Jack Craib said he has been attending and reviewing theatrical productions for 40 years. But he may be better known as the South Shore Critic, who has been publishing online reviews of local productions for about 18 months.
And even if you do not know Craib or his blog, the theater companies that the Plymouth resident reviews will make sure you find him — by linking to his reviews on their Twitter accounts or Facebook pages.
Theater companies in the suburbs have increasingly turned to digital and social media to interact with the public, put the word out about upcoming shows and auditions, get instant feedback from their customers, and trumpet reviews.
At a time when coverage by local newspapers and other traditional media is scarce and getting scarcer, the Web and the extensive use of online platforms are throwing inexpensive lifelines to theater companies that cannot afford expensive print advertisements.
“There’s no doubt that social media can help level the playing field, especially when it comes to smaller companies,” said Julie Henrikkus, executive director of StageSource, a Boston-based clearing house for information on local theater and a resource for many troupes. “It can be low-cost to get started and some people do it very well. The key is to be constantly refreshing and updating the information.”
For Neil McGarry, founder and artistic director of the South Shore-based Bay Colony Shakespeare Company (Baycolonyshakespeare.org), reviews done in December about his touring one-man production of “A Christmas Carol” by Craib and another blogger, Beverly Creasey of the Boston Arts Review, were an important way to get the word out.
On Dec. 13, Creasey published her review, “Irresistible Christmas Carol.”
“It was the first review of any kind we had,” said McGarry. “People started calling. It provoked a response.”
On Dec. 15, Craib published a review of McGarry’s show. A posting the same day on Bay Colony’s Facebook page linked back to the review, and McGarry said he saw an almost immediate effect.
“Once that popped, there was a strong response and there were people talking about us on social media. More people started booking tickets,” said McGarry.
The Company Theatre in Norwell is the largest theater company on the South Shore — 30,000 people attended its stage shows last year, which does not include concerts and special events — and Michelle McGrath, who performs public relations and media relations for the theater, estimated that the amount of time she spends on social media for her client has increased sharply.
“I probably spend about 30 to 40 percent of my time on it, compared to 20 percent just three years ago,” she said.
McGrath said she spends time creating regular content to help her clients maintain good visibility in their fans’ news feeds.
“Without regular, carefully planned postings that engage their audience, their visibility declines, hence decreasing their opportunity to market their productions, programs, and brand to the public,” she said.
‘There are more conversations happening across more platforms than ever before, and that’s a good thing.’JULIE HENRIKKUS, Executive director, StageSource
McGrath said she tries to combine a selection of promotional posts for Company Theatre events or programs together with current event topics related to the industry and posts that ask questions of the clients’ followers to increase engagement.
“Photos and videos of behind-the-scenes rehearsals or post-event albums are usually a very successful strategy as well,” she said.
McGrath said she tries to have two to three postings ready each day, timed for when followers are likely to be visiting the media platform in question, and with the kind of content most likely to engage them.
She then works with the client to determine what kind of posts are having the most effect.
“Since Facebook in particular offers very exact insights to the results of page posts, it is very easy to see where the most engagement occurs, often resulting in direct tickets sales or inquiries, say, at a box office of a client,” she said.
A recent perusal of the Company Theatre’s Facebook page showed 2,455 “likes,” 318 people “talking about this,” and 3,541 people who “were here.”
Both McGrath and StateSource’s Henrikkus are convinced that social media can be important not only for marketing, but as an engagement tool for theater troupes recruiting actors or volunteers.
“Your Facebook page talks a lot about who you are, the personality of the company, and how you represent yourself in the community,” Henrikkus said
She said bloggers such as Craib “are incredibly important, especially for the smaller or fringe theaters. Their role is evolving and building.”
Craib said his blog is noncommercial, meaning he does not seek advertising or sponsors to support it, believing it makes him more independent.
“I love theater and I try to be positive in my approach,” he said. “I see my role as promoting theater and I’m rarely overly negative. Luckily, there are some great companies in the area, and most of what I see is very good.”
Craib’s reviews often get linked to other online theater sites, such as Larry Stark’s pioneering Theater Mirror, which offers reviews, a schedule of events, and commentary.
Craib once awoke and was startled to find he had 450 hits overnight on a review he had written, most of them directed to his website by Stark’s site.
And, of course, there’s YouTube; Facebook and Twitter accounts can easily link up with YouTube videos. In a Dec. 13 posting on Bay Colony’s Facebook page, McGarry linked to a YouTube clip of a cable television interview he did on Cape Cod.
The Company Theatre has a passel of video clips on YouTube.
According to Henrikkus, whatever gets people talking about theater works.
“There are more conversations happening across more platforms than ever before, and that’s a good thing,” she said.Rich Fahey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.