Pet Peeve: Actors with no web presence

So, this past Toronto Fringe Festival, I saw some great actors perform in some spectacularly good shows.  After the show, I invariably thought: “So and so is a talented actor. I wonder what else they have done.”  And so I google the actor, and find…nothing.  Well, not nothing, really, a scattered collection of mentions on various websites, maybe a review here or there.  But nothing with the actor’s name on it.  No website. Not even a twitter account.

Actors (and other performers) why don’t you have a website?

Website Seminar, an Idea

I often encounter performers who say things like “I should really have a web site”.  The problem they face,  is that they don’t know how to set up a web site.  Often they believe that the cost is prohibitive, that they don’t have the knowledge to create a site,that it will all be too hard.

As much as I might want to, I can’t build a site for every actor I encounter.  And although I can try and show tell them that the cost is not prohibitive, that they do have enough knowledge to create a site (they just don’t know it), and that it won’t be hard, they need someone to show them how to do it.

For many of these performers, hiring someone to build the site for them isn’t really feasible, because that’s where cost actually does come in.  Designers charge rates that a lot of performers can’t afford.  But there are ways to put a site together that won’t require a designer using existing templates and a content management system (for ease of updating).  Of course, if you want a truly unique site, you’ll need to shell out for a designer.

I’ve been considering holding a seminar to teach performers how the basics of putting together their own website.  This “curriculum” would probably go along the lines of:

  • Why you should have a web site.
  • Purchasing “”
    • .com, .net, .ca – which to choose?
    • How much will it cost?
  • Hosting
    • What is a host?
    • What requirements should I look for?
    • How do I find a host?
    • How much will it cost?
  • Your site.
    • Static site vs. Content Management System (CMS)
  • Introduction to the WordPress engine
    • Installing wordpress (one click installs)
    • Introduction to themes
    • Customizing the default WordPress theme
    • Other themes, and what to look for.
    • Pages and Posts: what’s the difference?
      • Deciding what pages to have
      • Creating your pages.
    • Posts and Blogging.
      • Why should you blog?
      • What should you blog and how often?
  • Your “” email address.
    • how to set it up (google apps, vs. your host’s email solution)
    • Why you should send everything from your “” email address.
  • Questions.

I’m trying to guage interest in such a seminar.  So, if its something you might be interested in, please fill out my quick survey and let me know.

    Websites and my DIY philosophy

    I’m sort of a “web evangelist”.  Whenever I talk to actors and other performing artists, I almost always ask if they have a website.  Most don’t.  When I ask them why, I tend to get varying responses, which can be boiled down to the following:

    1. I don’t think it will be of any use to me.
    2. Its too hard/I’m not a technical person.

    Naturally, I have responses to these.

    I don’t think it will be of any use to me: When someone searches for your name on Google, what comes up?  Is it a collection of sites that you have little to no real affiliation with?  Is it your facebook page?  The first thing that your website will do for you is help to ensure that you are in control of the content that comes up first in a google search for your name (unless your name is John Smith).  In addition to just helping you control your google search results, a website can do something more: it gives potential engagers a way to find out a little about your past work. I have gone into auditions, and been welcomed so warmly that I thought they must have met me in the past, only to discover that they had simply been to my website.  Having a website allowed the potential engager to see my past work, which made them predisposed to being friendly to me, which made the audition a lot smoother.  If that’s not a good reason to have a website, I don’t know what is.

    Its too hard/I’m not a technical person: A few years ago, I used to work at a website hosting company, and during my time speaking to our clients, I encountered more than a few who had been taken advantage of by someone.  In most cases, they had hired someone to build/maintain a website for them and that person had taken advantage of their ignorance about websites, and was over charging them.  Once, several years ago, it was necessary to be able to write HTML to be able to create a functional website.  Now, however, with tools such as Joomla or WordPress, you don’t need to be able to write HTML.  In fact, most hosting companies offer both as one-click installs, which makes setting them up almost effortless.  Then, its just a matter of changing the template (using one of thousands of available free templates), and writing your content.  You don’t need to be technical.  You just need to spend a little time on setup.  Its also worth pointing out that I never received any training in web stuff.  I never took a course in web design or HTML or anything else.  Everything I know about web sites, I taught myself.  And believe me, if I can learn how to do this stuff, so can you.

    I firmly believe that the tools have advanced to the point where anyone can create a website.  Its easy, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to do. Some of the best tools are free, and simple to use.  I firmly believe that its easy enough, that anyone can do it.  Why pay someone to do it for you, when you can do it yourself?

    I’ve sometimes considered doing a seminar on creating your own website.  If this is something you might be interested in, let me know.

    EDIT: Its been pointed out that this post might be interpreted as saying that you can either a)Do it yourself or b) get ripped off.  This is absolutely not what I was trying to say.  If you can afford a professional, then you should get one. There are plenty of honest designers out there who will charge a reasonable price and won’t rip anyone off.  A good WordPress template creator (or website designer or Joomla themer) can build you something truly spectacular.  However, I know a lot of performing artists who can’t afford to pay someone.  For these people, DIY is totally the way to go. They’ll get a site they can use, that looks good, and is easy to update.  All most people really need for DIY, is a little hand to point them in the right direction.

    Social Media: yes you should tweet

    Warning: I’m going to talk twitter.  Not about things that happened on twitter, but about twitter in general.

    Let’s face a sad truth: most actors don’t have a publicist.  Heck, most actors don’t even have enough of a following to need one.  Most actors don’t have a following at all.  Using social media can help.  Oh sure, chances are that you won’t be the next Wil Wheaton, but you can gain a bit of a following.  And even more importantly, you can use social media to network with other actors and other industry types.

    I’m going to skip over Facebook, since it seems that practically everyone on the planet is on Facebook, and those that aren’t have decided not to be for some very good reasons.  On the topic of Facebook, I will say this:  since “practically everyone on the planet” (if you’ll excuse the gross exaggeration) is on Facebook, refusing to make use of this social medium may limit your ability to connect with both other people in the business, and with people who might want to follow you.  Maybe I’ll cover this in another post.

    But for the moment, I’ll cover Twitter.  To get the basics out of the way, wikipedia describes twitter as: a social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers.

    So why would you want to use a “microblogging” service that limits you to 140 characters? Isn’t there a massive signal to noise ratio problem?  Well, the honest truth is, yes.  But you control who you follow, and if someone annoys you, simply stop following them.  The benefits of the medium far outweigh the detriments.  A social medium like Twitter works best when it is considered a two-way communication.  That should be your goal: communication.  People who follow you will do so because they find you interesting.  The best way to keep them around is to be interesting (I know, no pressure).  So, how do you do that?

    Well, first off, I’m not an expert.  I’m not a “Social Media Guru” (a phrase thrown around quite a bit these days), but I have been on twitter for three years, so I know what I like.  And more importantly, I know what I don’t like.  Here’s what I don’t like:

    1. Over-sharing. Don’t share things that you wouldn’t share with acquaintances.  Or things that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to know.
    2. Staying “on message”. There are a lot of politicians who try to use twitter, but fail because they don’t consider it a two-way communication.  Check out Jack Layton or Michael Ignatieff.  These two politicians use twitter as a broadcast, just sending words out into the ether, all of them words that stay on their political message.  There is no insight into the individuals behind them.  That makes for bad tweeting.
    3. Infrequent updates. Just like a blog*, you need to update often.  If you only update every week or so, I’ll forget about you.  Worse, there are many users who will purge tweeters that don’t update very often.  You need to make sure that you update regularly to keep you followers engaged.
    4. Flooding. While it is important to update regularly, it is possible to over-tweet and essentially spam your followers.  Nothing is more annoying than a flood of tweets, especially if those tweets don’t present anything new.  Much as I love the Ontario Arts Council, their twitter feed tends to flood its followers.

    As you can see, there’s a fine balance.  Tweet regularly, but not too much.  Don’t just broadcast but engage with your followers.  Retweet when you find something interesting that you want to share (its a way of saying “this is cool” about the person you’re re-tweeting).

    So, why is this important?  I stated earlier that you could use twitter to build a following.  That’s true.  You can also use it to network with other actors/directors/people interested in theatre.  As a Canadian actor, you know that we don’t really have stars here. We don’t have a machine that makes people “famous”.  If you want to put the word out about the work you do, maybe get a bit of a following, you should use every tool you can.  And twitter is one such tool.

    On its own, it won’t make you famous, but it could help.  And it definitely can’t hurt.

    * This is me, throwing stones at my glass house. Yes, I know I don’t update my blog as often as I should.

    Blogging: you are the product

    The other day, I was talking with Siobhan Richardson about her blog, and she mentioned that sometimes she wonders how much to talk about in her posts.  Specifically, how to deal with ideas.

    I think it depends on the idea.  Or rather, it depends on the product.  If you are a writer, the your product is your story, so you are not going to post the details of that story in your blog.  But if you happen to be an actor then you are the product.  Describing how you went about researching a character or perhaps a specific technique that you’ve found working for you doesn’t diminish your product.  Its something that leads back to you.  Someone might find your insight helpful, and when they next encounter a similar situation, they might think “I remember when I read about this on [your name]’s blog.”  The I remember reading this statement becomes even more important if you are a director, or like Siobhan, a fight director (or any of the many theatre-related professions where a particular expertise is needed).   Sharing an insight or an idea directly related to what you do does not diminish your product.  Speaking of a technique you’ve developed for, say, bringing out the acting in stage combat simply puts the idea out there.  No one else will be able to take your idea and implement it in quite the same way you do, because its yours.

    Keeping your ideas to yourself doesn’t help you get the word out about what you do and who you are.  It helps you build your personal brand by letting others know of your expertise and what makes you unique.  The shared idea isn’t really something anyone can steal from you, but even though you’ve spoken of it, its your idea, and only you have the experience that brings the idea to life.  A reader might be able to take insight or inspiration from your blog post, but in the end, their interpretation will be their idea.  All you will have done is plant the seed.

    Sharing is what makes the internet world work.  And its something that you can use to help people notice you.  Take the risk and share your ideas.  All you have to lose is the opportunity to have a reader remember you.