Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)

Byrds

A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

If you do theatre in Connecticut, you know the name Chris Peterson. In fact, if you do theatre anywhere in the United States, you probably know his name. Chris is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the well-trafficked and oft controversial theatre blog, OnStageBlog.com.

When I first heard the name Chris Peterson, it was just a scant three years ago. In 2014, I was directing Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Ridgefield Theater Barn (a venue in Connecticut, if you are not familiar). At the time, Chris was the host of a theatre podcast and had a burgeoning blog that was dedicated to supporting and reviewing local theatre. For Chris, an East Haddam resident, local theatre meant Connecticut and parts of Westchester County. To be honest, I thought he was a recent college graduate, not (as turned out to be the case) a university recruiter. It was cool. He gave me a shout out and applauded the fact I chose “edgy” musicals to direct (or something to that effect). It seemed at the time, in his book, that was a good thing.

Peterson’s timing was perfect. He arrived on the Interweb when theatre critics working for local newspapers were retiring or losing their jobs, primarily due to the shift from print media to online media. Theaters were looking for ways to get reviewers to come to their shows and, with timing on his side, Chris was more than willing to attend and review shows (or send delegates in his stead). Fueled by a sprinkling of hot topics and some highly debated opinion pieces, OnStage’s readership grew at a fever pitch. Chris built a network of reviewers and contributors that, at one time, even included yours truly.

When OnStage was in its infancy, what I loved about it was that it filled a void that our community was about to be starved of : feedback. As a writer, director, actor, board/committee member, marketer and producer, I know one thing for certain – theatre artists want to know if you like them. Even more, do you really like them? Do you like them enough that you will bestow upon them an award? It doesn’t matter if you do a show in your back yard or if it is a nationally televised live production – artists want to know what you think.

Whether it was the once coveted and now mostly-defunct Paddy Award, an OnStage Award, or if the consumers of community theatre are recognizing the outstanding performances in Hoof Hearted via the BroadwayWorld.com Awards – we all love our laurels.

So, OnStage, the bestower of some of the aforementioned awards and the site that was once the steadfast provider of reviews has, for want of a better term, “re-branded” themselves:

“We can be a site that covers the industry like everyone else or we can be the one that turns it on its head. We can be the ones to make an impact so great, it forces change. We can tell the stories of people who deserve a million times more credit than they’ve gotten. It’s time people stopped saying ‘OnStage is like everyone else’ to ‘Holy shit, did you see what OnStage said?'”

— Chris Peterson, OnStage

Since Chris made that decision, he has shifted the primary focus of his blog to being the voice for the unsung heroes of theatre – and there are a lot of them – believe me. He also intends to represent issues in theatre that, no matter where you stand on the opinion spectrum, do exist : copyright infringement, gender inequality or racial/ethnic casting standards – to name a few.

The OnStage writers are actors, directors, writers, designers, fans and most importantly rebels. They write with their own voice and honesty.

Since he announced and implemented his revised mission, OnStage’s readership has soared. As a blogger, I get it. To have a reach of over 3 million is a big deal. Good on him. Truthfully, so many aspects or our lives have benefited from the work of rebels.

But that leaves those of us in Lower Fairfield, Lower Westchester and Putnam counties – the ones who do it because we love it – with a bit of a void. Do you like us? Do you like what you see? Would you tell your friends?

And that is where I come in…

I grew up in theatre. My father – a playwright, director, actor and theatre professor – immersed me in the life theatrical. I’ve been actively involved since the 6th grade (some time ago, in the 70s, I think), when I appeared as the ironically foot-plastered Dr. Beetle in Once Upon A Clothesline. I pursued a degree in the Theatre Arts and have a fair amount of theatre knowledge. Also, I know people that know a shit ton more than me. And most of them don’t hate me.

Then there is this: for the last 21+ years, I have worked for a highly regarded IT research and consulting firm. I have designed customer satisfaction programs and managed marketing databases for the majority of my “offstage” career. I know data. I also know how to analyze it.

Since I’ve sworn to my children that I would not do any theatre until they all graduated from high school, I needed a way to stay involved. So here I am, a creative and analytical person with experience in theatre and relational databases. Also, I’m a parent of three teenage girls, two of whom are fraternal twins. I’m fun, a little bit of a bad ass and growing out of my fear. Ask me. I’ll tell you.

That said, I am introducing my newest project: The SWCT-SENY Community Theatre Database. For the immediate future, I will be collecting data about productions done by the following companies:

Bedford Community Theatre
Brewster Theatre Company
Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
Carriage House Theatre
Center Stage
Curtain Call
Downtown Cabaret Theatre
Eastbound Theatre Company
Infinity Repertory Theatre
Musicals at Richter
Performing Arts Center @ 32 Below
Ridgefield Theatre Barn
Sherman Playhouse
Spring Street Arts Center
Square One Theatre Company
TheatreWorks New Milford
Town Players of New Canaan
Town Players of Newtown
Two Planks
Vagabond Theatre Company
Westport Community Theatre
Wilton Playshop
Yorktown Stage

If your theater is on the perimeter of the 20 mile zip code radius and is not represented above, please let us know if you would like to be included. E-mail us at SWCT.SENY.CTDb@gmail.com.

We will be asking people to provide very simple feedback about the last three shows that each venue has produced. From that point, we will be compiling and analyzing the data with the intent to share the outcome with any of the venues, upon their request.

There will always be the ability to provide anonymous feedback. But, if you choose to become an identified member of the feedback community, you will also have the opportunity to respond to exclusive surveys with the continued assurance of anonymity and discretion.

So, until we pull in all of the productions into the more specific feedback mechanism, tell us about the last time you attended a community theatre production.

No names. Just honesty.

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