Why Being Shy About Promoting Your Show Could Be Hurting People

From a very young age we learn that selling is bad. Anyone who is constantly pushing their goods or services and doesn’t take no for an answer shouldn’t be trusted. We’re taught that any sort of marketing might be unethical. We’re taught to be bashful when it comes to promotion.

Bashful
We don’t want to bug people or seem needy so we don’t promote. Do you think marketing is a bad thing?

If you answered “yes” and you’re still wondering why you don’t have anyone coming to your productions. It’s time to STOP THINKING THAT WAY.

If you’re not so shy and do plenty of promoting but it’s still not working, I’ll have another post for you soon.

Let’s look at it from another point of view…

Have you ever been to a performance and been inspired? Did it brighten your day? Did it teach you something about yourself? Did it make you laugh or cry? Did you feel more alive after going? Did you get ideas for your next show? Did you find new meaning in your life or career?

I’m guessing you have.

So now that you have a production that could have the same effect on someone. By not actively promoting it, you may be DEPRIVING SOMEONE OF THAT SAME EXPERIENCE.

That’s right. You could be doing a disservice to the world by not promoting your show.

So find those people that your show appeals to, who you think would be inspired by what you have to give. Don’t say everyone or anyone — be specific — there’s no way that one show appeals to everyone in the world, let alone everyone you know. Give it a try. Remember that you could be helping someone, hell, maybe even saving someone’s life. So stop being shy, emerge from your chrysalis of bashfulness and emerge a beautiful marketing butterfly!

What other obstacles stand in the way of you feeling comfortable promoting your show?

This Post is About the Human Condition

I had been thinking a lot last month about the silly cliches we use to tell people about the shows we produce, largely inspired by a post by Howard Sherman.

There are some gems on there. Oh, and there’s a follow up post with even more good ones.

Then I stumbled across an article on LA Stage Times about Waiting For Godot.

…talks about what he focused on while directing – “revealing human condition through real character and behavior.”

What the fudge does that mean? Everything is about the human condition. Why just say “we’re doing a play with people in it.” OH GOOD. THANK GOD IT’S NOT CATS.

Howard Sherman defines it as…

“It’s about the human condition” = a) we don’t understand it at all, or b) if we told you what it’s actually about, you wouldn’t come.

I think that’s pretty much accurate. But what’s worse than hearing it from the director talking about his work is a marketer using it to try to motivate people to come see the show. Their plan must be following:

A patron gets a postcard in the mail from a theatre company he occasionally attends. He looks at the the title on the front with his usual disinterest when reading mail. He turns it over and reads the brief summary; suddenly he is filled with energy. “Hey honey! So-and-so Theatre has a play about the human condition! Let’s get tickets.”

Now that I think about it, I doubt that marketer (or whoever wrote the copy on that postcard) put that much effort into thinking it through.

My father recently told me about a positive experience he had with a local theatre. “It had everything I liked in a play: comedy, drama, and an intermission.” You know what I’m gonna tell him the next time I’ve got a play I want him to see?

Know thy audience.

But before I wrap up…. just WHAT IS THE HUMAN CONDITION?

Wikipedia says

the Human Condition is “The human condition encompasses the unique and inescapable features of being human in a social, cultural, and personal context. It can be described as the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not connected to factors such as gender, race or class. It includes concerns such as a search for purpose, search for gratification, sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, or the fear of death.”

Oh, got it. I love shows about that stuff.

What silly things have you heard people say about shows?

A Patron By Any Other Name Would Still Give You Money

Cash Register

Photo courtesy of flickr

I’ve been thinking lately that the term Patron to describe a customer of an arts organization sounds a little precious. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m wondering what would happen if companies started using a different word.

The American Heritage Dictionary has several definitions for patron, these are the relevant ones:

  • n. One that supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause; a sponsor or benefactor: a patron of the arts.
  • n. A customer, especially a regular customer.
  • n. A noble or wealthy person in ancient Rome who granted favor and protection to someone in exchange for certain services.

Some people just come to see a play. Once. Are they a patron? Is there anything wrong with calling them a customer? I realize that customer connotes a transactional relationship. Are we trying to make them feel important and conjure an image of definition #3 or are we distracting ourselves from the fact that there is a transactional relationship where they exchange money for entertainment?

I have no answers, I just bring questions.

What do you think? Is there another word you use? Am I wasting brain power on a word that works just fine?

I Feel Good, I Knew That I Would

You know what feels awesome? ACTING. REAL ACTING. It’s something I haven’t done in a while.

I’m in a play now, by the way. Come see it if you live anywhere near it because it’s gonna be awesome.

Let’s back up. When I said real acting I don’t mean that any film or other projects I or other people have done aren’t real acting… because I’ve done some of that. I was also in two plays last fall. But this play, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula is the first acting I’ve done in two years that I can really sink my teeth into.

You know… table work, vocal excercises, dialect work, lots pf physicality, and plenty of memorizing to do. This week is the 1st of 4 weeks of rehearsal and I’m already loving it.

I’m wondering how the hell I went so long without it. And yes, I I directed some stuff, did some other creative projects here and there, did a hell of a lot of marketing and theatre admin work.

But I’m an ACTOR! I’m a clown. A physical actor. A singer.

I need to be reaching with my body, raising my voice, using my imagination.

WHY HAVEN’T I BEEN DOING THAT!?

You know what I get to do now? Play. I’ll say it again. PLAY. I’m in a play, I get to play. You know what one of my mantras is? PLAY. I need to play or I get depressed. Now I get to play. And for whatever reason it had to happen after I temporarily (more on this another time) had to move back to San Diego.

SO GOOD, SO GOOD, I GOT YOU.

What is it that you’re not doing right now that you want to? Has this ever happened to you?

Experiences in Live-Tweeting Theatre, Volume 1

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending the preview of The Doctor’s Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw at @AntaeusTheater as part of Classics Fest 2011. I was there with @EttaDevine, @GabeDiani, @klchell, and @AbbyWilde to live-tweet the performance in order to start creating some buzz online about the play and the fest.

There are those out there that fear theatre becoming a tweet-fest and no one will pay full attention anymore. I want to tell those people that it probably won’t happen, but more on that later. This was my first time fully live-tweeting a play. I tried live tweeting the KPCC Theatre panel a couple weeks back, but decided to listen rather than tweet for most of it.

Live Tweeting

My phone is smart, why couldn't it just tweet for me?

It’s hard to live tweet. The first 30 minutes were me getting the hang of it, dealing with the guilty feeling of being on my phone during a performance, feeling like I was missing important plot points every time I looked down. After that it started to get more fun. There was a lively conversation going on between the few of us in the back row, glued to a tiny glowing screen as well as with our followers. It was fascinating to see what lines or moments piqued the interest my fellow tweeters as I monitored the #cf11 (Classics Fest 2011) hashtag. It added a whole other level to the performance. Event + commentary. Sort of like watching a sporting event while listening to the commentators.

BUT… as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t think that this would ever be my first choice of ways to watch a play. If the story takes place onstage, I like my attention to be fully on what’s happening onstage. During moments of the play that were extra engaging, all of us tweeters put our phones down and just watched.

So I say to those fear-mongers that like to worry and scurry around telling people that their life’s work will soon become irrelevant: chill out. I don’t plan on tweeting all through every show I see from now on. When I have the option — on a preview night and from the back row so as not to disturb anyone else — I might.

That said, go see The Doctor’s Dilemma at Antaeus. It’s a fun George Bernard Shaw piece that’s not done too often. Just like a good Seinfeld episode, it’ll make you laugh and frustrate the hell out of you. Plus lots of great Shavian witticisms for your listening pleasure.

And if you ever get the chance and permission to live tweet a play, I recommend doing it once just for the experience. Just make sure you’re in the back row so you don’t disturb other patrons.

What are your thoughts on live-tweeting?

I Am LA Theatre: Letting Them Know We’re A Theatre Town

At the #LAthtr meetup, someone brought up that we should collectively publicize theatre in la. Not one company, but just the concept of theatre in LA.

Someone else added afterwards that certain celebrities Jack Black, etc. who market the shows their in saying that they are part of LA theatre.

Instantly in my mind I saw the marketing campaign. Billboards, signs on buses, benches, buildings. The Words “I Am LA Theatre” with a picture of Jack Black on one sign. THe one aroudn the corner has John Lithgow, next block over with Laurence Fishbourne, another with Me, another with you. Celebrities, other public personalities who do and support LA theatre, as well as faces of producers, actors, designers, who won’t be as publicly recognizable. We can be on the smaller signs, that’s fine. The point is illustrating the LA theatre community as a diverse group of people… and they happen to include celebrities.

Where else in the country can you see these movie and TV people LIVE ONSTAGE? Where else has such a huge talent pool creating work that unfolds right there in front of you?

I think we can sell that.

The goal is that the community at large sees these and realize that there’s theatre, and it might actually be cool. So next time someone says “let’s go out tonight,” they respond with “how about some theatre?”

That’d be the day.

Summer Shakespeare Schedule

You might not know this about me, but I’m a HUGE Shakespeare geek. I own 13 Shakespeare related T-Shirts. See? Geek.

Anyway, this summer I’ve decided to see as many Shakespeare shows I can fit into my schedule, and I want you to join me! I’ve picked companies and shows all over Southern California (but mostly around LA) that I can fit into my schedule and posted the schedule and info below for your convenience.

I’ll be going to these shows no matter what, and I’d go alone, but why not share the experience with fellow theatre nerds?

I really like the new community building tools that are becoming available to us and I want to take advantage of this momentum to share our passions and some common theatrical experiences. On my my passions happens to be Shakespeare, so here we go.

Click the company name for more info, and click on the address for a link to Google Maps. The small ones have already passed, but check out the company’s website to see if it’s still playing if you can go some other night.

Performances with a * are in a park and we can get there early and picnic before the show!

**The lower price is a student rush ticket price. See here for The Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. This is the only way I can afford these tickets.

There are undoubtedly other productions going on. So far the list is only ones that I am able to attend, but I’d be happy to post others that you will be going to even if I can’t make it — but I’ll do my best to squeeze it in. Email/tweet me and let me know if you’re coming, and introduce yourself if I don’t already know you!

Now mark your calendars and may the Bard be with you.

Hollywood Fringe Forever

The first ever Hollywood Fringe Festival came to a close this past Sunday. 11 whole days of nonstop art, and the best thing that I’ve participated in all year. Festival Director Ben Hill said before I left on Sunday night that the Fringe was intended to be “a theatre person’s wet dream.” Non-stop [cheap] theatre, a huge community, and a party and drinks every night. Mission accomplished.

The theatre and art was, indeed, non-stop. Over the course of the 11 days of the festival, I saw 18 fringe performances. Plays, musicals, storytelling, one-man shows, stand up comedy, magic, clowning, and more. I also was able to attend 3 panel discussions. Oh, did I mention that I produced 2 shows and saw each of them 2 or 3 times? It was nice to have so much to do. So much to do that I wanted to do.

The community was the best part. Being a part of a company is great, but it’s so easy to lose track of the rest of the world and get caught in our own bubble. That’s not possible at the fringe. With 180 other productions being produced along side mine, I have no room for my own private bubble. My participation with the festival introduced me to several new people that I probably would never have met or interacted with otherwise, but I’m so glad I did. Connections and relationship were created and I plan to do everything I can to make sure they continue. I hate being in my own private bubble. The reason I do theatre is to connect: with the audience, with my fellow actors, and with — because of this festival — a whole lot of the local arts community.

The party every night was an added bonus, but this is where the previous two points meet. These get togethers were great times to meet the aforementioned new people, to learn about shows to go to, and to have fun with the people I had known or just met. Whether drinking, chatting, or dancing together, these connections at the parties were among the most valuable parts of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

I’m very grateful to the Fringe staff for organizing such an amazing festival and introducing the Los Angeles art scene to itself. We performed and shared a lot of art, met a lot of people, and partied a whole lot more. This years festival is over. The shows have ended, but not their effect. Art exists only in the moment, but the new friendships formed can last forever.

In Mother Country Text Acts You!

Have you ever heard anyone say that when acting Shakespeare, the text acts you, the text does the work for you, or something along those lines? I’m willing to bet you have. But what does it mean that the text acts you? How does it do that? Doesn’t one normally act the text? If the text does the work for you, does that mean Shakespeare is easy?

By the text acts you, most people mean that Shakespeare’s text is so rich in meaning and tells the story so clearly that it’s unnecessary to work to hard at showing the audience how you feel or telling the story. In other words, don’t color the picture that’s already colored-in.

If the text acts you, how come some actors sound great speaking the text and others give abysmal performances? It’s good advice to talented actors who tend to try too hard and over-act; it’s clearly an over-simplification that’s not meant for everyone. So when you hear it: Caveat Actor.

The text isn’t going to do the work for you. Not just yet, anyway. Let’s not have the idea that acting Shakespeare doesn’t require lots of hard work. First use the imagery, antithesis, punctuation, and all the other text analysis tools you know and love to discover the text. Once you’ve discovered, explore! Find all the different meanings the lines can have with different stresses, tempos, phrasing, and rhythms. Delve into the images, the sounds, the onomatopoeia. Really KNOW the text intimately. When you speak it, you should be able to do anything with it.

It should be a few weeks into rehearsal (for a play or even just a monologue) when you get to this point. Now that the text lives in you, now that it’s bouncing around inside waiting to be released with immense energy; now it’s ready to act you. Once you’ve done all the work, it doesn’t take a lot of work.

So Shakespeare’s text can act you, just not right away. It’s the final stage in creating a performance. It’s what happens when you’ve mastered your speeches to such a degree that the words seem to be spontaneously created in the moment and flow easily from you, trippingly on the tongue.

It’s a great feeling to have text act you, but don’t think that means it’s easy. Helpful? Very. Easy? Of course not. Would it really be worth doing if it were that easy?

Rules Weren’t Made to be Broken

We’ve been learning rules all our lives. As children we are given rules of the classroom or rules at home of what not to do or what we should do. And there were, of course, consequences to breaking those rules.

When learning to act Shakespeare (or any classical and poetic texts for that matter) there are often rules we are taught. That is, if you are taught by anyone who has had some real Shakespearience. Rules like observing the scansion, speaking to the end of the though, breathing only at the end of a verse line, having good diction, pronouncing words a certain way. The rules are never exactly the same depending on who you ask, but there are always rules.

I once heard from an actor that he felt limited by the “rules of Shakespeare.” He said it was something like acting inside a box because he had to follow so many rules that his own creative process felt muffled.

This was a good observation and I’m sure that many actors feel this way. So before we talk about breaking the rules, let’s talk very briefly about what the rules are for.

(If you’re new here, I discuss many of the rules and some of their significance in the Speaking Shakespeare section and a few in more specific detail in my dissection of the “Speak the Speech” speech.)

The rules of verse speaking make up a form. Sort of like the rules of a game of sports. If people are playing by different rules, we get lost. I’m reminded of an account of a game played several decades ago of between a group of Baseball-playing Americans and Cricket-playing Brits. When the end the game arrived, both sides claimed the victory.

A better example would be the form of opera singing. Regardless of how you feel about opera, it has an undeniable set of rules that make up the form. The way a singer produces sound and phrases pieces of music have been practiced over many years of instruction. If an opera features a soloist who only had a rock-music background their performance would fall flat. They’d be unable to communicate the proper sounds that the audience expects.

The rules work similarly in Shakespeare, but are perhaps less limiting than those of opera. The form of Shakespeare is inexorably linked to its content. You might even say Form=Content. This means that the way the verse is structured and composed has a heck of a lot to do with what the character is communicating. I could write a whole book on the subject but that’s not what I’m talking about now. In the end, it’s all about communicating the story to the audience. When the rules aren’t followed the story becomes opaque to the listener.

Recently I heard an actor in conversation (on the merits of verse) with a director say something to the effect of, “I don’t see the scansion stuff as rules to follow, maybe just a tool you can choose to use. I heard about opera singer who said she would rather hit a note a little flat or sharp than only concentrate on getting the notes exactly right.” A terrible paraphrasing of what was said, I’m sure, but you get the gist of it.

It’s an attractive thought for one who doesn’t understand the form to find an excuse not to use it. What’s wrong with the above statement? The actor forgets that the opera singer has already mastered his/her form. The rules are not the alpha and the omega of the art, but just as every skyscraper has a steel frame, so must every creative artist have some form — however invisible — guiding their work.

The opera singer has already spent years being able to hit every note on the correct pitch with the correct rhythms so that performances can be done with ease. Without thinking about hitting the right notes. What they can think about instead is conveying the meaning and emotional content behind the music. So if they happen to go sharp or flat, it is because they have much more behind their performance than just hitting the notes. Because this opera singer has mastered her form, she can afford to bend the rules.

The actor who felt like he was “acting in a box” did not throw away the rules even though they felt constricting. Once the rules are learned, practiced, enforced, and finally mastered, there are infinite possibilities.

Form will set you free.

Why do you think greats like John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh are so great at what they do? Not because they bend or break the rules. But because they have mastered them. The guidelines they learned have nearly become instinct and they are free to be free above the super-solid foundation they stand upon. This is the place where you are able to act outside the box. Not because you threw it away, but because you used it.

To deny the form is to say that you know better than the aforementioned brilliant actors who have had a lifetime of experience. The form doesn’t change, though the way it is expressed does. The foundation will remain the same, but what you build on top of it will be unique to you and the time you live in. So remember, because it is worth repeating:

Form will set you free.