With performance venues, productions, and businesses temporarily closing down to help deter the spread of the Coronavirus and protect public health, now is the time to implement or beef up your crisis management plan for the days to come, maintain your branding, and increase your online presence, while maintaining current social distancing requirements.
As part of a series, this column will highlight 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.
In addition, as productions may also be considering options for remote viewing of existing and ongoing productions, many of these tools can be used for such planned sharing and viewing of taped productions, with a potential for live performances as well. More on additional options for this feature in future articles for this column.
In the Theatre Communication Group's (TCG) recent Coronavirus Preparedness Webinar found at ThisStageLA, ArtsReady Director Mollie Quinlan-Hayes specifically recommends an “all-hazards planning perspective” and taking the following steps to begin implementing a strategy, or improve or add to your existing plans, and connect you with your teams.
Readiness planning, now and for future
- Get everyone in the same “room.”
- Plan for redundancies and have a backup plan for all of your critical functions in case you are cut off from key people, whether they are stranded, sick, or injured. You don't want to have a lack of access to that resource. With regard to redundancies, this includes planning for yourself as a resource.
- Critical functions include all people, facilities, IT, finances, productions, and communications.
- Dispersion: have information in different places and multiple places. Keeping things in your head is not good, so implement cross-training and document processes so “the show goes on.”
- Telecommuting: what do telecommuting staff need, what are the protocols, documents, passwords and communication apps they need and provide a contact tree.
- Formal closures: provide a closing plan to your facilities that include security, backups, and all the in and outs of staff, when necessary and possible to those facilities.
- Look to the future of scanning tickets instead of hard tickets and provide that staff open doors for patrons. This may seem to be moot for the moment, but it is something to consider for the future in order to help ease patrons who may be feeling emotional aftershocks when life returns to normal and they return to live performances at your brick and mortar venues.
- Another thing to consider is to make sure that your cancellation policies are formally written. Hourly workers can get disincentivized if not paid, and you will need to think of ways to keep morale high prior to their eventual return.
- Engage your Board and create communication and document sharing pipelines between all departments and staff so that you are all on the same page.
Pipelining Tools and Watch Parties
Here are a few online communication portals that I recommend for implementing communications, creative sharing, researching, auditioning, and even remote performance viewing for your audiences. Each site has different features that enable various levels of viewing, information and file sharing, and chatting, so review each to determine which one will work best for you and your teams.
Producers Matthew S. Robinson and Robby DeVillez of Red Flag Media Productions have been using such online tools to continue their audition process for their upcoming production of "Glamour," through facetime remote meetings.
“We were supposed to have in-person auditions this weekend,” said DeVillez. “But now we switched to self-submissions and video conference for those who would rather have the "face-to-face" experience.”
“We are using Zoom and Skype for remote auditions and Google Forums for them to sign,” said Robinson.
Twoseven runs straight from your browser and supports Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon, HBO, and private videos that either person has on their computer. Access to several of these requires their Chrome extension. You can create a Private Room, allow participants to use webcam/mic in the room, or only allow admins control of videos and playback. The site allows for chat or muted chat during the video and the Chrome extension informs you if a video on a given website is supported. Note: The app may no longer work with Netflix, but that appears to have patches in place or in the works. Amazon was tricky and must have access to cookies, so check your settings.
A subscription service for those wanting to share music videos or YouTube clips rather than entire movies or TV shows, Plug.DJ creates a private room for a chat and share and there is a feature to line up a list of videos. It also allows you to leave it running on a big screen and remote viewers can join through the app. Register for an account or sign in through Facebook. This looks to work for content that is already published, however it is unclear if it works with YouTube Live content.
Aside from facetime calls, Skype users with accounts can also share a browser in a video chat to review videos, PowerPoint presentations, and share other file and image viewing. The call administrator of the meeting has exclusive control of viewed content and there is no file-sharing ability, but this is another great way to get everyone on the same page.
Syncplay is a free tool that allows you to sync video streams with staff and viewers and is a multi-platform compatible with some video player apps such as VLC, KM Player and Media Player Classic. Content must be stored locally on your hard drive, but once set up you can hit play.
Another for watching video content together in groups in real-time. You create a Room on the home page, add a nickname, and the app opens a video and chat room. Add members to the chat from there and they can join the existing Room. Video source choices are from YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and even audio from SoundCloud.
Great for creative content producers who desire to do group research on story, structure, and other techniques is Netflix Party, a browser extension exclusive to Chrome for use with Netflix. It only needs to be installed on one computer, then users can synchronize Netflix video playback on multiple computers. Install the extension, then open Netflix and choose a film or show to watch. Once the video loads, pause it and click on the red “NP” button in the top right of your browser and a unique link will be created to send to your staff. Invitees are directed to your virtual room to watch in sync and it includes a simple text chat interface.
The biggest advantage to Netflix Party is that only one person needs to have the extension installed with access to one subscription and can invite participants into the Room.* New users are given a free trial period, but everyone must have Netlfix and the Chrome extension. However, because it is connected through Chrome, participants can only access through their computers.
Sync Video creates a private room with registration. It is free, but registering is a requirement. The private virtual room is permanent, which enables you to this room each time you require it. You just invite staff once you are in to join. It allows Vimeo and YouTube videos to be added and saved to playlists to be watched at any time. New rooms and new nicknames can also be created at any time. There is also the option to make your room public for larger viewing audiences.
This one incorporates VoIP capabilities and a free voice chat while watching videos online. Groups can use hours of free voice chatting and people can be invited via social media accounts such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and email and there is no registration requirement. In the voicechats, videos from DailyMotion, Vimeo, and YouTube can be shared, and up to 5GB of video may be uploaded to a custom user space in a variety of video formats. Registered accounts allow up to 5GB space for video uploads to myCloud storage, a use profile, and a history of invitations.
Plex VR allows you to share a Space virtually. Great for live tours of a venue or space, location scouting, and virtual immersive theatre. You can chat, watch videos sourced from one media library through Plex, and sync. Users are, however, able to change the size and the position of the screen, so effecting setting protocols may be necessary to establish in advance, depending on your use. In order for it to work, all participants must have Google Daydream, Gear VR or Oculus Go-compatible hardware, so there is a pre-expense involved in the process by all viewers.
Crisis Media Management provides assistance with connectivity, online communication tools, and strategic social media management to boost your project marketing, retain and improve audience visibility, and reach new audiences.