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Website offers destination for area theater professionals, devotees

A little more than a year ago, husband-and-wife theater folks Alan Berks and Leah Cooper saw a hole in the local community.

“We had one of the best theater communities in the country, but there was no trade-specific publication for it,” Berks says. “There was something needed and we thought we should just do it ourselves.”

To that end, they developed MinnesotaPlaylist.com, which has become a popular destination for local professionals and those with a passion about theater. A year into the enterprise, a major redesign is under way, one that Berks believes will make the site more attractive, easier to read and useful for all of those who make it a regular online stop.

Berks and Cooper took over a pre-existing site and began to make changes. Over the course of the first year, they’ve been surprised — and overjoyed — by the response and the community that has grown up around the site. Traffic has continued to increase through the months, with the site getting between 800 and 1,000 unique visitors a day and 80,000 page views a month.

The site includes plenty of practical applications, including classified advertising, audition notices and profiles of local theater professionals, from actors to designers to writers.

“We wanted to get out there and raise the level discourse in the community — to discuss the things that animate theater artists,” Berks says. “We also thought it would be fun.”

That includes covering topics and themes not usually tackled by general interest publications.

“We got a lot of articles from artists in the community, and people have responded to those issues,” Berks says, noting that the pieces also have attracted the attention of people from outside the community who just have an interest in the process and philosophy of theater. These pieces are centered on monthly themes, while other parts of the site — such as a news feed and a performance calendar — keep the community abreast of what’s happening at the moment.

Berks has made a variety of changes to the site for the one-year anniversary, all of which he hopes will make it more readable and useful for visitors. “I’ve learned a lot more about websites,” he says.

“In-depth articles aren’t always web-friendly, so we are adjusting how we deliver content. There are also audience reviews of shows. There is often so little information about a show out there. People are expected to pay the highest ticket prices for theater, but it’s often something they know the least about.”

Those changes are still being implemented, but Berks hopes that they will be completed and online in the next few weeks.

The site was redesigned by Matt Foster, one of the partners in the enterprise. “It’s a great sandbox for him, and he knows so much about web usage.”

They are also looking to improve the revenue the site gets, including offering special content for members. “It’s one of the things that is enjoyable for us, but we need to justify the hours we put into it,” Berks says.

To commemorate the first anniversary, several special events will be held. This includes a “celebratory cocktail hour” at Joe’s Garage on Tuesday and a gathering at the Twin Cities’ new theater bookstore, Play by Play in St. Paul, on Nov. 10.

“We thought it would work,” Berks says. “We are surprised that it actually is working.”

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