NORTHFIELD — A startup that swept three of Vermont’s startup networking and pitch competitions this year — LaunchVT, Peak Pitch, and Road Pitch — proposes to give a boost to actors and theater across the country.
TheaterEngine is a multifunctional online social networking platform for the performing arts industry and its audiences. The platform, built with social media technology, is a guide to live theater wherever you live.
TheaterEngine’s conception began with theater actor Dominic Spillane and his father, John Spillane.
“I have an eclectic background in theater — 15 years as an actor, freelance producing and directing, and audience marketing,” said Dominic Spillane, who lives in Northfield.
“There isn’t any marketing funds available in theater; and the truth about the performing arts landscape is a majority is nonprofit and have a difficult time justifying marketing when most of the income comes from donors,” he said. “With this thought, this is where TheaterEngine comes in — a crowdsourcing site.”
TheaterEngine’s website was created by Hark Inc., a Burlington web design and development firm, and is in its initial stages before being launched in the next three to six months.
“TheaterEngine can best be compared to platforms such as IMDb meets Fandango meets Facebook for the performing arts,” said Spillane.
It will not be a ticketing site, he said, but a professional networking site that can be utilized as an archiving tool and as a “content dump.” One of their long-term goals is to become a neutral place to collect audience behavior statistics, which Spillane said will compile information extremely valuable to the industry on a national level.
“TheaterEngine has two functions: being part of a database on a professional sense, and an advertising and marketing tool,” Spillane said. “Our first source of revenue will come from theaters. Theaters create their show page and can choose to have their posts private or public (like YouTube). Utilizing the public post option, theaters will be charged per performance, per listing.” He added, “When theaters utilize the advertising and marketing tools, that’s where we will charge based on per-performance on a scalable fee; per-performances and the number of seats. Once the show closes, theaters’ links will be archived. They can use them at a later time to drop it into other marketing uses.”
When theaters create public listings, he added, TheaterEngine will push the show to the home page, where it can receive “likes” and “follows” from the audience.
“This tool is to promote audience development; we’re trying to get people to develop a relationship with the theaters in addition to the artists, but first and foremost the theaters,” said Spillane
Theatergoers will set up a user name and a password for a “fan profile.” When a theatergoer likes and follows either a theater or an artist, their user page will provide updates of the theater’s productions.
“Our first year will be a promotional year, offering the first year free to theaters. We want to give time to grow this critical math that will justify their expenses,” he said.
TheaterEngine is now a beta site inviting theater professionals to help test the preliminary stages; first targeting users of midsize, nonprofit theaters. The initial target will be tested using the platform and marketing strategy in Vermont.
“Vermont has the ideal market,” Spillane said. “A vibrant and diverse performing arts scene with no external resources to help promote their work. It will be useful on a simple, practical level. TheaterEngine is where theaters and individual performing artists can promote themselves — this is something that doesn’t already exist.”
TheaterEngine is conjuring up a capital campaign, with a date to be determined. The goal will be to raise $500,000 during this first round of fundraising. The funds will be used for the first 18 months after the launch of the site.
The annual impact from the nonprofit arts and cultural sector in Vermont is about $443 million, according to a study conducted by vermontartscouncil.org in November 2010.