Minnesota Playlist turns two

MinnesotaPlaylist.jpg

A portrait of Minnesota Playlist (based on what it said this past year) in the form of a word cloud

Tonight MinnesotaPlaylist.com, the website devoted to “information and inspiration for Minnesota’s performing arts” is celebrating its 2nd birthday with a party at Joe’s Garage in Minneapolis.

The website, which is the brainchild of husband-and-wife-team Leah Cooper (freelance director, head of Minnesota Theater Alliance) and Alan Berks (playwright, show promoter), was concieved as a trade magazine for theater professionals, i.e. a place to put your resume, post auditions, etc. The site has quickly become a hub for discussions around theater and the performing arts in general.

In honor of the birthday, I sent Minnesota Playlist a few questions – here’s what Alan Berks had to say in response:

1. How has MN Playlist changed since you first went live? Have any of the changes surprised you?

The look has changed three times, and we’ve experimented with different “content types” like blogs and twitter and columns and video over time. Though we didn’t anticipate any of it, I don’t think we were surprised that these changes were necessary.

What does surprise us about the website is that conventional wisdom about web content doesn’t seem to apply to this particular publication. If we post SHORT videos, people don’t really watch them. They’re much more likely to watch the LONG interviews (re: Dominique and Joel Sass and Bain and Ali Salim and Rob Perez). They read the “articles,” i.e. the longer, more thoughtful pieces, more than they read the blogs. Also, some general audience members have told me they enjoy the “process” articles we publish when, as a freelance writer, I was always told by editors that general audiences hated that stuff.

2. When you started out, how confident were you that you’d make it to celebrate a 2nd birthday?

Leah and I both have such a fear of commitment that I don’t think we ever plan to be doing the same thing two years from now that we’re doing right now. So, I think we really didn’t think about it. We thought it was a “great idea, what the hell, let’s do it!” So, considering that, I know I’m pretty darn surprised that we’re still going strong.

3. How does MN Playlist differ from other arts/news websites?

We consider ourselves a trade publication, so we’re focused on our niche–which is performing artists, people who want to be performing artists. . . and the people that love them. Many of our articles are practical, like “how to write a press release,” or trade specific issues like board management, etc.

Beyond that, we also solicit articles from many different kinds of artists to talk about the art in the way that they care about it– so we’ll have articles about what new plays should be about or what’s the best rehearsal process or why we do what we do. Yes, I’ve discovered that general audience members who read our site do seem to enjoy these insights into the creative mind, but, unlike you and the Strib and City Pages, we don’t have to pitch our articles to these general people. So, we can avoid consumer reports-like reviews or advance features on artists in upcoming shows and focus instead on what makes us love art and artists and creativity, what inspires creativity, why its worth it, what pisses us off, what people should do next, etc. . . As you can tell, this makes me very happy.

4. What’s your favorite story from the website’s first two years?

Do you mean story ABOUT the site or story ON the site?

If you mean story on the site, then it depends on the day because almost anything Marya Hornbacher and John Middleton write for us is great. Tom Poole, who wrote one article about new play development and a series of blog posts about Minnesota Style, is hysterical and brilliant. The entire issue on Minnesota Style (Jan 2010) and the ones on Audience and Process (Dec. and Nov, 2008) and the one on the Press (Feb 2009), taken as as a whole, I think are pretty well done. There are other issues I like too. I was able to write some 3-part essays, with research on the rehearsal process in Nov 2008 and outstate theater in May 2009, that are the kinds of articles I wish I could publish more of. For a while we were publishing specific rants that we called “The Vom” that I always enjoyed too.

But today, my favorite article is Dominic Orlando’s “Forgetting Taboos” — I like what it says. I like how he says it. I think its the type of article you really could not find anywhere else, and it sparked at least two conversations “offline,” that I remember enjoying, with artists I didn’t know that well until after we talked.

If you mean story about the site, then I guess, briefly, when people started to talk to us about the website–and email us strange, angry letters–as though MinnesotaPlaylist.com were an cultural institution in town who we worked for rather than a website Leah Cooper, Alan Berks, and [former colleague and web designer] Matthew Foster created after a lot of all-nighters simply because we had an idea we thought would be cool to try.

5. What does success look like for you?

People use the website. We provide resources that help them like classifieds and talent profiles and performance listings (with links to reviews) that they find useful and return to. And the website continues to grow. Also, they read the articles and those articles spark discussion. Finally, after all this happens, we make enough money from it to keep providing this service and to justify the work that we’ve put in. . . I think the biggest surprise to me after two years is that by our own defition of success, we’ve been stunningly successful. How often does that happen?

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