Florida Theater on Stage: The Medium Moves The Message
Founder, chief executive and lead writer and reviewer for the recently launched Florida Theater on State (FloridaTheaterOnStage.com), Bill Hirschman, can’t help but sound off with a smile about the Theatrical scene in South Florida.
"Did you know there are more than 50 professional theater troupes in South Florida?" he asks enthusiastically. Actually, there may be even more, but cut him some slack: he’s only getting started.
"There are at least that many," he adds. "And we hope to cover them all with stories, reviews, interviews and more," he says with what sounds like a tiny sigh of excitement at the overwhelming prospects of his new venture. "Some of them are tiny and may produce only one play a year but it may be a wonderful or unique piece that theater-goers would want to know about. We hope to make that possible."
According to Hirschman, Florida Theater on Stage is a cyber platform from which he hopes to deliver high quality journalism in quantities and ways that traditional print media couldn’t match even at its peak.
"We plan to support ourselves with advertising revenues," he said. "We’ve already got 13 advertisers and more are getting ready to join us. Our rates are incredibly low but we expect to see them grow as our services attract more and more users and readers. The theater community seems very receptive."
Hirschman explained that the overhead of a traditional model was always a limiting factor. Now he wants to discover whether someone can make a living with a specialized online venture like Florida Theater on Stage or if it will become just one of many income generators.
"There are a lot of new tools you can use to expand coverage and [ensure the] dissemination of information and criticism," Hirschman said. "I look at all of this technology as just another delivery mechanism but one that can significantly expand your reach [sic]."
He points to the fact that since the information is online, snowbirds can find out what’s happening in South Florida theaters before they head south for the season. Holiday and business travelers can quickly find out if there’s a play they’d like to see and everyone can book tickets online well before their arrival if all goes according to plan, he adds.
The website is dense with information, but well organized, with mostly straightforward navigation schemes. There are a few confusing jumps and links from the stories to the theaters for tickets that don’t connect automatically, but both of those are minor considering the amount of information available at the click of a mouse, even in the early stages of the site.
In addition to the website, Florida Theater on Stage is on Facebook and Hirschman said that he’s learned to use Twitter. They also have a blog, but haven’t had time to do much with it yet.
Hirschman is a ’graduate’ of the print media school of downsizing at the Sun Sentinel. He took an early buyout about four years ago and still does some freelance work for the paper but most of his time is consumed by the task of keeping track of the hundreds of items needed to run his online business.
His first foray into the online market, South Florida Theater Review, was in partnership with a fellow downsizing graduate, Lawrence Johnson, who has been successful with his South Florida Classical Review. The additional focus was too much and the relationship ended after a few months, however.
"What I needed," Hirschman says, "was someone to manage the business end of the business and boy was I lucky when my wife, Oline Cogdell, took a buyout from the Sun Sentinel and decided to become the operations arm of the new production."
Hirschman also expressed gratitude for two freelance writers who have helped reach out to the theater community in the three South Florida counties. SFGN writer Mary Damiano, along with Michelle F. Solomon who, like Damiano, has long and impressive credentials in covering the theater as a journalist, have helped Hirschman produce the myriad of content already on the site.
Executive Director of the South Florida Theatre League Andie Arthur confirmed Hirschman’s projections about his online efforts. "I think the project is great," she said. "I’ve supported Bill from the outset. It’s nice to have a Christine Dolan at the Miami Herald but we’re seeing the media shrink coverage of the theater. Bill can do a lot more online than he could hope to do in the print field. It’s a more intimate space and at the same time, he’s been able to offer more news of interest to the community like the Caldwell’s chapter eleven story."
Visit FloridaTheaterOnStage.com for more information.