Apps: #TheNewMedium

by Max Vasapoli

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Theatre | Technology} blog salon, curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton.)

I’m the first to admit it: I am a social media junkie. A consumer of tweets, likes, follows and links who has double-tapped first or already favorited the latest meme. I reveal my woman crush on Wednesdays, throw back on Thursdays and follow on Fridays. Perhaps more importantly, I am a theatre artist and communications professional who can see the importance of exploring new media as an avenue for social impact. I doubt my online frivolities or speedy finger work landed me at the helm of coordinating the design, development and promotion of a theatre app, but rather my work in project management and love of the Philadelphia live arts community.

From the innovative minds of seven of Philadelphia’s freshest independent theatre companies, came the inspired want/need/desire for a new, effective marketing tool targeted at the greater Philadelphia area. The Off Broad Street Theatre Consortium App fills the missing link for these similarly sized, similarly attended—and yet vastly unique—theatre companies. Now, there is a singular marketing avenue hosting their programming, while differentiating their array of offerings. Thanks to a generous grant from The Barra Foundation, awarding project grants to collaborative initiatives that improve organizational effectiveness, the consortium sought a mobile app to gain a familiarity with their audiences not yet seen by cross-promotional efforts.

I Skyped and Facetimed with a multitude of app developers and designers who spouted impressive figures and cutting-edge features but misunderstood our specific needs: seven companies, multiple venues, varied programming. I weeded out the companies that confused theatre with theater very quickly and eventually moved ahead with one known for large music festivals and renaissance faires. Yes, a ren faire app.

During monthly committee meetings, the consortium contributed their ideas for the app’s content, how it should function and specific media to showcase while I played middleman with the developers. It grew increasingly difficult to discuss an app without a working prototype, so this is around the time I hired a graphic designer to flesh out the look and feel of the app. He would actually make much of the app twice, since iPhones and Androids require differing sizes of media.

Once the foundation was laid and development began, it was imperative to speak with IT professionals to optimize company websites for mobile viewing and fully understand how the app affected website traffic via heat mapping.  I didn’t quite grab hold of this term right away and referred to it as “hot spotting” on a few occasions, but the idea is simple: track exactly where audiences click in your app to streamline the layout of information. Thus increasing ease of use and thus increasing ticket sales.

Audience response continues to be a crucial role in the redesign and implementation of the app since we need more than just Google analytics to break down user trends. Artists, students and tourists continue to be our major audiences and their usage metrics support this. Company profiles, in-app social media posting and our map feature continue to perform well amongst our users. I can tell how many weekly users (new or old) we receive, where they clicked and how long they stayed. I’m now a social media enthusiast encouraging others to use the social media I created.

The Philadelphia theatre community is an especially vibrant one, full of innovators and free thinkers. While social media is criticized as an isolating activity that forges a false sense of involvement, the goal of this app is to bring the existing community and its visitors closer together on a unified party line. Not knowing where or when a performance takes place will soon be a thing of the past. One can buy tickets though the app and check in when they arrive there too, so be sure to discuss the show over all outlets and get new and young audiences interested. Let’s all reclaim the hashtag for social impact and believe that new media can further our art, not isolate our artists – “I’ll follow you and you follow back.”

MORE INFO: The Off Broad Street Mobile App is available for iPhone in the App Store and through the Android Market. Search Off Broad Street and download today for the latest from 11th Hour Theatre Company, Azuka Theatre, BRAT Productions, EgoPo Classic Theatre, Flashpoint Theatre Company, Inis Nua Theatre Company, and Maukingbird Theatre Company. The Off Broad Street Mobile App is generously supported in part by support from The Barra Foundation.

Max Vasapoli is a seasoned educator and communications consultant in the Philadelphia live arts industry. Since receiving his BFA in Musical Theater from The University of the Arts, Max has worked with theatres like the Arden Theatre Company, Stoneham Theatre, Off Broad Street Theatre, and Theatre Exile. Vasapoli performs and teaches with Opera Philadelphia where he was seen in the Opera On The Mall broadcasts of Carmen and Nabucco, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, and on news segments like CBS Philly’s Love the Arts in Philadelphia6ABC Loves The Arts, and WHYY’s Friday Arts. Recently, Max worked alongside Cirque du Soleil’s international tour of Totem in Camden, NJ. Recent guest lecturing credits include The University of the Arts and Temple University.