How I built the Greatest Stage Actor website

Today, we at The Stage launched a new microsite to support our 11-week print series, The Greatest Stage Actor.

We have asked a range of industry experts to propose actors – from any era, any country, male or female – who they think deserve the accolade of being named the greatest theatrical performer of all time. Their nominations have resulted in a shortlist of ten being drawn up, and we are opening votes to the general public.

From now until the beginning of December, we’ll be profiling each of the ten shortlisted actors in the paper each week, and adding more content to the website throughout.

At its heart, the entire site is driven by WordPress 3.0 and the page design is based upon the enormously extensible Hybrid theme framework.

With Hybrid, as with the (non-free) Thesis theme that I use on this blog, the theme makes extensive use of WordPress ‘hooks’ – a series of callback points that get referenced at particular points on the template page. Most WordPress templates use a few callbacks defined in the WordPress core, but then create brand new templates for the home page, for pages hosting individual posts, for archive pages, and so on. In contrast, Hybrid provides a huge array of template pages, each of which is highly structured to allow CSS to address nearly everything really easily. In addition, the number of the callback hooks that the framework adds is huge, meaning that it’s possible to supplement the framework with additional code without having to rewrite whole template pages.

Using Hybrid saved so much time, although better documentation (always a bugbear with open source software where the developers have to double up as the technical writers) would have cut down development time even more.

The site also uses a jQuery plugin called jCarousel to create the rotating banners across the top of each page. After trying a few different carousel options, this one seemed to provide the greatest versatility with the least amount of additional markup.

The only non-Wordpress native elements involve the voting mechanism, which was built by The Stage’s former web developer James Squires (and, after James moved jobs a couple of weeks ago, completed by Aaron Brown). This allows votes to be validated by email address or using a Facebook account, using code built in-house (we’ve expanded WordPress’s built-in commenting features to Facebook accounts using Simple Facebook Connect).

The final technical bit is the web font we are using for our body text on browsers that support custom fonts. We’re using Old Standard TT via Google’s Font API, which gives us a typeface look that’s more similar to the typeface we use in print than the ‘websafe’ Georgia.

In its first few hours since it launched, discussions on Twitter and the like have concentrated on who’s not in the list (and, of those who are, the emphasis on 20th and 21st century actors from the British Isles). Over the course of the whole campaign, I hope that discussion will widen out into what makes a great actor stand out from a good one.

Visit the site now at www.thestage.co.uk/greatestactor.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.