Special Reports

MA 30 Profiles in Courage: Michael Fox

December 2, 2014 | By John Fleming

Director of Operations
Hale Centre Theatre

Everyone wants to feel like an insider, which explains the success of a social media effort by Michael Fox, director of operations at Hale Center Theater in a suburb of Salt Lake City. In the past year or so, Fox has produced more than 40 videos from behind the scenes at the theater for a YouTube channel called HCT—RAH (Real Access Hale).

Videos range from an actor applying makeup to play Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol to the view from a spotlight operator’s perch, from backstage goings-on during a performance of Les Misérables to the making of a wig. Some episodes get only a few hundred views, but an interview with Artistic Director Sally Dietlein announcing the 2015 season had more than 5,000 views.

The production values are homemade, but that doesn’t seem to matter to fans. “I’ve learned not to be afraid of the videos not being professional,” said Fox, 39, who mostly films with his phone or a hand-held camera and does interviews and commentary on the fly. “I’ve been complimented more than chastised for the videos not having the best sound and lighting and editing.”

HCT, a 29-year-old community theater that pays its nonprofessional talent (principals receive from $55 to $75 per performance), has a subscription base of more than 23,000 that keeps the 613-seat in-the-round venue playing to 100 percent capacity, with an average of 10 shows a week during the 42-week season this year. With a 2015 budget of $8 million, it is the largest U.S. community theater.

“We wanted the videos to be more of a value-added proposition for our season-ticket holders, rather than something that would bring us new patronage,” Fox said. “So often people only see the performers and have no idea of the amount of work that goes into a show.”

Fox has learned several lessons to pass on to arts organizations seeking to exploit social media. The first is, you can’t predict what will catch on and go viral. And that leads to his second lesson: “Don’t quit. Social media is a different animal.” Don’t give up after a few tries; folks need to find you, so give them time. And three: “There is no reason not to be fully engaged in social media, because it is so inexpensive. The key is to just be there.”

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