Thursday, August 19, 2010

STOP PILING IT ON

 
We all know (or should know) how dreadfully important it is to have fantastic publicity.  In Los Angeles, the din is deafening.  To make theatre without a marketing plan of some sort; without someone serving as press agent is to find out first hand what happens when a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it.  Raise your hand if you've ever had more people on stage than in the audience. 

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place," said the Red Queen to Alice.  "If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Los Angeles is a town fueled on bullshit.  Raise your hand if you "have something in development," or are "talking to producers."  Everyone is working on a screenplay, and everyone is seeking new representation.  Yes, these are gross generalities, but you get the point.  Sit in three random Starbucks in Culver City, Hollywood and Santa Monica, and odds are you'll overhear variations of the above.  And why not?  This is the Eureka state.  Come for the gold, stay for the sunshine.

I wonder sometimes if we don't invest too heartily in our own bullshit.  Perhaps we shine things on a mite too much.  What would happen if postcards were outlawed tomorrow and if Facebook had a massive system failure?  What if we relied solely and completely upon -- gulp -- word of mouth?

Would we produce the same shows in the same way?  Would we endeavor to start on time and present ourselves more professionally in the lobby and box offices?  Without a kickass website and a seasoned publicist, would we find ourselves up shit creek?  I trust we'd still have the "first tier" audience (i.e. friends and family of the cast.)  How would we capture the tier two audience?  Those are the strangers who would otherwise pick up a postcard or click a link that got reposted somewhere.

I ask this in part because despite all the Los Angeles-quality PR it seems that few theatres successfully tap into that second tier audience.  I know Theatre Unleashed struggles to reach beyond the first tier.  It occurs to me that putting in the elbow grease and taking care of your customers -- and make no mistake, the People in the Dark are paying customers -- would generate over time the kind of general goodwill that PR efforts attempt to spark artificially with a glossy photo and a catchy slogan.

If you were no longer able to hide behind your bullshit, what would you do differently?  And why not go ahead and do it differently?  It's not like we couldn't use larger houses.

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