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New National Theatre Wales launches – with online social network!

The new National Theatre Wales has just launched with an online presence that is a social network.
My environmental sustainability company, Envirodigital, worked with NTW on their digital strategy, and we recruited Cardiff-based social media developers Native to bring the approach alive. The idea was to produce the new theatre company’s audience organically and through two-way discussion, rather than pushing a message out there via a more traditional brochure-style website. Said Artistic Director John McGrath last Thursday on launch night:

Tonight we are letting everyone know the ideas behind our first year of activity at National Theatre Wales. We have an office party, a bunch of volunteers – our ‘TEAM’ members – helping us out, a beautiful ‘newspaper’ developed by our designers Elfen, and of course this online community to help spread the word behind our plans.

We’ll be opening our first show in March next year, and for the whole of the year after we will be creating new theatre across Wales – with three main strands of work – CREATE, DEBATE, RESPOND.

We chose an online social networking platform as the initial online mechanism for NTW because of the potential for anyone interested in NTW to create, debate and respond online. We’ve benefitted from all the photo and video widgets that we could embed, as well as being able to offer a platform for the community to blog and build their own profiles and groups, as well as discuss issues and ideas through comments and a forum. This has really enabled the sense of creativity, debate and response being possible.

We used the ning platform, and they have already blogged and Tweeted (@ning) about NTW’s use of their platform!

@Beyongolia comments on Twitter, “Really love the fresh approach, starting with community”. So far there are 209 members, and some really interesting content and debates emerging. Join up, and join the experience of a 21st C theatre company!

For the NTW team, new skills have had to be learnt – blogging and videoing skills, as well as how to use the digital kit, and how to ensure digital connectivity wherever they are. The National Theatre Wales does not have its own venue, its a virtual organisation, so all staff have had to get grips with how to use digital kit in order to enable them to work as a team, and in order to enable them to be out there and online as part of the growing NTW community. This training had to be part of NTW’s emerging strategy, part of emerging operational policy and procedure, and part of all staff members inductions.

New attitudes and behaviours have also been adopted by the company: opening themselves up to debate means that they have to prepared for all sorts of comments, and they have to be active in the debate! This has been a challenge taken on hungrily by NTW, who want to make the process of creating theatre as transparent and porous as they can in order to ensure that anyone can find a way in. So every member of staff’s job roles have a digital media element in them.

The branding process from the very beginning has included dialogue about what an online realisation of the graphic ideas (logo, company ID, font, etc.) might look like. This has been a difference in approach, but a really important journey. Online branding has to reflect the offline graphical development, but not necessarily completely copy it. Check out Elfen’s video (the graphic designers) about how they developed the core ideas, and view online the paper developed for offline! Lesa Drysburgh – NTW’s Communications Consultant gives her overview of the birth of a new company.