Premature Dissemination

January 27th, 2012 § 3 comments

You use protection, you understand the dangers, but even a tiny pinprick can breach the most reliable barrier in this day and age. And once it’s out, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it, except ponder the consequences.

I am referring, of course, to information in our present day media saturated world, where Facebook has reduced the six degrees of separation theory to only 4.7 degrees, and where one tweet in a never-ending emission can, if it hits the right target, multiply and grow with unplanned repercussions. We are all progenitors of fact, and of gossip, and ironically, great success is now considered to be when said information goes viral, infecting as many as it can.

I’m torturing this metaphor at the moment because, over the past 12 hours or so, I have watched a simple bit of information, of relatively narrow interest, couple with some unintended partners. I’m not speaking of something salacious, some celebrity “sext,” but rather a humble casting notice.

Said notice was issued by a theatre, picked up by a popular website, where it was noticed by the playwright of the work being cast. He then tweeted his excitement, sharing the online article, where it attracted the attention not only of the publicist for said theatre – which had not yet announced the production in question – as well as the chief drama critic for the city’s major newspaper. Cat’s out of the bag, wouldn’t you say?

Based on the tweet trail surrounding this, everyone is taking it in the proper spirit: the critic doesn’t feel he was intentionally overlooked, the playwright realizes he might have kept his powder dry. The publicist may well be having a few words with the theatre’s artistic staff about the situation, but that would appear to be taking place offline.

I wrote six months ago about how the practice of press embargoes may be disintegrating, and scoops now are measured in minutes (via electronic media) as opposed to hourly or even daily news cycles. But in an age when everyone can be a broadcaster vis Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and so on, the veil of privacy at any organization is perpetually at risk. Yes, employees can sign policy statements regarding their use of such media, but here’s a case where the initial release of information, thought to reach only a defined constituency, flashed quickly to other audiences, catching more than a few people by surprise.

An aside: on a few occasions in the past, I caused some of my fellow employees to be severely reprimanded by our bosses for speaking to a newspaper without my approval (such as the morning when a member of our artistic staff was on the front page of our major newspaper saying he’d rather wash his socks than watch the Super Bowl, a snobby statement I felt made us look elitist). Now the best I could hope for now would be to educate the staff about what they might be saying and when, rather than curtailing their media access for fear of jeopardizing their jobs.

Last night’s breach is certainly not the end of the world. Sustaining my motif, the information accidentally broadcast wasn’t news about an unwanted artistic baby, merely an early birth announcement. But it brings home the fact that control and timing, once so highly desired by organizations and hammered into their public representatives, will rarely remain under lock and key, no matter how hard we try. A drop of information, once released through any means and by anyone, can become a flood. Maybe we should just be happy that people care and that news of our work can still find welcoming homes.

P.S. Why have I been so coy about the plays and players herein? Because maybe you didn’t see the tweets I’ve mentioned, and I believe that ultimately, this is the organization’s news to share, not mine.

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  • Steve

    Having taken part in the early Twitter dissemination described above, I’ve been giving this some thought. I understand the desire for that Voila! moment in unveiling a season. You’re more likely to get press attention if you do it all at once rather than letting it trickle out. However, I think that, if theaters are going to embrace transparency, they’re not going to be able to pick and choose. a) It defeats the spirit of transparency and b) It’s going to become just too hard (see example above).

    I’m hoping for a day when theaters will go so far as to talk openly about how they choose their season. If they want audiences to care about the well-being of a theater, they should show the decisions (some artistic and many practical) that go into choosing what shows they produce. And I know how terrifying that might seem for some theaters. I’ve been in those discussions and sometimes it does resemble how sausage is made. But knowing that a theater decided not to do Play X, which they absolutely loved, because it had a cast of 12 and they didn’t have the money might help the public connect with and care about a theater in a way that the canned Voila! moment simply can’t.

  • NV

    I don’t understand.  Don’t all theaters time their announcements w/casting breakdown notices?  Once it’s in Backstage, it’s there for the world to see.  That has been my experience as long as I have been in Marketing.  Surely, this can’t be the first time they are encountering this situation.  

  • Jayne Cravens

    Back in the ancient time times of 1990, I often found out who was cast in a show at the Williamstown Theatre Festival by looking at the calendar on the chalkboard that the production staff used to schedule airport pickups and move-in/move-out dates of the actors. Some of the interns caught on that they would know earlier about casting if they just dropped by the production office and looked at the board than if they waited for my press releases. One of my colleagues decided to have some fun and add “M. Gibson” to the calendar. Usually, the day before he was due, she’d move him two weeks later. We had a blast watching the faces of the interns who saw the name on the board and would then almost run out to tell everyone the big news. We took him off completely when Stephanie Zimbalist and Linda Purl saw the board and got oh-so-excited. Very hard to break the news to them. It’s not a joke we ever could have done now, in the era of cell phone cameras and Twitter…

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