All the Web’s a stage, and a drama grad merely a player

Eryn Joslyn, a 2006 drama alum, has landed her first big gig. Her name and that of the show she’ll appear in may soon become familiar among the 12-to-30-year-old crowd. Joslyn’s face isn’t going to show up on the silver screen, though; she’ll be popping up on monitors across the country. MTV has announced the development of several programs that will be aired online only; Joslyn will star in Chloe. The show is the only scripted drama that MTV is releasing as part of this effort, and it will be aired in very short segments (as short as one minute) starting in January 2007.

MTV is making the burgeoning field of webcasting even more innovative with its short-form episodes, said Joslyn, some of which are cut off in the middle of scenes. “They’re on the cutting edge ... trying to always evolve, and this is just a part of that evolution,” she said. Just a few months after Joslyn moved to Los Angeles to look for work, she found herself on a plane back to the city of her alma mater — unconventionally, the show was filmed Pittsburgh. Moving to L.A. was a tough transition, said Joslyn, who was happy to return to the ’Burgh, if only temporarily: “It meant more to me than I could have imagined it would.”

There are 26 episodes of Chloe, which follow the life of a Carnegie Mellon graduate working in web design. Joslyn plays Chloe, while the other cast members play her host of friends and colleagues. Charlie Murphy, a current sophomore in drama, is another cast member.

“I’m glad to be doing something that is unpredictable,” Joslyn said of the show’s potential success, “but it’s also a little scary because you don’t know what the outcome’s going to be.” Webcasting can be used to describe everything from a series of amateur videos of your kid’s soccer games to highlights of CNN’s nightly news broadcast. Any series of Internet audio or visual content is a webcast.

Justin Kownacki, writer and producer of the web series Something to be Desired, has been webcasting for four years but just recently found new ways to increase viewers, thanks to the growing numbers of web series online. Kownacki mentioned the website network2.tv, created by Jeff Pulver, a pioneer of voice-over-Internet-protocol technology. The network2 site is an aggregate for web series, said Kownacki.

Kownacki also spoke about how the success of web-based programming has influenced online and television companies. He mentioned that some websites, such as Yahoo!, employ talent agencies now and that news companies like CNN are “looking to empower journalists to take cameras to the streets.” He added that producing web content is very inexpensive, citing AliveinBaghdad.org as an example. The site was started by one man, Brian Conley, who simply bought a few video cameras and handed them out to Iraqi citizens so they could record everyday life during the war.

Nodding to the short episodes of the MTV web series Chloe, Kownacki noted that people are looking for quick amusement. He said that viewers are now less discriminating about where their content comes from, as long as it is good content.

A downside to webcasting, Kownacki said, can be the lack of money in it, though having the support of a major network could change that in the future. “There isn’t a lot of profit made; most people are doing it as a side gig,” he said. Kownacki, however, is currently working on getting episodes of Something to be Desired available on TiVo, which could mean an increase in viewers and revenue. Kownacki added that now some very popular web series bring in about 300,000 viewers, numbers near what a show on the Sci-Fi Channel would expect.

Drama professor Don Wadsworth knew Joslyn would go far in her career based on her talent and her humor. “Eryn is a very attractive girl; she’s also very, very funny, and that’s the best combination in a contemporary world,” he said. “She’ll find a much more unique way of delivering [a script] than most actors will.”

Each year the School of Drama offers two showcases, Wadsworth said, and about 90 percent of students who participate end up signing with agents or landing a job. Joslyn was no different; she signed with a management company in L.A. and landed the lead role in Chloe after just three months on the west coast.

Joslyn saw some differences in acting for the tiny screen. The director allowed for a lot of improvising that, Joslyn said, would not always be the norm in film or television. She added that despite the show’s format, the writing and character development are extremely strong.

Ultimately, Wadsworth believes the way acting is taught will not change. “When we talk about the difference between stage and film their basic charge is to learn how to act, period,” he said. He expects the biggest change that web series or webcasting will bring will be the opinion of actors who have roles on the web. “Eventually, I don’t think anyone will look down on [it]. It will just be work.”

When Joslyn talks about finding work as an actress, she notes that while being on a set is great, returning to her part-time job at a yogurt shop in L.A. can be a little discouraging. “If anything, that’s what’s hard about it,” she said. “Once I get the career going, who knows. You never know what’s going to happen.”