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August 09, 2006

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freeman

Interesting stuff. Not to beat the crap out of a horse that's nearly, mostly dead...but this is why I've been harping on the importance of marketing and branding the Indie Theatre scene. People don't come because they don't know. We need to make a concerted effort to SEE that reality and respond to it. However we can.

I would also like to add that while Boston is a great town and full of good stuff, I wouldn't call the Boston theatre scene "Vibrant." Chicago and New York have vibrant scenes. Boston has a solid scene, supported by the colleges, but that loses a great deal of talent to NY and has very few actual venues to perform work.

MattJ

I've recently posted a bit on my thoughts. I came down on a similar theory, that they don't know about what's going on. In an interesting way, though, I think that not going to the theatre to begin with entrenches a perspective on theatre dominated by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

With regards to NYC and Off-Off Broadway/Indie; I wonder if it is the marketing issue, as Matt says, or ironically, is the sheer number of theatre companies in NY too overwhelming for a focused theatre-goer. It also needs to be a different kind of marketing. Film makes money off of names, theatre needs to make it off of subject matter and a reflexive importance on the vitality of live theatre. No easy task. But while it needs to be different in many ways, I wonder what we can learn from Hollywood. Is there a way to engage in Hollywood marketing without the deception?

devore

People consume mass media because, yes, it is shoved down their throats every waking moment.

But also, could it be that your friend isn't a fan of theater because the pop culture he consumes is base, and that's why it's attractive?

I love pop music, because it's basically emotional crack cocaine. I wrote my last play, Total Faith In Cosmic Love, to Wolf Parade. Music and even TVs shows can put you, immediately, into a pleasureable emotional state.

Has theater, not Broadway, but has theater become too cerebral? Or academic? Political or experimental? Would your friend like theater if he saw a play that was about about love, that was passionate, that was base and immediate and relevant to now?

I could argue that all art, even mass produced art, merely confirms existence, and all it's misery and joy.

How do you want to brand "Indie Theater?"

A brand, and this might sound oxymoronic, has to mean something. Even if it's nothing, or in American Apparel's case, pedophilia.

devore

People consume mass media because, yes, it is shoved down their throats every waking moment.

But also, could it be that your friend isn't a fan of theater because the pop culture he consumes is base, and that's why it's attractive?

I love pop music, because it's basically emotional crack cocaine. I wrote my last play, Total Faith In Cosmic Love, to Wolf Parade. Music and even TVs shows can put you, immediately, into a pleasureable emotional state.

Has theater, not Broadway, but has theater become too cerebral? Or academic? Political or experimental? Would your friend like theater if he saw a play that was about about love, that was passionate, that was base and immediate and relevant to now?

I could argue that all art, even mass produced art, merely confirms existence, and all it's misery and joy.

How do you want to brand "Indie Theater?"

A brand, and this might sound oxymoronic, has to mean something. Even if it's nothing, or in American Apparel's case, pedophilia.

YS

The Boston Scene is active, but I would hesitate very much to call it vibrant.

The Boston Theatre Scene is anchored on either side of the Charles River by two Major Lort theatres that would shrivel up and blow away without their major university endowments.

The next teir consists of 5 or so mid-sized companies which have improved in quality and audience over the last five years especially. But even these are fighting over the audience that is left-over from the major Lorts. (Not to mention praying that they can keep the special equity contracts going for a few more years.)

The rest, well, we are all basically Hermit crabs, shuttling around to crappy spaces that eventually meet the wrecking ball, or maybe being fortunate enough to snag a spot in between the slots for the midsized companies at the Boston Center for the Arts.

As to Zack's first reason, I couldn't agree more, I am in the theatre scene in Boston and it is sometimes hard to hear about a show that might interest me. Suddenly, somebody will say, "hey, so and so, is up next week in ...." and it will be the first I've heard of it. And Boston isn't that big a scene.


I would say that in the second instance "Zack" actually reflects the major consensus coming out of marketing surveys for the Motion Picture Industry. It is not the price that is keeping him away, it is the mediocre experience.

The thing I zeroed in on is the "mixed results," comment. That is us, not the audience. Sorry, theatre artists.

A few years ago theatres in Boston engaged in a massive marketing survey of their audiences. It yielded some good results, but Bill Marx, former WBUR critic, pointed out that the problem is that Theatre Surveys keep surveying people that are already in the theatre. They don't survey people that AREN'T going to theatre.

About once a year or so, I get a call from a Motion Picture audience survey. They ask me when the last time I went to see a movie was, what movie it was, when would I go again. Then they then mention a movie title, ask if I have heard of it, if I would be interested in seeing it, etc. They go through about five titles.

This is random survey. And I am sure they get people who really don't go the the movies at all to answer as well.

An age old problem with Boston as well is that almost no theatre company has ever been able to successfully tap into the Enormous student population we have in Boston.

BuddhaCowboy - NYC

I would pose this question to Zack.

What size of theatre and what type of performance does he watch when he feels this 3 dimensional thing not working for him. Perhaps the space is too intimate ? Beck is threee dimensional, but less self conscious in a huge theater. Perhaps small spaces (50 seat houses don't work). Also - I think whether he wanted to go or not, people who see one crappy show can be scarred for life.
As for marketing I agree. The SHORT BLURB listings don't work. And Critics stink at giving a synopsis. I think theatre folk have to create a riveting (but TRUTHFUL) synopsis and get it our there (postcard, website, e-mail, etc), but it's gotta be similar to a movie. What this possibly might mean is, as a playwright, company, production, etc...the show I'm putting up, is it that riveting ? What would make an everday joe/joanna see this over a film ? How does this apply to an outsider? What this also might mean is, perhaps starting more with a "audience friendly" type of show and getting them adjusted to the more difficult stuff (how to define this...well I don't think Checkov sells well up front, I think a contemporary original piece would be a better way to start).

Just some thoughts, but it might really come down to the playwright competeing for strong, relevant stories.
Think modern day Alexander Dumas and perhaps Zack might come more often (in no way do I mean to say this is all Zack would be interested in).

Buddha Cowboy - NYC

Great Blog Parabasis !

Josh C.

This thing about being uncomforable with a live actor seems very important to me. Here's the relevant section from the post:

"There's something about watching the living 3-dimensional person, instead of a flickering 2-dimensional image that is uncomfortable and difficult. Especially in watching them pretend to be someone else with mixed results."

If something doesn't work in a movie, at least you don't have that visceral embarrassment for an actor you're sharing air with. Anything less than total success in theatre is hard for people like "Zack" to deal with. Most or all of the plays he's watched probably failed to engage him to the point that he gets beyond that visceral discomfort. And I suspect that's true for a whole lot of people.

As theatre artists, the best thing we can do is make plays that have better than "mixed results." I'm not as worried as many in the internet theatrosphere seem to be about form and content -- we're all telling the stories we believe in, and that's all you can ask. But the percentage of plays that really work on that visceral level has got to increase for people like Zack to start enjoying theatre.

Col

Soudns like his only theater experiences have been socially based and cringeworthy. He'll see bands play live, but not a play? Sounds to me like he's never had a kickass theater experience.

Col

Sounds like his only theater experiences have been socially based and cringeworthy (i.e. I have to see my cousin's high school play).

He'll see bands play live, but not actors acting?

Sounds to me like he's never had a kickass theater experience. Poor guy!

Col

Woops, sorry for double post.

Oh God, now it's a triple post! Blaargh.

Playgoer

Fantastic post, Isaac. I have been wanting for some time to do some kind of "focus group" with just such people as your friend--bright, educated, culturally aware young folks who theoretically SHOULD be the theatre audience of our generation.

Your friend's answers does indeed confirm what I've sensed in similar casual conversations. But thanks for getting it down in writing.

Malachy Walsh

Everyone here should read:

"Truth, Lies and Advertising" by J. Steel and "Disruption: Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace" by Jean-Marie Dru.

It will help clarify a few things about this branding discussion everyone is so hot on for theatre.

It will also help show that broad messaging is only part of the answer here since every theatre group has its own brand (perhaps making an "Indie Theatre Brand" something of a pipe dream since there's no consistent experience for an audience from group to group).

To this last point, I'd also say that Artistic Directors need to make it clear to an audience in their theatre just exactly what to expect when they see a show there because "brand" - and "brand promise" - has a lot to do how one feels about one's experience with a product carrying that brand name. Ie, I feel one way about a Clubbed Thumb show - and very differently about a Public show. If I bring my Clubbed Thumb expectations to the Public I could be very disappointed. And vice-versa.

Finally, these books may also help many of this discussions participants see that the mind of Isaac's friend is CHANGEABLE! when it comes to liveness. Or anything else.

isaac

Malachy,

What are your thoughts on NO LOGO? (personal fav. of mine)

Malachy Walsh

Isaac,

If by NO LOGO you mean the people who are devoted to global justice and pointing out corrupt corporate practices, I must confess I don't know much about them. From what I do know about them, however, I'm not sure how relevant they are to this discussion. Am I missing something? I'm sure I am since - obsequious as it may seem - your posts are always pretty pointed, so let me know....

I am familiar with adbusters - a magazine I've been looking at off and on since the early/mid-90s. Though they've been good at pointing out how the arts are used to manipulate minds, I'm not sure they've really changed much about the way people understand corporate messaging. People are so cynical nowadays though...

Sorry I can't answer your question more directly...

isaac

I meant the book by Naomi Klein about branding and corporate culture and their effects on democracy. Really interesting book. A classic of the anti-free trade movement.

david h

I want to speak up as a guy who has seen much kick-ass theater and has even made some kick-ass theater, but sadly I seldom go to theater nowadays. I would estimate maybe three or four shows a year, with two of those being plays my oh-so-generous parents take me to while in town.

I hate the idea of branding, but honestly that's the thing that gets me over the ticket price hurdle. To me, paying more than 20 bucks to see anything is very expensive so I need to justify it as an Investment in a Memory I Will Treasure Forever. In the last few years the shows that have qualified have been the new Sweeney, Pierre Boulez's American premiere of Sur Incise, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. While each act had surprises and freshness, they were already all legendary in their own way--I knew for the most part what I was going to get, which is no doubt why Zack would spend $40 on Beck. I was musing over seeing Pig Farm, but when I saw that even with discounts the best I could do was still over $20 I thought "Well, I'll just wait till it comes out on Netflix. Oh wait..."

Speaking of which, I completely sympathize with Zack's shying away from theater's greatest asset, the immediacy that comes from its liveness. When I go out and see a movie, it's often to take a break from working hard. Theater seems like more work. Less show times, more advance planning, more expensive, and you have to (gulp) give energy back to the performers rather than simply absorb Michael Mann vistas. I freely admit that this is really lame, and I freely admit that this is still my thought process when I resist going to any live show.

Nevertheless, most of these hurdles drop away if the ticket prices are just lower. I went to so many more shows when I could get student tickets and the prices are the difference. Sorry not to have a fancier reason.

To make up for it here's a fancy reason: I would also go to so many more shows if my girlfriend lived in the same town as me and we had to come up with things to do together. So aside from giving me $800 a month to regularly fly my gf over, I'm wondering: do theaters give discounts to members of websites like Match.com etc? Targeting couples seems smart since they are always in want of things to do.

Malachy Walsh

Isaac,

Obviously, I haven't read NO LOGO. But I don't think that the conversation about using a marketers tools would be changed all that much by what I do understand about the book - that branding is ubiquitous and companies peddling their wares as part of a lifestyle choice have actually destroyed choice.

People in theatre - indeed many of the arts - have been practicing the principles of branding for a long long time, whether they know it or not. That's simply because branding is, in part, a formalized vocabulary about relationships that involve the exchange of money for ideas and/or products.

At least that's one way of describing what's going on when someone buys a theatre ticket. However, I hope any conversation about using branding to encourage people to purchase more theatre tix is a conversation informed by the understanding that theatre should/can/is a lot bigger and more interesting that a monetary exchange.

Certainly, if we treat it that way, we can perhaps get others to treat it that way too.

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