. Ultimately, though, even that hasn’t hurt me.

    I enjoy being able to tweet or blog about work I’m doing, because it helps sell tickets, gets people interested, and provides a glimpse of behind-the-scenes work. I always ask first, though. I don’t mind being told that there are certain things I shouldn’t discuss (for reasons of guarding “secrets” about plot or design or what have you) but, frankly, if I’m told that my posts have to be vetted or supervised, I just won’t do it. I’m an artist, not a shill; shilling is for marketers. I ask my employers to trust my years of online writing experience, and my readers expect me to be honest about my experiences.

    Jane Fonda’s high profile experience with ’33 Variations’ is proof that this kind of communication works. Further, it draws attention to means of communication that has been used in nice markets for years already. I think it would be a mistake for producers to start getting too precious about it, or to insist on controlling message. Truly professional artists are aware of their accountability, and act accordingly.

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