Reading that yesterday made me get to really thinking about this topic: the overwhelming influence of computers and the Internet on Broadway shows. It could very well be the biggest thing to hit Broadway since the advent of microphones.
Of course, the use of computers within a Broadway show has been happening for decades, from computerized ticketing, lighting and sound boards to the first completely computerized musical in 1985, Grind. That show made national news headlines for that very thing, and went on to some infamy as on Opening Night of the try-out in Baltimore, national news cameras rolling, the show started and ground to a halt during the opening number. (And yes, the headlines read "Broadway Show Grinds to a Halt"!) What was meant to be a safety feature caused the entire system to crash, and nervous Harold Prince (he directed the show) took to the stage to explain what happened.
But the Internet has really changed the way Broadway and fans of Broadway conduct business. There is no doubting this influence. From chat rooms to show websites, to Broadway news websites, shopping sites, to social networking - Twitter, My Space, Facebook, etc. - plays and musicals are more readily accessible and easy to find out about than ever before. And I can't help but mention blogging! We wouldn't be here without it! Gone are the days when you'd have to subscribe to The New York Times to keep up with current Broadway news (even then at least a day or two old), or Playbill Magazine, which was hopelessly out of date by the time it got to your mailbox. And I've often remarked here about the miraculous changes in ticketing and buying cast recordings, all thanks to Ticketmaster, Telecharge and Amazon.com.
Here is a quick - not all-inclusive - look at the Internet and Broadway, the good the bad and the ugly.
Blogs: The really good ones are kept by folks who have a passion for the art form, even when things aren't so great. It would be easy to blog about one show you love (there are dozens of Wicked only blogs), but it is another thing altogether to share your thoughts on many shows and a variety of aspects of the business. The best blogs are those by people who attend shows of all kinds regularly and those by people actually in the business. (I am really picky about the ones I follow, hence my short list to the right...)
Show Websites: More and more, these sites can really influence whether or not you buy a ticket to that show. Sure it a fancy advertisement for a production, but that's what it should be. The best show sites are easy to navigate, have lots of pictures, videos, and cast information. And the very best ones update with new things to read and look at regularly. Most have places for fan input, too.
Theatre Websites: Places like Broadway.com, Theatremania.com, and Playbill Online offer up to the minute news, features, pictures and multimedia about all things Broadway. They have reputable writers, and you can tell they have outstanding reputations because of their content - interviews with the top stars and up and comers, productions send them press releases immediately, and creative and producing teams are as much a part of the site as the Tony winners and movie stars.
Online Ticketing: Now that Ticketmaster allows you to pick your seats like Telecharge does, online ticketing is a breeze and so convenient. No more waiting for weeks to get tickets; you can print them yourself, and you are sitting where you want to sit!
Ticket Discounts: You no longer have to be in the city itself to enjoy the benefits of services like TKTS. Now there are multitudes of Broadway discounts at all the big theatre sites, plus places like Broadwaybox.com. TKTS remains a great venue when you are there, but isn't it nice to live in the sticks and still be able to see a show for less?
Lotteries: I just saw a show from the front row for cheaper ($25.00) than an orchestra seat in 1983 ($37.50 for Mame and Cats). I could not see everything, and some things were a little too close, but I am not complaining even a little bit.
Blogs: This could be just a personal preference, and I might even be guilty of this myself from time to time, but... blogs that are full of misinformation or purport to be written by people who go to lots of shows, but really mean to say that they've seen Mamma Mia! 15 times or think they "know" theatre because they've seen Wicked, Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! make all bloggers, most of whom really put some effort into their work, look really bad. It adds credence to John Simon's assertion that theatre bloggers are vermin.
Theatre Websites: I love them for all the reasons above, but as each one tries to become all things to all users, they are becoming mind-numbingly complicated and way over crowded.
Show Websites: When I go to a specific show's site for "More Information," I expect more than a big logo and "Coming Soon" with yet another place to sign up for updates. If you can't offer more than your show logo, the name of the theatre (sometimes) and a sign-up block, wait to start your site until you have more...
Online Ticketing: $4.50 for handling? Are my tickets getting a lap dance from the cast of Sweet Charity? $2.50 for processing? Um, excuse me... let me charge you $5.00 for the paper and ink I'm using to print my own ticket to save your staff time and the cost of an envelope and stamp!
Social Networking, Message Boards and Chat Rooms: It is one thing to share news (i.e.: I'm at ComeFlyAway and Twyla's here! or Sad to see Brooks Ashmanskas is out of PP tonight. I hope his u/s is good!) or a considered opinion (i.e: I really prefer the less-Spanish version of the WSS revival or I can see why people love MM!, but it isn't my thing.). But completely another to trash performers, performances and shows (i.e: So and So's understudy is a lousy singer and a craptastic dancer!) ESPECIALLY when you offer no explanation as to that opinion. Still worse, is when people WITHIN a show take the time to call out each other or gossip about their own show. TACKY.
And then there is the rumor/scoop mentality. Watch how fast the influence of Twitter and the like diminishes when a show's producers can positively link poor ticket sales to falsely posted rumors as facts, or someone gets erroneously fired from a show (it happened in our own government, people) over an out of context quote or "edited" YouTube video. The powers that be will shut the rumor mill down as fast as you can say "widget." It is because of this type of behavior that I rarely, if ever, mention a certain site or two where message boards are their main stock in trade.
Lotteries/Student/Online Discounts: Listening to college students and high school students bitch over lottery policies, where the seats are and how they still can't afford the seats REALLY PLUCKS MY NERVES! Why? Well, I was in high school and college once, and I was as poor if not poorer than these people. No lotteries. No discounts. Nothing. So you know what? I missed a lot of shows I wanted to see, but I saved my money for big, week long trips to NYC. And you know what? I appreciated (but not necessarily loved) every single show I saw that much more. Instead of being grateful that there are lotteries and discounts and student discounts, these people continue to complain. If anything, people who aren't students (like me) should complain - these policies assume that if you aren't in school, you can afford a pricier seat.
Then of course, there is also YouTube (which I love, but can see and can not support its more flawed applications). But that could be a whole other topic...
Thank you for indulging my tirade!