When I scan theatre offerings, the first thing I look for is the playwright’s name.
After that, it’s the name of the producer or theatre. And then comes the name of the play. And then the names of the cast and crew.
All of these names are crucial in establishing the overall brand of what is on offer.
You would never advertise a show and leave out the name of the play. And yet over and over, in posters, brochures, signage and online displays, when a theatre lists its shows, the all important name of the playwright often disappears into thin air. Poof.
The only way you leave out the playwright’s name is if you do not understand how fundamental it is to your brand – to the essence of your show and how the world will process it. The playwright often IS the brand.
Would Nike ever leave its name (in their case, the visual swoosh) off a sign and print only a shoe name?
Would Porsche advertise a “Boxster” instead of a “Porsche Boxster”?
Would the Met advertise an exhibit and leave out the artist’s name?
Which of the following paired phrases gives you more info on what the thing is?
WillaKenzie pinot noir
Misterman by Enda Walsh
In every case, the second item is strengthened immeasurably when you know WHO or WHAT made it. You need to know not just the thing, but the author that brought it into being. Because that is what defines its essence.
So why, when it comes to the production of plays, do theatres start leaving out a key piece of information that helps the audience identify the product being offered?
Especially in the case of a new or obscure work, knowing the name of the writer/creator is key.
Same drill again.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell
Here Lies Love
Here Lies Love by David Byrne
Belleville by Amy Herzog
I’m betting very few people could have identified the three works above without the author. Can you think of any argument (other than scarce real estate, which isn’t the reason) for leaving off the writer’s name?
What would happen if you were in charge of marketing David Byrne’s new show, and you ran in to the cigar-chomping producer’s office with this revelation: “Hey, Sal! I’ve got it! We leave his name off all the posters and promo stuff but we make the show name bigger with all that extra space!”
No doubt the memorable zinger you got back would somewhat soften the pain of looking for a new job.
Do theatres leave out the playwright’s name because deep down – maybe subconsciously – they believe the writer really isn’t all that important? That the writer can be dispensed with?
Let’s hope not. A good show begins and ends with a good writer.
Leaving out the name of the playwright is a puzzling and troublesome trend in the theatre world. You’ll see it done by major organizations that should know better.
But the audience wants to know WHO wrote this play your theatre is hoping they’ll come see. Knowing WHO wrote the play offers one of the biggest clues available about whether it’s worth seeing.
If you agree, the next time you see a sign, ad or anything related to a show at a theatre that does not include the playwright’s name, let the theatre know. If you get an email with a list of authorless works, reply back with a quick request to list the playwright’s name(s) next time.
Plays don’t write themselves – it just seems that way sometimes.
The playwright’s name is a fundamental part of the brand.