Monday, January 09, 2012

It's a Living(?)

I was going to comment upon this great article I read on Gamasutra by Andrew J. Smith, entitled "Be Honest, Be Nice: Marketing And PR For Indie Developers".  Gamasutra is a website devoted to the business of video game development, and this article popped up in their "Independent Games Newsletter."  I see similarities between indie game developers and indie theatre producers.  I was going to extrapolate out a comparison between the two on the topic of marketing and PR, and what we could learn from this article.

But this sentence stops me cold:
That said, it's extraordinarily hard to make a living as an indie, and that's traceable to the skills associated with running a business.
I'm not trying to be an asshole by asking this, but how many of us are really trying to make a living in theatre?  Hell, I'm not.  Not as a playwright, at any rate.  I know the figures -- If Tony Kushner can't support himself as a playwright, what hope does any other playwright have?

We're not making a living, we're making art.  I want to punch myself in the nuts for typing that line, true though it may be.  Every time I read some theatre person attempting to redefine "professional" to mean something other than "getting paid to do it," I cringe a little.  Sure, you can comport yourself as a professional and make jack shit in the way of scrilla, but who are we kidding? 

(Actually, comportment is covered under the dictionary definition of professional:  "following a line of conduct as though it were a profession."  "As though it were a profession."  Ouch.)
Bitterness and Pessimism Aside ...

There are some interesting points that those of us making indie theatre can take to heart:
As an indie, one of the major factors you've got going for you -- one that bigger companies struggle to harness effectively -- is that you have a personality. It doesn't have to be yours, although with Spilt Milk I make certain it is mine. What this boils down to is that you must have a very strong, consistent voice with which to communicate your message.

If people know and trust what you say, and if they are familiar with the tone because it is consistent, they will most likely feel some kind of connection with you (and your games) as a result. It's a relationship that you're embarking on, and you have the power to make it so much more personal and affecting (as well as effective) because of how close you are to your audience.
Nice, huh?  You don't have to act like a "big" company.  You can just be yourself -- that's really what you're selling.  The storyteller is just as important as the story at this scale, if not more important.  Don't get me wrong -- the story has to be good.  But the appeal of live theatre is that it's live, and that means human interaction.  I want to tell you a story. 
I realize a lot of people reading this will think that I'm talking self-aggrandizing bullcrap. That it's an incredibly self-centered and vain way of doing things. You may be right, and you may not want to follow my advice. But hear this -- if you don't think what you're doing is interesting to people, then why are you doing it?

Mr. Smith goes on to say some interesting things about marketing to platform holders, not just to players.  This makes me wish more venue managers would partner with production companies.  Imagine, instead of ponying up a deposit on a space, selling the venue manager on the show.  Imagine having them as an active business partner, not just a landlord.  Ah, one can dream.

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