Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: The Connections We Make


When not practicing government-mandated social distancing, actors tend to be some of the most social people you can find, both on and off the job. From standing in line to audition at a cattle-call, to table reads, to rehearsal processes, the entire world of creating theater or cinematic art requires actors to be “social.” Add to the mix the after-rehearsal bar gatherings, wrap parties, opening night or premiere galas, and closing cast parties, and you find that social distancing is impossible for working actors.

Sometimes black box theater and indie film projects call on actors to quite literally be on top of each other in confined spaces that have been converted into makeshift dressing rooms, green rooms, and performance locations. Factor in love scenes and the social connectivity goes through the roof!

There is still no telling how the COVID-19 lockdown will forever change the dynamic of artists creating their art in limited spaces with limited resources. Perhaps when the threat has ended, it will be business as usual for small storefront theaters and backroom indie film projects. Perhaps new mandates will require an end to the type of close-quarters we have all worked in from time to time. Only time will tell.

In practicing our craft, we find ourselves connected to so many other artists in so many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually at times. It will be interesting to see how much more cognizant we will be of the physical connections we have with each other in the Post Covid Age.

When actor life resumes, perhaps stage managers will have to be more tolerant of actors missing rehearsal due to illness. They will certainly be adding massive amounts of hand sanitizer to their first aid kits and more hygiene talk in their backstage etiquette speeches. Dressing room divas may find new justification for demanding their own mirror space now. Love scenes may have to forever be cut from all scripts, and shared props eliminated during virus season. Let’s not even talk about rented and borrowed costume items. Wigs? Yuck!

If you’re smirking about the wigs line, that proves our artistic connections will not change. Our mutual love, appreciation, frustration, and anxieties about our art will remain the same. Our ability to create new and lasting bonds with our fellow artists will remain with us. I have connected with most of my closest friends in life through my craft. Some of those people I may never work with again, but they will always be treasured colleagues and lifelong friends.

The personal connections we make as artists sharing our art run the gamut of human relations. Mentors, friendships, family-like bonds, lovers, soulmates, and even sometimes enemies can be developed through working on a project together. In my lifetime, I have witnessed no fewer than 10 marriages result from relationships developed during the artistic process, and a few divorces as well. On at least one occasion, a divorce of two people led to a second marriage for one of them.

Then there are those awkward connections; the ones we sometimes don’t know how to break. Thanks to social media groups, we all have a string of project groups we are connected to down the sideline of our pages. If your list is anything like mine, some of those groups date back years. Forming a group page can be very helpful during the project to share information, contacts, schedules, etc. Yet, once the projects are over, there the groups awkwardly accumulate down the side of your page.

Sometimes a project is so fun or so successful, or so full of great people, the members of the group talk about the group continuing forever, reviving the show, working together again, or having regular get-togethers that almost never happen. Instead, every once in a while, someone from a past group will post something about the new project they are currently working on as a promotional effort which leads to additional awkward moments for everyone still connected to group. Do you ignore them? Do you respond and reopen that can of worms? Are you suddenly reminded to leave the group, but then hesitate because you don’t want the person to know you left the group right after they posted out of the blue after three years?

Nearly 150 productions into my career, I’ve found it’s best to cut ties where there are no true ties, and not be false about being further connected where you truly are not. There will be other “best cast ever” experiences in your life. There will be plenty of groups to add to the sideline of your page. The true lifelong relationships will continue to exist without the aid of the group, the stage manager on the project, or the director who brought you all together. You will still have your fondest memories of the project and the best people involved.

While you’re shut up inside during this historically unprecedented time of isolation, practice a little social media distancing and clean up your groups list. Reach out to any artists you worked with before whom you truly miss, and then archive that group or drop yourself out of it to make room for new groups, new experiences, and new connections to come in the Post Covid-19 Age.


From Self-care to Self-promotion: Making your Social Media Marketing Work Better For You - PART I


As part of a series, this column highlights communication strategies for handling unpredictable circumstances and a variety of essential online tools and suggestions for you and your teams to implement in the coming days.

As many productions are currently being put on hiatus, so are the kind of life activities outside of our homes that, now paused by social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, have brought us here to this new and challenging place.

This place, if it does not include addressing health issues exacerbated or caused by the coronavirus, is one that can be filled with opportunities that may not have been otherwise afforded to you before that invaluable and most priceless gift - newly found time - became available.

BUT FIRST, SELF CARE

Not much else is above the care for ourselves, for our families, and for all of whom concern us, during times of crisis. But outside of where health and all other urgent cares are met, as artists, found time also provides the new opportunity to re-evaluate and re-assess. The LA Stage Alliance recently published a guide to recommended assessments and self-care to help provide affirming perspectives and advice during these times.

When you once again can breathe, it might then be time to re-visit that other invaluable and unique gift that is only afforded to you, which can be also best be served by this newfound time - the ongoing maintenance of your own self-promotion.

ARMCHAIR SELF-PROMOTION - A CUP OF COMFORT AND A SMART DEVICE

Self-promotion is not just a tool for self-marketing and networking. As artists in the entertainment fields, it is also sought for and expected by those who seek to promote on your behalf. Having a website to that effect is key, for sure. Having reviews to share are as well. But entertainment marketers who are considering “you” as that star power–the one who is going to make their project shine and bring in audiences - will want more tangible results from your self-marketing which come in the form of numbers.

And the numbers I am talking about are in followers.

A larger number of followers, depending on when an account was opened—and where viewable—shows marketers that you are not just active in your own self-marketing, but active in the engagement of your audience—which they see as their soon-to-be-audience as well. This is tangible. This is sometimes seen as bankable. It is an asset.

QUANTITY, BUT ALSO QUALITY

Follower numbers and social media activity tells marketers several things, both good and bad. Lack of social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all where analytic information is most easily tracked and gained, can tell a marketer that you might not care enough to self-market. With regard to follower numbers on Twitter and Facebook, especially when low in older or abandoned-looking accounts, can signal that as well. In newer accounts, it can look like an after-thought, especially if close to a project's inception date.

A larger number of followers, depending on when an account was opened—and where viewable - shows marketers that you are not just active in your own self-marketing, but active in the engagement of your audience - which they see as their soon-to-be-audience as well.

This is tangible. This is sometimes seen as bankable. It is an asset.

But outside the actual “numbers” of followers, the number of posts, the quality of the posts, the type of content within, and the active, on-going, and regular engagement and conversation, both with and within your audience, is also seen as a tangibly marketable and well-branded tool that someone else can use to promote who is in the business of promoting.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

"Hashtag" in "Comic-Con, the Musical," Sacred Fools {now The Broadwater], Hollywood Fringe Festival, June 2, 2017. ~ Photo by Monique A. LeBleu

If you are completely new to the use of social media as a promotional tool, and not just for casual social and family engagement and communication, here's a handy checklist to review first before you get started.

Because social media self-marketing does take time and maintenance, it is often the thing that gets pushed aside when the plates of creativity are spinning so fast that it might be perceived as just a plastic plate that won't break should it fall. But with time as a new friend these days, along with the additional benefit of just such similarly captive audiences as of late, a unique opportunity is now provided for all creatives and self-promoters to look toward beefing up their social media marketing and making it a priority.

Which and how many platforms you wish to choose and how much time now, and in the future, you wish to spend, is key. Choosing them and determining which are to be in your portfolio and in future up-keep should be based on the benefits they provide, the benefits you want, and the perceived value they have to those who market you best. Consult those people, where you can, to learn where they personally see the highest value to you (and to them) and where you can and should best place your focus.

Then, assess your current social media and marketing strategies that are already in place, begin the work - alone and/or in teams where you can -, pick the platforms that will work best for all, and go forth to create any new accounts. If you have more than three you may eventually need to use a social media management platform that can share between accounts. But as many of these often only link back between platforms, but simultaneously ignore media-rich content in their wake, I suggest sticking with just a few initially and keep things simple. In time, you will see those numbers increase, as well as your brand visibility.

In my next column, I will talk of the TOP SIX PLATFORMS and how, when, and why to use them for self-promotion.