Friday, December 11, 2009

Website Evaluations: AC - AR

The first installment of the Theatre Scene's evaluation of theatre company websites takes us from Coral Gables to West Palm Beach and back again.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
Starting from the top of the link list, we have Actors' Playhouse, one of South Florida's largest theatre companies. It specializes in musicals, and offers a full season of Children's Theatre as well. Their website was one I criticized pretty heavily last year, but I know they upgraded it last year. Let's see how it does:

1. Name of Current Production - 3 points
The first thing I saw when I arrived on the page was an ad for an NCL trip. My first thought was that they had put a paid ad - until it morphed into an ad for the winter session of their acting conservatory. I did not see the name of the play until I scrolled down. The children's show was even farther down. Shakespeare said it best: "..the play's the thing..."

2. Dates of Production - 4 points
Present, but doesn't identify that the first two days were previews.

3. Performance Schedule - 0 points

4. Link to purchase tickets - 2 points.
It's located in navigation bar, but that's not visible when you scroll down to read show information. Links are free - stick 'em everywhere.

5. Directions to theatre - 3 points.
You have to click "plan your visit," but that's reasonably intuitive. It only gives directions from two compass points; There's a lot of West from Coral Gables. There is a map, but is more of a marketing tool with circles indicating distance, and not adequately detailed for navigation.

BONUS POINTS - 2 points.
They do have press photos available! That is an improvement from last year.

While their website is enormously improved, it still doesn't provide an optimum user experience. Barbara is still getting the priorities wrong: sell tickets FIRST, then you can sell them on donations. If you've done a good job with the show, they'll be looking to give you money. The show sells the theatre, so sell the show!

Actors' Workshop and Repertory Company
Actors' Rep is a smaller company that places more emphasis on the workshop; productions are really intended to be a result of the study. They are not a full time producing theatre, but hey, I worked several years at Actors' Rep, and they are trying to sell tickets.

1. Name of Current Production -4 points.
I'm subtracting a point because while it shows the name of the production, it doesn't always show the name of the company.  That's right, their logo appears only in a scrolling marquee at the top.  Your brand is important, and should remain in view at all times.

2. Dates of Production - 1 point.
The first page glance tells us their next production is "Opening soon." That isn't useful information to someone looking to buy tickets. When is "Soon?" Going to the navigation menu up above the slide show to "Opening Soon," you get to a page that tells us "the last two weekends in February and the first weekend in March." Does that include Friday? We can't know from this.

3. Performance Schedule - 0 points.

4. Link to purchase tickets - 0 points.

5. Directions to theatre - 0 points.
The Rep doesn't have its own space, so this would change from production to production - which makes the need for directions even more critical! And I love you guys, but 90 days out you should know where you're performing.& And even that's waiting beyond the last minute in my book.

Bonus points: 1 point.
They do have a press box where you can download photos and information, but there's nothing for their next production.

Alliance Theatre Lab
Alliance is a company skewed to a younger demographic, and makes good use of social media such as Facebook, and they are on The Scene's blogroll. It's a slick looking page, very clean lines. But they lose points right at the start because the first thing you see on their site isn't the name of their current productions, but a Title Page. I don't get title pages on the internet: it's like building a marquee, then throwing a blanket over it; what's the point? Maybe, if we were given an option like "English or Spanish?" or "Flash or Non-Flash." But we've got to go inside anyway: why hinder us?

1. Name of Current Production - 1 point.
It's not the first thing you see when you get to the site. Once you figure out "click to enter" means the logo above the words "click to enter" and not the words "click to enter," the most dominant feature is not the next production, but a graphic with their mission statement. Their next production is relegated to the side bar.

BTW, Hyperlinks are free: it costs nothing to make the "click to enter" phrase clickable, too. I'm a pretty savvy websurfer, and it confused me.

2. Dates of Production - 3 points
It's there, but relegated to the sidebar.

3. Performance Schedule - 5 points
This can be in the side bar, since that's usually a part of your basic template. But make sure its visible when you're reading about the show.

4. Link to purchase tickets - 2 points.
The production statement refers you to the link at the top of the page. Hyperlinks are free, and this is the internet - don't make a patron scroll up. Put in another link. Then, put in another link.

5. Directions to theatre - present, kind of. 1 point.

The link takes you to Google Maps, which would be awesome - if the map were already centered on their location. It's not. You're looking at a map of the entire USA. You have to fill in everything to get either a map or directions. To be fair, I believe that the link probably used to lead somewhere useful, but I can only judge what I find. Sorry, guys. Nice idea.

Bonus Points - None.

Total Score: 12.
Honestly, I expected a much higher score. And if they were in production, they might have done. But when you're not in production, you're selling the next one.

Area Stage Company
Area Stage was an important company in the nineties, mounting excellent productions in a small space on smaller budgets. Located in Lincoln Road Mall, they were priced out of their space as the area revived.

1. Name of Current Production - 1 point.
There's a slide show, which is quite busy, but I can't tell what's about to happen, what's already happened, or what, if anything, is happening now. The sidebar doesn't have anything that indicates performances: Home; About Us; Theatre Conservatory; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Music Series; Gallery; Theatre Rental; La Movida (whatever that is); and Contact Us. Wait, that third one is the title of a play. Clicking it DOES take you to information about the play, but the menu listing isn't logical. If it said "next production" or something similar, I'd give it two points. Don't make your website a scavenger hunt.

2. Dates of Production - 1 point
It's in that hidden page, so it won't score higher: chances are most patrons will leave the website without seeing it.

3. Performance Schedule - 0 points.

4. Link to purchase tickets - 1 point

5. Directions to theatre - 0 points.
They are just not there. At all.

Total Score: 3 points.
It's a very attractive site, but it's difficult to find anything about the shows, how to buy tickets, or even how to get there to see if anything's happening. It might be easier to go out and buy a newspaper than use their website. OK, maybe not.

Next up: Ca-FL

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