“We’ve had messages from everywhere from Uruguay to Uzbekistan”: An interview with Tyler Stoops, founder of digital theatre platform Thespie
Brand new theatre discovery platform Thespie amalgamates the performing arts and theatre lovers into one place. Showcasing more than 1,000 theatre shows, artists’ talks, performances, podcasts, live streams and more, its launch aims to support the theatre industry during the pandemic and as a future resource for global arts’ accessibility. Founder and creator Tyler Stoops has a technological and theatrical background, having worked for Amazon, Kindle, Walt Disney Studios and prestigious opera houses. We caught up with Stoops to discuss how his new multimedia digital platform will work, his vision for it and how he hopes it will connect people worldwide.
How did the concept of Thespie emerge? Was it a light bulb moment for you?
Thespie grew out of a vision for a trusted online “home” for theatre and the arts. As a lifelong theatregoer I’ve always felt like there needed to be a better way to learn about shows that are playing, discover different art forms and theatre companies, and find things that match my interests. Last year I started to talk to theatregoers about where they found out about shows, and it was clear that there were many people like myself who wanted an online resource to help them explore theatre, and that building it for the community could be a real force for good in the world.
It would seem that during the Covid-19 lockdown more people are turning to digital resources for cultural offerings. Did it feel like the right time to launch Thespie?
I think that Thespie is playing a part in a global effort to help people stay connected to theatre. Whether that’s watching live streams at home, or reading scripts, or thinking about attending in person (once it’s safe to do so again), we just want people to keep engaging. The global disruption caused by Covid-19 has caused an explosion in the volume of resources available as theatre companies generously migrate their offerings online and seek to keep audiences engaged. It’s been really rewarding to be part of that process, and for users to tell us how much they value what we’ve built.
How do you think Thespie differs from other performing arts digital platforms?
We differ in that we don’t require sign-in or payment, and we want to help people explore all aspects of theatre and the arts, across all formats. Performances, artists’ talks, educational resources, scripts, etc. We have listings you can watch on our platform for free, as well as resources hosted on other platforms, which might be free, paid, or a subscription. Rather than offer a narrow set of things, we want you to see the full diversity of what’s available and find what’s right for you.
How important do you think it is for people to access the arts in this way during the lockdown?
It’s vital that we support our artists and arts organisations whose livelihoods evaporated two months ago. Paying for tickets to digital shows, making donations for live stream viewing, buying a script or songbook, doing a theatre activity with your children, or giving to artist support organisations are ways that we can all help our artists and art forms survive this crisis.
Who is your target audience?
We want to reach as broad an audience as possible. We firmly believe that the arts are for everyone, and digital [media] empower organisations to reach global communities who can be left out of the traditional theatre-going experience. As a kid I lived in a town of fewer than 1000 people, so didn’t have access to live performances, but just accessed anything I could find: scripts, recordings, etc. so I empathise with people in those circumstances very strongly. We’ve seen appreciative messages come in from all over, Uruguay to Uzbekistan, and I hope that theatres continue to send their art far and wide even once our live theatre operations return.
What has the response been like from performers and cultural institutions getting involved?
Institutions and artists have given us very positive feedback on the site experience and the work that we’re doing to amplify their offerings. I’ve been really humbled by the opportunity to work with leading organisations like the National Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre, as well as independent artists pulling together their own innovative resources.
Do you offer any exclusive talks or experiences for your audience?
We haven’t commissioned any events ourselves but have many resources that are only found on Thespie. But we encourage organisations to self-promote and get their resources out there wherever they can, rather than work exclusively with us. We’re at over 1,000 full-length shows and resources, and we haven’t encountered a theatre site with even half that volume, and we add more every day.
Is this a solitary way of watching performances, or will there be a chance for people to connect together on your platform too?
We offer ways to share listings with friends, but don’t have a collaborative or synchronised watching experience directly on Thespie. Many of our live stream listings are hosted on YouTube and do have an interactive chat, which is polarising. Some people love it, and some strongly dislike it, so it’s to be seen whether that kind of functionality is something we’ll focus on. We definitely want people to celebrate what they see and to be able to tell friends about, it which is why we’ve made listings shareable.
Obviously having a tech background must have alleviated many of the frustrations with building your platform, but what has been the most challenging thing about it so far?
The biggest challenge in what we’ve built has honestly been connecting with arts organisations while nearly all their staff have been furloughed. We’re talking about 390,000 individuals in the UK whose work has been paused, so even just connecting with the right people to ask “How can we help?” has been tough.
How do you think Thespie will evolve once theatre venues reopen?
We already have the ability to list live shows, and so look forward to supporting live performance as it comes back. We hold to that vision of being the trusted home for discovering theatre and the arts, so you can expect that we’ll be testing various initiatives to help connect artists and audiences, both in person and remotely. There’s a lot of important work ahead to rebuild, and we’re eager to help.
Thank you for your time!
For further information about Thespie visit the platform’s website here.