In the Trenches: Devon Smith

by August Schulenburg

in In the Trenches,Interviews

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If you identify as both a theatre and social media person, chances are you’ve heard of Devon Smith. Though she’s only just graduated, Devon’s already made a name for herself through deeply researched yet breezily accessible studies on social media use by theatres; including reports on hashtags, Foursquare, and of course, her brilliant presentation at the 2010 TCG Conference.

The subtitle of her blog 24 Usable Hours is Where Numbers Meet Art, but I wanted to meet the person behind the data wizardry, so I emailed Devon the following questions:

Why did you title your blog 24 Usable Hours?

It’s actually a quote stolen from an awesome 90s film I fell in love with as a kid, called Empire Records. A girl is trying to explain to her friend how she can be a straight A student, work in a record store, and still have time to bake cupcakes; that sums up my life pretty well too. I should also admit to a few nerdier ulterior motives—I knew most blog rolls list blogs alphabetically, so I wanted a name that would put me near the top. I had also read that titles with numbers in them tend to get read more often, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. And I made sure to Google “24 usable hours” to make sure someone hadn’t already stolen my idea.

You recently graduated from Yale with both an MBA and an MFA in Theatre Management. Why did you choose to pursue both degrees, and did you ever sleep?

I also have two bachelor degrees (one in business, one in theatre), so I think I knew pretty early on that I wanted to come to Yale specifically for both degrees. I started producing theatre from literally day one of my undergraduate career at the University of Washington, and had several mentors who were also Yale mafia. The MFA from the School of Drama gave me great hands-on opportunities to work professionally at Yale Repertory Theatre, and introduced me to so many luminaries in our field. And the MBA from the School of Management taught me incredibly valuable frameworks for thinking about problems, and surrounded me with extraordinary classmates who have such diverse backgrounds and aspirations. I definitely haven’t slept in at least four years. Or maybe nine. Make that an even twenty.

On Twitter, you’ve been affectionately dubbed the Mayor of Social Media. What would you want new visitors to your city to know?

It’s true! David Loehr has come up with some clever titles for the #2amt usual suspects on Twitter. As the Mayor of Social Media city, I’d like to make a quick plug for our thriving tourism industry. If you’d like to join a pick up game of Scrabulous or find a nice shady spot to catch up with an old friend, check out our epic Facebook park. If people watching is more your thing, you might like the Twitter bar, especially after hours when the #2amt karaoke heats up. On the other hand, the Foursquare arcade has really been buzzing lately, if you find yourself missing the thrill of that high school letter jacket, you may  have found your crowd. Whatever you do, don’t leave town without stopping by YouTube plaza—it’s a little confusing to navigate around (I’ve heard urban legends of people getting lost for days!), but eventually you’ll discover everything from existential public art to the latest modern dance craze.

You’re also a theatre artist, most recently co-creating the play RADIO STATION for the Yale Cabaret in February. Can you explain the play’s tagline, “What are you missing by moving at the speed of life?”

Radio Station was a collaboration with my dear friend and classmate (from UW and from Yale!) Michael Place. We’re also company members of P3/East, and premiered their production of Shogo Ohta’s The Water Station at the HERE Arts Center in New York City in 2005. Both The Water Station and Radio Station are performed in slow tempo, a theatrical technique contemporary to the Suzuki method. As artists who are often too busy learning and doing to sleep, much less spend enough time reflecting on the world, I think we were both looking for an opportunity to introduce slow tempo to a new community of artists, and to make a commentary on how it feels to grow up in a world that is always on, always mediated through our media.

Speaking of high-speed life, you’re also a big traveler, visiting 5 continents in the past 18 months! Any theatrical highlights to share?

I was never really able to travel abroad until grad student loans afforded me the opportunity to venture to some extremely remote places in the past few years. I tried to catch at least one live performance in each of the ten countries I’ve visited. Among the best was an agitprop puppet show in Athens, Greece, a drumming circle in Kumasi Ghana, a modern Hindi play in Mumbai, India, a traditional fire-dance in Chitwan, Nepal, and Calderon’s La Vida es Sueno in Lima, Peru.

Aliens have conquered earth, and decided humanity can only use one kind of social network. As Mayor of Social Media, they turn to you for the decision. Which do you keep?

If we ever become a conquered species, I certainly hope that Twitter, or something like it, is still around to help us plan riots, raise money, get breaking news, and converse with folks across the world on wildly divergent topics. And, you know, link to inane YouTube videos. If those still exist.

Anything else you want TCG Circle readers to know?

If you’re not already an active personal user of it, this “social media thing” is probably both easier and harder than you think. The good news is, it doesn’t take much time, effort, money, or knowledge to start. And once you begin, there’s an endless source of advice and inspiration captured online in other people’s social media efforts. The bad news is, very few people agree on “the best” social media strategy, or platform, or resources, and they’re all changing so quickly anyway. But that’s like asking us to decide on “the best” play, or “the most effective” way of making theatre. So, as with most business decisions, determine what your goal is, arrive at a sensible plan of action by learning from what other people have already tried, and once you’re implementing the plan make sure you’ve built in a few opportunities to self correct in case you’ve gotten off track.

-Gus

By day, Gus is the mild-mannered Circulation and Customer Service Manager at TCG. By night, he transforms into August Schulenburg: playwright, actor, director, and Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble. His produced plays include Riding the Bull, Carrin Beginning, Other Bodies, Rue, The Lesser Seductions of History, and Jacob’s House.