If ever there was an industry ripe for disruption – it’s the theatuh.
Antiquated business models, pre electronic mindsets (don’t you DARE take a photo!) and calcified, pound-of-flesh unions all combine to make this live performance art a sometimes fraught affair in the US.
Off the charts demand is a beautiful thing. That’s the way it should be for theatre – not begging people to come support you, but rather battening down the hatches to control a wait list line that stretches around the block for a sold out show.
Let’s be brutally honest. Most theatre email marketing sucks. It looks like it was designed by your 65 year old Uncle Charlie, who’s not big into – you know – design. It’s boring and dull. And it’s ineffective. It simply assumes that the audience cares – vs. telling them WHY they should care. It doesn’t display on mobile. It’s one of the reasons your seats are empty and tickets are going for half off fire sales at the online equivalent of Rocco’s 24 Hour Pawn.
Here are a few examples of theatre email that go straight in the trash.
Most of the time, most days in every month, your audience is not in the theatre seeing shows. They’re out there in the world, doing what they do: swimming at The Dock, fastening miniature horses to sidewalk rings, dodging below crane-a-palooza. Maybe that’s only in Portland.
And when they’re not physically present in the theatre, which is most of the time, how do they experience your brand? It happens internally. Any time you come to mind, they replay a mental news reel that sums up all the various memories and associations they have. And other than the quality of your shows, probably nothing influences what they think as much as your graphic design.
Immaculately crafted and accurately rendered. But what is missing is theatre magic – something to take the story into another level of resonance, impact, meaning. The gaze of the offstage men is chilling. After we get the setup, there’s little significant development or change. Inevitably a comparison to RUINED comes up.
If you’re a regional theatre, going to Broadway sounds like a dream. But unless you know what you’re doing, taking a show to the world’s toughest theatre market can play out more like a nightmare. It’s tough. And very few can pull it off.
On paper, southern Oregon would seem an unlikely incubator IN THE EXTREME for Broadway buzz. 100 years ago, Ashland, Oregon was (to put it mildly) in the middle of nowhere. It still is. But today nowhere is somewhere – at least in the theatre world. And thanks to Angus Bowmer, a whole phalanx of succeeding individuals, and a good mix of sheer chance and historical luck, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has become a Broadway launching pad. Incredible but true.
While it’s too soon to say for sure, another OSF-hatched American Revolutions world premiere may soon be headed for the world’s biggest stage.
An annihilating, bone-rattling beat. But strangely for a show with musical genius David Byrne’s name on the marquee, not much in the way of memorable melody. Visually, a saturated parade of color, video, and a troupe of smiling, hip dancers. Audience moves around space standing, dancing. Fun. Dictatorship as disco.
The look, feel, sound, and texture of this crisply staged 90 minutes are original and wickedly sharp. The best way to describe the aesthetic is live film. All actors amplified. The problem is that the specific story told here does not make much sense and is ultimately not that interesting.
Lots of theaters still don’t get that one of the ways the audience knows a theater produces works of art is that the theater’s web site is a work of art.
There’s no mystery here. The show before the show (and the one that determines whether the audience will ever get to the main show) is a theater’s brand – often largely channeled by the web site. If that pre show is good – if it’s really good – then maybe, just maybe, an audience member may decide to show up for the real show.
To flip this round, how likely is it that a theater can create unforgettable nights of drama when its web site looks like an artifact from a Smithsonian exhibit on “THE EARLY INTERNET”? It’s possible (especially for theatre artists of a certain age). But it’s not very likely. And at any rate younger audience members will be gone in not 60, but more like, five seconds. Poof.
The web site, then, becomes a proxy. And savvy audience members know how to save themselves a boatload of money and misery. “If the web site sucks…”
Surrounded as we are by a sea of digital ugly, behold a true thing of rapturous beauty. The Public Theater has a new web site.
And if it’s any indicator of what’s coming up – you’re not gonna want to miss much this year down on Lafayette.
It has never been easy to bring a play that takes on real social issues center stage in the US.
Real plays are powerful. They are dangerous. They gore sacred cows and upend the apple cart. They change you. They do not reassure the audience – they scare the pants off them. They engage and provoke the public as nothing else can. Because right up there on stage is a real topic with real stakes.
A lot of contemporary US playwriting, nurtured as it is in a mainstream corporate-funded system, is institutionally incapable of taking on the big issues we need to hear about. It just ain’t gonna happen. This isn’t all the fault of theatres. The audience is also involved. But institutions need to lead, and instead of breaking new ground, many of them are trudging the well worn path of standard franchise properties from the national circuit.
Instead of the important new plays, we get bouncy, non-threatening frivolities and nonsensical wackiness on a lot of our big stages. In this magical realist world of sex and whimsy and violence (But play violence – not real violence! It’s ok everyone – this is fun violence! And it’s funny!), the main goal seems to be, entertain ’em – and by god don’t scare ’em away. A lot of these plays are in the neighborhood of real issues, but they address them through a fun house mirror that feels designed to avoid giving offense.
Whether they realize it or not, these disposable plays are social documents from a culture of affluence, and the silence of everything they don’t address is deafening. As the lights go down and yet another genius kid character comes on stage and starts cracking wise with more IQ than Einstein, the audience tries to figure out why they are being subjected to this while out there, mere yards away on the street, society is in serious trouble. Why don’t we hear more about that? So much for the real world.
Well, if it were easy to write good plays about the big topics, everyone would be doing it.
Almost no social topic in contemporary America is more important than gun violence. And if you are an ambitious playwright, all you need to do to make your name is write a great play that takes on this subject.