It’s certainly clear that social media is here to stay - in fact, we can’t get away from it at all.
Wherever you turn there’s a trending hashtag or an Instagram logo - hell, some of the Love Island careers this year include Social Media Influencers. I’ve even made a job out of doing social media marketing, and actually, I love it. From a business point of view, it’s a great way of promoting yourself, but as an individual and for your mental health, I’m not sure I agree. Is social media good for performers?
Now, these opinions are purely from my own observations, so I can’t speak for everyone, but the influence that social media now has in the performance industry is huge. A number of casting breakdowns nowadays specifically request people who have a strong social media following. Before they’ve even invited you to a casting, you have to send them a link to your Instagram account so they can check how many followers you have. They’re judging you based on how many ‘friends’ you have online. Isn’t it sad that you spend years and years honing your talent and training to be the best you can be, only to be thwarted by the fact that you have less than 500 followers on Instagram?
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword really. If you find someone cast in something and they’re mainly known for their social media influence, they’re then bombarded with accusations that they only got that part because they’ve got lots of followers. You can’t win!
Just think of all the celebrity castings of late. Ashley Roberts in Waitress on the West End caused a huge uproar. Whilst we are well aware that often celeb castings are done to improve ticket sales, I’m sure she would still have had to audition for that part. The number of offensive comments people were typing on every Facebook ad the Waitress team posted was hideous. Although I know some of them were trying to be supportive of the previous cast members, can you imagine if those hundreds of people surrounded Ashley Roberts in person and said all those things to her face? It would never happen. So why is it ok to be so astronomically nasty online?
It’s so easy now for anybody with an opinion on something to post a negative comment. It takes two minutes to write something like that but can last a lifetime for a performer. You might be one negative comment out of a thousand good ones, but as much as the person it’s about might try to brush it off, these things linger and can end up draining your mental state after a while. It’s such a dangerous game to play - what happened to, ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’
Whilst that really gets my knickers in a twist, there’s something to be said for using social media as a means to connect with influential people. Now you can follow theatres, shows you like, agents, casting directors - the chances of making connections with people who you wouldn’t normally meet can open up a wealth of doors that 20 years ago would have been closed. We’d still be sending printed copies of our headshots, and CV’s out to agents with a self-addressed envelope!
On Twitter, I regularly follow casting directors. Not as a way of schmoozing and stalking them, but actually I find it quite interesting to see the types of things they cast for so I know which ones would be most suitable for me to contact.
On the other hand, there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a casting director complain about no shows to then have a barrage of comments on that tweet saying ‘oh, well if you invite me for a casting,’ or ‘I’d jump at the chance to be seen,’ or ‘there are plenty of us out here who wouldn’t cancel on you like that.’ Please stop.
There are many reasons I would like to run away from social media, but there are also many reasons I think it’s had a positive influence on our industry. To be able to promote productions to the extent we can have enabled the world to see some beautiful things that, perhaps without the power of social media, would not be where they are so quickly. Six The Musical is a perfect example. It started at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2 years ago, and now look at it; a west end run, national tour and opening in America!
If people can start using social media in a purely positive way, not putting people down because they feel the need to voice their opinion, moaning at performers when they haven’t posted for a while because, believe it or not, they actually have a life, and using it to help each other in the long run, it could be a wonderful thing. But is social media good for performers right now? I’m still not sure.