(Critical) Power to the People

by Simone Scully

in Critics & Reviews,New Generations,New Models

Post image for (Critical) Power to the People

(Photo: Laura Roudabush)

iCritic™, an initiative, developed as part of ‘Barrington Stage 2.0’, got its genesis from TCG’s New Generations Program, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2010. Now over a year later, it is time find out how iCritic is progressing.

Laura Roudabush, Director of Marketing for Barrington Stage Company, got the idea for it from a museum that had set up a camera in their lobby for visitors to talk about their visit to the museum. “The general concept was interesting, but I thought it would have much greater potential and application, if altered, in the realm of audience criticism and feedback in a performance setting,” explains Roudabush.

BSC developed iCritic™ as a means to engage audiences and generate excitement in the theatre community. Launched at their main stage production of Guys and Dolls in late June, the iCritic™ booth was set up in the lobby for patrons to record a short 3 minute video responses, which could then be shared via YouTube, email or other social media platforms. It was an instant hit.; more than 150 videos were recorded over the season, with the total number of views exceeding 4,400.

“There is something extremely powerful about capturing feedback the moment [the audience] exit[s] the theatre…The energy and passion with which they talk about a production can’t be matched by soliciting feedback in a post-show survey or asking them to write a review when they’ve left the theatre,” says Roudabush. BSC makes sure to upload all of the videos, including the negative ones, although luckily for them, only 1 or 2 reviews were not positive. Despite the fact that BSC’s audience usually tends to be on the older side, the iCritic™ booth succeeded in involving younger patrons, with nearly 50% of the reviews being recorded by viewers under 35.

So what’s next for iCritic™?
(Photo by Sue Geller) 

Now that the season is over, BSC has begun brainstorming about how they could improve iCritic for next season. They have plans to upgrade the software, incorporate a touch screen in the booth and raise the seat height in the booth. Furthermore, BSC is thinking of ways in which they can share the technology so that interested theatres would be able to buy iCritic™. Adds Laura Roudabush, “We hope to have iCritic™ booths available for purchase in 2012.”

Journalists Dan Shaw and Jennifer Conlin, impressed by the success of the iCritic™ booth at BSC, have suggested adapting the format so that it could work for the city of Detroit. “We thought, well, isn’t that a good idea! What if we took the idea for Detroit and put it in a mobile van so that it could go around to different venues?” says Conlin. An iCritic Detroitvan’s advantage would be that it would mobile and could park outside all kinds of artistic or cultural venues, from theatres and dance performances to art exhibitions and any cultural events.

In format, the iCritic van would be similar to the booth, where patrons could record their short video review immediately following the event. In addition, Conlin hopes to build a website with different sections to help sort the reviews, such as a section for professional critics or a section for children’s reviews. She also hopes to include an Education section for Artistic Directors to include statements about their theatres to help inform patrons about the offerings of their theatre.

Shaw and Conlin’s proposal won the first round of the Journalism Art Challenge for Detroit, and should they win the second round with their proposal (due November 30th and announced April 1st, 2012), they could receive up to $80,000 to implement the idea. “If we win, we would hope to have it up and running by late September-October of next year, if we could”, Jennifer Conlin declares.

Simone M. Scully is a Communications & Conferences intern at the TCG, a staff writer for Inside New York and writes the blog ‘The Outside Observer’. She is also a playwright in her final year of her MFA at Columbia University, where she is working on her thesis play Damaged with mentor David Lindsay-Abaire. She is originally from Minneapolis MN but was raised in Toulouse, France and is a graduate of the London School of Economics. For more, visit www.simonemartelle.com