Thursday, March 01, 2012

Rockstar Theatre

Dave Grohl is Rock and Roll
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From ArtsHub, "7 tips to promote a gig and pull a crowd" by Lachlan Bryan:
It’s a fundamental question in the live music business; why do some some local gigs pack in the punters, whilst others fail miserably to draw a crowd? Often the venue is the same, the night of the week the same, sometimes it’s even the same band. Few are naive enough to think it’s actually ‘the music’ that makes the difference.

Whilst there are always variables at play, my observations have led me to this 7 point checklist for promoting a successful hometown gig…
Go read the whole thing

I think we can learn a lot from the work-a-day world of the gigging musician.  Musicians have to make it happen for themselves, and as into their own art as they may be, they must contend with the practical matter of reaching an audience (literally) staring them in the face.  You can't fill an arena with friends and family, you need fans.

So how might we apply these seven rules to small theatre?

1. The Venue Stay nomadic.  Don't enter into a long-term agreement with one theater.  For your three-person drama dealing with fe-e-e-elings, find the smallest hole possible.  If you have a cast of twenty in "Twilight: The Stage Play," go big.  In otherwords, rightsize the venue to fit the production.  And keep an eye on your nut!  If you need to make X dollars to cover your expenses, don't shackle yourself to a ticket price/number of seats that will guarantee you'll never cover your nut.

And here's a crazy idea:  Work with the theater management.  The better your show does, the more likely you won't be paying off the back-end of what you owe for rent a month after the show closes.  Theater owners got into the business because they actually like theater.  Ask their advice, pick their brains for promotional ideas in the neighborhood, etc.

2. The Lineup Share the venue.  Find another company that would like to do a double-feature.  This happens a little with late-night shows (improv or something scrappy like that) after a so-called mainstage show.  You can pool audiences with another company!  NOTE:  If you do this, please refrain from producing a 2 - 3 hour-long show.  (Actually, as a general rule avoid producing 2 - 3 hour-long shows.)

3. The Poster One of the most brilliant things I've read this week came from Amarita Ramanan at HowlRound:  "A marketing manager practices dramaturgy by communicating to an audience to mission and vision of the art through website blurbs, posters and brochures." Yes. That.  If the graphic designer isn't sweating as much as the cast, he or she isn't working hard enough.

4. The Online Stuff Theatre seems to be generally ahead of the curve on this point, so I won't say much more than this:  What Ramanan said about dramaturgy applies to the online stuff.  Just because the internet makes it seem effortless to promote doesn't mean you should put as much effort (and thought and creativity) into it as possible.

5. Pre-Sales  Again, we seem to be ahead of the curve on this one.  Brownpaper tickets, Goldstar, etc.  Now, the idea of using pre-sales as a way of monitoring your marketing efforts?  Brilliant.

6. The Show Itself Words I never want to hear again:  "I wish you hadn't come on opening night!"  Look, opening night is not a dress rehearsal.  Bryan's advice regarding "Have a thorough sound-check" could not be more applicable to what we do, as well.  Get to the theater early enough to fix the invariable technical issues that will have come up between curtain call last week and house opening this week.  Talk to the people you share the space with.  Work with the theater management.  Don't be surprised by a dead light or dimmer pack.

And, of course, put on a good show.

7. The Follow-Up Theatre tends to have this covered as well.  Tends to.  I think the last time I saw an email list for a stage play was for Re-Animator at the Steve Allen last year.  Lili VonSchtupp, producer of Monday Night Tease puts the email sign-up on stage at intermission and has the host say, "Join the email list."  Her shows have been standing room only for some time now (of course, she has boobs in her show, so that may be a factor.)  The point is, it's easy to forget.  A blanket "thank-you" on Facebook is great.  An email address has value. (Also, you can forward an email.)


To quote the great Jeff Bebe in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, "You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn't getting off, and I make him get off." That, my friends, is rock and roll.  It's also theatre -- or should be.

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