How to promote ourselves in the digital age? That was the question a handful of soon to be theatre design graduates and two lecturers from the Theatre Design Course at Nottingham Trent University asked themselves in pub tucked behind the theatre design building.
It was 2002. Facebook didn’t exist. Nor did Twitter, Youtube or even the now ageing Myspace, heck people had only just started using “Google” instead of Alta Vista search! I’m sure you have all heard of those names… though I suspect that only the older readers amongst us have heard of Alta Vista!
In a very short time only a very few people would have heard of “Scenography: The Theatre Design Website” But in it’s ten year life it did for Theatre Designers what Facebook did for everyone else. From simple beginnings it grew to be visited by hundreds of thousands of people and offered it’s members vocational and social networking, a fully fledged user-editable online portfolio and blogging system and an unparalleled International Theatre Design Editorial service.
But back to the beginning…
We were all sat in that pub on a summers evening weary from a long day in the design studio/paint shop/workshop/props room. I can’t remember all the names. Amy, Jake, Gemma, Liam & Phil (Sadly no longer with us) are three names that stick. Apologies if I left you out! The question we were asking ourselves was how do we as theatre designers use the internet to promote ourselves. In the early 2000’s theatre designers were barely making a mark on the web. A few designers had their own sites but little in the way of community existed. The Society of British Theatre Designers had a website with a long list of designers and some images of their work, but the pages were static and you couldn’t search anything.
A community site where designers networked, shared their details, shared their work… and perhaps worked together and collaborated would be fantastic! It was also beyond anything that any one of us could accomplish – we simply didn’t have the skills. But we went ahead anyway and created “Scenography – The Theatre Design Website”
In those early days the site was publicly viewable but only graduates of the university could access the social networking side. The forums and discussion areas were only open to graduates and students too. Sound familiar? Well that’s exactly how Facebook started out! Two years later and we opened our doors to any student or graduate of theatre design or practising theatre designer. In that first year membership rose from 100 to 400. At it’s height we had over a thousand. doesn’t sound like much right? Bare in mind however that this was a a very limited target audience to begin with, how many theatre designers do you know? The Society of British Theatre Designers has a membership of less than half of that.
2007 marked the height of our achievements as the site was invited to work with Scenofest at the 2007 Prague Quadrennial. We were fortunate enough to attract more members, writers and clutch of theatre design personalties to contribute to our “Prague Quadrennial Blogs” Invitations to theatre design events across the globe promptly followed and the site was also invited for inclusion into the British Library’s Digital Archive.
Sadly the global recession hit us hard – advertising revenues dropped significantly. Yet at the same time we were growing ever more popular. The candle was burning at both ends and as Myself and the other volunteers found our own lives heavily impacted upon by the economic crisis we became aware that perhaps it was time refocus our energies on our own lives. Social networking was changing the virtual world. Today businesses value their Facebook “Pages” just as highly as they value their own websites. And so too do many artists including theatre designers.
We accomplished a vast amount in the life of Scenography but the landscape was changing. I take great pride in knowing that what we did significantly helped designers across the globe. friendships were made, ideas were shared, people networked and perhaps most importantly theatre was made!
Martin Paling 2011
I’d like to thank the following for their contributions to the Scenography – The Theatre Design Website
Angela Paling, Iliam Brown, Nikos Kalaitzidis, Will McNiece, Ruth Evans, Vanessa Streeter, Corinne Robinson, Bianca Feuth, Sara Sheehan,
Zuzana Mala, Lynne Strulyart, Randy Gener, Sophie Jump, Kate Burnett, Martin Morley, Tolis Papazoglou, Lesley Lyndsey, Ria Wicks, Rebeka Haigh, Martin Davies, Kate Allenby, Hayley Romangoli, Lili Rogue, Rodrigo Cortes, Kate Vickers, Brian Etwall, Georgia O’Neill, Mayorwatch, Seenit, DSAMedia, Society of British Theatre Designers, OISTAT, Scenofest, USITT