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THEATRE HAS ALWAYS THRIVED ON THE TENsion between our public -and private selves. As members of an audience, we laugh and cry together, moved by the current of mutual empathy. Yet theatregoing is also intensely private: As one of many huddled together in the dark, I have a unique experience that ultimately belongs only to me. This "public privacy" empowers us to find things out about ourselves we may not otherwise have dared to discover.

A similar tension is developing between our public and private selves in the rapidly evolving online world. A flurry of recent developments in social-media policy is affecting individual privacy, intellectual property, freedom of speech and how all of these interact with the laws of nations. Facebook opened up to the general public just five years ago, yet it now has enough users to constitute the third largest nation in the world. What will happen when this tool of grassroots communication goes from occupying Wall Street to being traded on Wall Street? Given the billions of dollars at play and Facebook's history of privacy-related controversies, how can we who use it protect our private selves from being completely monetized?

Twitter's 140 characters have supported the Arab Spring -and broke the story of the U.S. operation to assassinate Osama Bin Laden. Nevertheless, Twitter announced in January that it will block controversial tweets in certain countries that "have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression." Twitter was instantly accused of censorship, with hashtags like #TwiucrGensored and #TwitterBlackout spreading like wildfire. However, an alleged work-around exists--Twitter users in oppressive countries are apparently able to switch their settings to a free country, thereby avoiding censorship.

Around the same time as Twitters announcement, Google broadcasted a significant new privacy policy, or as they put it, "Not the usual yada yada." The policy outlines the benefits of collecting increasingly personal data histories:
  Say you go to the same coffee shop every morning
  for a lane, and the same barista makes it for you
  every day. Chances are he'll know your order before
  you even walk through the door. Websites, including
  Google, have learned a lot from this relationship.
  We've learned that we can serve you better if we get
  to know you better.

For those who prefer their search engine not to act like their barista, Google explains how you can delete your data history to maintain a more personalized balance between your private and online selves.

Also in January, there was heightened media attention to a pair of bills in Gongress intended to prevent online piracy and the theft of intellectual property. While the intent of the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) was admirable in many respects, as written the bills would have compromised innovation and freedom of expression. Last fall, TCG took a position urging a better balance in these bills between copyright protection and free expression.

Then, on Jan. 18, thousands of websites went dark in protest, and Google placed a black banner across its name. This incredible display of advocacy muscle was a game-changer on Capitol Hill, with SOPA and PIPA postponed indefinitely and a new version introduced in the Senate--the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN).

All these developments underscore the ever-increasing speed of change in the ways we share information, and the boundaries we draw between our private and public selves. What does that mean for theatre and its support systems? Many of us can recall how sophisticated we felt when we realized we could select direct-mail groups based on zip codes! I low quickly the horizon recedes before us!

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, once said: 'If the change is happening on the outside faster than on the inside, the end is in sight." What's true for a single business may be true for our held as a whole, so TCG is taking steps to strengthen our mutual adaptability and interdependence. In connection with our 2012 National Conference, we wall create a year-round conference through an online platform designed to improve how we share, measure and adapt what works. We are calling ir Model the Movement, and one of its goals is to transform our field into concerted action again, one new model at a time.

That model-sharing spirit extends to Audience (R)Evolution, TCGs new program for audience and community engagement, in partnership with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Building off the success of our 12-year New Generations: Future Audiences initiative, the new program will study, promote and support successful audience-engagement models across the country. Unfolding over three years, Audience (R)Evolution will utilize four components to achieve these goals: research and assessment, a convening, grantmaking, and widespread dissemination of audience-engagement models that work.

Welch's quote may also hold true for our sense of self--and the increasing velocity of change on the outside makes theatre's capacity to change our inner lives ever more important. Let's keep huddling our public and private selves together--in the collective spaces of our theatres and in the online realm--and dare to discover.
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Title Annotation:FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR; on privacy in theater
Author:Eyring, Teresa
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2012
Previous Article:Corrections.
Next Article:From this issue.

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