At DreamWrights, you know me as Michelle Denise Norton, Founder and Director of Theatre Under The Trees, apprentice costumer and yawner through 8 am meetings. On Twitter, I am @mdnightmaverick, insomniac, enthusiast, conversationalist, In the Bleak December author, artist, animator, camera ace, director of Shakespeare (+ shorts), @blinkkittylove, etc.. Twitter has enabled me to collaborate with people across the country, make friends internationally and have a community of support I might otherwise be lacking as a freelance writer, artist and theatre professional. I have heard people express puzzlement and dismay over social media, but it can be a valuable tool to have available.
The first thing to remember is that Twitter, where I spend most of my internet time so my focus will be there, is talk. #justtalk if you want a hashtag. It is you interacting with other people, in shorter snippets perhaps than if you were interacting over tea in the same room, but it is still conversation. The rules of common courtesy still apply. Trusting your instincts is still essential. But so is having some fun and finding like minded spirits who may inspire you.
People may try to sell you industry jargon and there are those using social media who are more corporate bot than individual, but the people you want to connect to are the ones who will talk to you. Because whether you meet someone in person or on line, it’s talking and shared experience that create a connection and those connections can be a strong part of your network as an artist.
I have gotten paid jobs via Twitter. I follow theatres, actors and directors in places other than America. I read reviews of shows being done in places like China and add that to my general theatre knowledge and inspiration pool. I am currently researching the all female Takarazuka Revue in Japan to add some texture to how I approach Rosalind in As You Like It this summer. I share the things that I find interesting and enjoy when others do as well. When I have a free Thursday afternoon, I participate in the HowlRound* weekly moderated Twitter discussion.
So, here are my guidelines:
- Stay Safe. If someone makes you uncomfortable, block them. Immediately.
- #hashtag. They’re fun. Every show I direct, I create a specific hashtag so people can follow the progress on Twitter or my blog. It started with Merchant of Venice aka #merven. For As You Like It, I’ll probably stick with the short and simple #ayli. My favorite so far was #EPHvSYR, which represented our soccer mad take on Comedy of Errors. It’s a good way to organize thoughts. It’s also a good way to find people to follow. I sometimes read through #theatre or #Shakespeare posts to see if anything interests me.
- Don’t just promote your projects. Interact. Retweet someone else’s project every once in awhile. Share things about what you’re doing, watching, reading…yes, even eating. Behave like yourself while remembering that Twitter especially is a public forum.Don’t be afraid to talk to people — or ask for help. I read somewhere that Twitter is like a party where you could walk up and talk to anyone. I think that’s a good analogy.
And if you’ve built a connection with someone, asking for help is the same as asking any other friend or colleague. Part of why the dance in The Tempest worked so well was that I asked @KristynBurtt, a Los Angeles based entertainment reporter and dance aficionado for advice about choreographers who might work with a jazzy score. She suggested Bill T. Jones and my research into his career and life gave me the vocabulary to have the conversations I needed with Kim Greenawalt, my choreographer — I’d kept in touch with her on Facebook after she performed as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…double social media score.
- Pictures boost interest. Take a shot of rehearsal or the script you’re working on or a half built set.
Have fun. Be yourself. Find organizations and people who interest you and follow them. Talk. Learn. Laugh.
*HowlRound is ‘a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community’ based at Emerson College in Boston.
Michelle Denise Norton, Creative Engine