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The New Backstage Pass Takes Center Stage: Performing Arts Is Now Tweet or Perish

All live performances begin in inky darkness before the curtain rises. But the real birth of an arts performance begins backstage and in rehearsals and class.

My wife, Nanelle, was a professional ballerina for most of her life. I spent countless hours backstage at her ballet performances living the life of the artist vicariously through her. I was one of the small group of ‘friends and family’ allowed backstage and was able to witness first-hand the great production chaos of a major ballet performance and the artists and technicians who make it happen. I vividly remember going to the backstage door after many performances to join the small, but eager crowd of fellow ‘insiders’ waiting for the stars to spill out of the side door.  It was pretty magical, but I took it for granted.Backstage passes for high level supporters and friends and family were the only way for performing arts fans to get inside the arts. The only way us mere mortals could enjoy a small glimpse into the life and passion of the performing artists and the organization.

In many endeavors seeing “how the sausage is made’ is a distinct turn-off. Performing arts are entirely different. Seeing backstage and before and after performances, getting to meet the artists themselves and living vicariously through them, adds richness and intensity to the entire experience.

How can performing arts organizations and the artists themselves bring this unique and engaging experience to a massive new audience and regain their relevance and fan passion?

Can you make the backstage pass available to all of your best fans and supporters?

Social media, when used properly, flips the entire idea of the backstage pass for friends and family around and makes it a highly engaging, appealing way to convey the passion, dedication and excitement of performing arts. Performing arts are visual, audible and visceral experiences that touch all of your senses.

 25 year performing arts veteran and consultant, Lou Spisto sees high value in creating a virtual backstage pass experience using social media.

It’s no secret that direct personal access to artists has always been key to generating and maintaining support for the performing arts-- it’s typically been reserved for the most generous donors and involved volunteers. I think a ‘virtual backstage pass’ is pretty genius.  It gives a much larger audience of fans an intimate connection to the artist and what he or she does to create art. This engagement has always encouraged action and participation: buying the tickets and attending the performance.

 The best performing arts groups are using some of these ideas to transform their organizations, their marketing and their attendance.  Performing arts are highly visual and engaging. Social media enjoys a fantastic array of options for incredible visuals, video, music and more. The best arts organizations are effectively using visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Youtube to let fans experience the drama, beauty and glory of their performances, dress rehearsals and even the lives of the artists.

A few intriguing examples:

 Alice Ko, Digital Strategist for Ballet BC in Vancouver has seen tremendous benefits from their social media programs:

Giving people more insight into what’s going on behind the scenes actually makes people more excited to come to our shows.

SF Ballet Pinterest

 And Carly Severn, Digital Engagement Associate at SF Ballet:

By offering added value to our online audiences, social media enables us to engage and nurture our existing fans, while expanding into new audience bases. In particular, social allows us to offer exclusive behind-the-scenes content, from Instagram photos and Vines, to backstage blog posts from our dancers.

 Miami City Ballet has a thriving and active social media presence and actively promotes its dancers as art celebrities. Miami City Ballet dancer Rebecca King has a loyal and involved twitter and Instagram following who engage with her and live a bit vicariously through her activities.


 Even typically staid and unapproachable artistic directors are finding benefit in establishing a vibrant social media public face. Check out Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Artistic Director Bramwell Tovey’s Twitter feed for an intriguing peek behind the scenes of a major symphony.

The virtual backstage pass that social media enables is ready to deliver an entirely new audience to those modern performing arts organizations that can shed the shackles of exclusivity, mindless tradition and fear of the future.

 Lou Spisto, former Executive Director & Producer for my home town of San Diego’s The Old Globe Theatre summed it up nicely when I interviewed him about the power of social media in modern performing arts organizations.

The visual artist, stage actor, orchestral musician, and ballet or modern dancer should embrace the opportunity for wider popularity that the virtual backstage pass provides them. Like it or not, celebrities today are embraced as much for who they are as for what they do and performing artists shouldn’t shy way from the notion of celebrity and the use of social media to attain this status. They are truly role models in the best sense of the term and they deserve a broader following. As the artist and, therefore, the arts achieve greater relevancy through this powerful communication tool our future will be much, much brighter

I’m looking forward to a richer, more arts filled future. Not all arts organizations will get it and some will “pass into that good night” like the much maligned San Diego Opera, however the best and the brightest will hopefully see the light and allow more of us to reach for the stars.


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