By Stanford Friedman
When faced with the question of what to do with a ballroom full of blizzard-stranded theater fanatics on a Saturday night, BroadwayCon decided to phone a friend. Many friends, actually. Playbill’s Blake Ross, The New York Post’s Michael Riedel, and actor and conference co-creator Anthony Rapp took to the stage to flex their mighty Rolodexes in a pop-up event called The Broadway Party Line. They dialed up and chatted with the likes of Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Joel Grey and Audra McDonald, to name but a few, with Ms. Ross ultimately showing off her call log on Twitter. The SRO crowd ate it up. After all, for a generation attached to their mobile devices, Patti LuPone answering a phone is only marginally less enthralling than having her appear on stage.
Prior to the phone fest, on Saturday afternoon, BroadwayCon was busy showing off its range. Teen girls roamed the halls dressed as revolutionary-era founding fathers, wandering past a room where Princeton theater professor Stacy Wolf presented an academic paper on 1960’s feminism as represented in Mame, Cabaret, Sweet Charity and Hello, Dolly! The choreographers Kathleen Marshall and Christopher Gattelli earnestly discussed their careers in one salon while, just across the way, a gaggle of Harry Potter buffs debated to which Hogwart house various Broadway characters belonged (Hamilton a Gryffindor, Burr a Slytherin. You’re welcome). Who knew that planet Potter was in such close orbit to the land of the theater geeks?
Sunday, I brought my conference going to a close with back to back sessions to compare and contrast. At 11:00 a group of six social media experts discussed how their tweets, blog postings and podcasts have contributed to the Broadway community. Then, at noon, a panel of four established theater critics talked about their jobs. The optics, and the remarks, were telling.
In the first session, Laura Heywood, a.k.a. @BroadwayGirlNYC echoed the thoughts of her youngish, multicultural cohorts saying that she started her Twitter account for her own enjoyment, that it was her love for theater, and not her marketing, that led to her having over 26,000 followers, and that one should tweet their obsession, not obsess over their tweets in hope of gaining followers. Alternatively, when Deadline.com’s Jeremy Gerard was asked, in the latter panel, what qualified him to be a critic, he replied, “a paycheck,” and was only half joking. Indeed, the difference between these two panels reflects the differences between social media theater vanguards and traditional old-school critics. One is concerned with sharing a common fascination across a vast community, the other tasked with casting judgment on deadline. One panel seemed exuberant and upbeat, running long; the other, tired and worried, cutting the discussion off at the scheduled time, leaving many audience questions unanswered.