As with your favorite ink cartridge reseller, dental veneer installer, purveyor of fine light beer, and virtually everyone else, performing arts companies have had to take full advantage of social media and utilize new modes of sharable content in the last several years in order to gain new audiences and remain relevant.
When I began a performing arts management graduate school program in 2012, talk of social and new media’s potential to transform the way audiences consume the arts was at a fevered pitch and no one knew quite how to prepare. Would 3D technology render live performance obsolete? Would simple live streaming replace the need to attend in-person? Was live-tweeting the new key to making a concert more engaging for a Millennial? The nervous chatter was for good reason; research shows that traditional arts consumption has gone down amongst Americans, while participation in the remixing or making of art (including YouTube videos, animated gifs, and Insta-photography) has sharply increased. Technology continues to advance, and we still have mixed feelings about it.
Performing arts companies have addressed this shift in arts consumption in different ways. The legendary comedy theatre and improv school The Second City, which has outposts in Chicago, LA, and Toronto and several touring companies, has the benefit of also having produced a sketch TV show in Canada for many years. Just another arm of their sprawling company empire, The Second City Network and YouTube channel house hundreds of original videos, be they sketches, fake commercials, or clips from live Second City performances throughout the years. With alumni like Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner, as well as newer SNL talents like Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant, the company has plenty of great stuff to choose from. These videos cement their status as the most prolific and reliable generator of comedy talent in this country.
Still, anyone who took theater in high school knows that live improv comedy is wild, unpredictable, and frequently hilarious. As excellent as videos are at sucking up time while avoiding doing the dishes, nothing replaces the terror that comes from wondering whether an unfolding comedy scene will contain material to make you regret bringing your aunt for a girls’ night out. Finding out she actually thinks a joke about a Tinder hookup is funny—maybe even relatable—is priceless.