Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: App Happy

Marissa Skudlarek gets technical.

As a twentysomething San Franciscan, I have a duty and a prerogative to come up with ideas for mobile phone apps that will harness the power of crowdsourcing/social media/cloud computing/Big Data to disrupt outmoded paradigms. Yes, everyone in this town has a couple of app ideas in their back pocket, and I’m no exception. Here are three theater-related apps that I’ve dreamed up and wish were real.

Cute app name: Anachorrect

The pitch: Spellcheck for anachronisms.

What it would do: Many of our decade’s most-discussed TV series – Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Masters of Sex – take place in prior eras, and there are online commentators devoted to pointing out their inaccuracies or anachronisms. One of the most interesting of these is Prochronisms, or Downton Crabbey – in which a digital-humanities professor named Ben Schmidt uses the Google Ngram text corpus and a computer algorithm to find anachronistically modern phrases in the dialogue of historical dramas. The algorithm reveals fascinating information about the way our language changes over time; I made a few tweaks to my script Pleiades, which takes place in 1971, after reading Schmidt’s post about how the phrase “ought to” was much more common than “need to,” even in the 1960s. Unfortunately, though, there’s no way for you to run your own writing through Schmidt’s algorithm. I would pay good money for that app – and I bet a lot of other writers would, too.

Cute app name: Venuse

The pitch: OpenTable for venues.

What it would do: There’s an amazing resource here called Bay Area Spaces that allows you to search for performing arts venues according to a huge range of factors: location, size, cost, hours, and more. I used this site a lot when I was seeking a venue for Pleiades, and it was really helpful, but it’s not perfect. Some venues post detailed information, including their availability calendar; other venues post the bare minimum. And, in all cases, you need to email or phone the venue manager to get more information and to book the space. With just a few tweaks, this site could become an OpenTable-like app that enabled you to search for venues, see their availability, and immediately submit a request to book the space. Introducing Venuse: helping renters and tenants more effectively use venues. (It’s pronounced “VEN-yuse,” by the way. The allusion to Venus is a bonus.)

Cute app name: StageSeen

The pitch: Goodreads for theater.

What it would do: For years, I’ve been keeping detailed lists of the books I read and the plays I see. I finally wised up and joined Goodreads last summer, and have found it an extremely well-designed, user-friendly app that makes keeping track of my reading even better! I seriously love it, and that’s a big deal for me to say, because Goodreads is owned by Amazon and I hate Amazon. So why can’t someone rip off the Goodreads interface and create a similar site for theatergoers? Sure, Goldstar tries to do that with its “Event Journal” feature, but the obvious flaw there is that it only works for shows where you purchase the tickets via Goldstar. Like Goldstar (and Goodreads), my proposed StageSeen app could offer discounts, giveaways, and other perks, but the important thing is that it’d be free and open to all theater fans, functioning more as a place for discussion and appreciation than a place for selling tickets.

Do any of these pitches grab you? Of course, as the person who came up with the concept, I will take a controlling interest in the new startup, but if you get in on the ground floor, you, too, could become a millionaire when we strike it rich and list on NASDAQ! Who wants to be my CTO?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. One of the reasons she wrote this post is that she’d like more friends on Goodreads. Find her there, on the web at marissabidilla.blogspot.com, or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

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6 comments on “Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: App Happy

  1. Not bad ideas. I’d love to see how Anachorrect would react to a show like Deadwood, in which the speech was a conscious choice by creator David Milch. As long as you don’t make a blatant egregious error (such as the film Pearl Harbor using the phrase “You the man!”), it might just be a niche app, but a good one.

    StageSeen seems to be what the HowlRound articles (and their infamous comments) have been TRYING to be, but haven’t actually become. It would be cool to actually see it come to pass. God knows we spend a great deal of post-show time scrutinising productions already.

    Venuse… why do we not already have this?! This would have saved me a million directorial headaches. To whom do we apply for a grant to make this happen? Why hasn’t the IndieGoGo already been launched?

    • Yes, Anachorrect would be a niche app — and obviously, it would be the writer’s choice whether to use it or not (David Milch could still write his dialogue the way he wanted). But, out of curiosity as well as a love of historical accuracy, I wish I could run my own writing through this kind of tool!

      One thing I forgot to mention about Goodreads is that it’s very welcoming both for the casual fan who simply enjoys reading, and for authors and other members of the “literary community.” Howlround, and American Theatre, and even our own blog, are all very “insidery” — the people who read them and comment tend to be theater practitioners, not regular old theater fans. I would love to create an app or site that attracted occasional theatergoers as well as us hard-core theater lovers.

      Theater Bay Area, who runs Bay Area Spaces, tweeted at me just now that the site is being beefed up with better calendar functionality… the smoother and more “Venuse”-like the interface, the better!

  2. All three of these are amazing. I would buy them. And work at your start up.

  3. Dan Kurtz says:

    These are great! My preferred vision for seeing these things happen would be for companies who are already in this space (and who already have buy-in from the community) to take care of it. Like you said, Goldstar could easily make StageSeen happen, and then you wouldn’t have to have a whole separate site to take care of it. BrownPaperTickets could do Venuse, since every venue manager probably has an account on it that they’ve used to sell tickets and so forth. But if TBA is on the case, that’s great!

  4. […] from live theatre, it’s about enhancing it for a wider audience. I’m not against the idea of apps for theatre. Hell, I get what apps like Periscope and Meerkat are trying to do, but they’re not solving a […]

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