How do you get industry people to come see your show?

kings-riverThis week I received the following email:

I am putting up a show in Manhattan in May for a 3 week run and I am currently in the beginning of fundraising and promoting the show. The biggest obstacle I am facing is inviting the industry folks. I’d like Agents, Casting Directors, Managers and Producers to come. More importantly, I know the show gets a better turn out and more buzz when it’s been reviewed in the paper or in magazines. Do you know how I can get reviewers to come? I’ve been in shows that pay $6,000-$8,000 for a publicist which have brought in NY Times and Time Out NY reviews, but my entire budget is $9,000, so that’s definitely not an option. Thanks so much for your time and I lood forward to hearing from you!

– Andrew Rosenberg

Thanks for sending this in, Andrew. Let me start by saying New York is a different animal than almost anywhere else when it comes to theatre. I’m just barely smart enough to know how much I don’t know about it, having never lived in New York. So there may be very good reasons why the ideas I’m going to mention may not work in your area.

That being said, I’d rather give you some ideas that you can use as a reference point. Look at them through your local lens and see what makes sense and what doesn’t. I feel better about giving you some ideas that may not be 100% applicable to your situation than I would about throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “I can’t offer you anything because I don’t live in New York.”

I’m also including my response to your email here on the blog. I imagine other readers may find themselves in a similar situation, and could find some of this useful.

Slow and steady

My first thought is don’t feel like you need to go for the knockout punch. By that I mean you don’t need to find a single radio interview, poster placement, or phone call that will get everyone talking about your show in one fell swoop. I’m assuming there are a lot publications that cover events in your area. Naturally it would be great to get major publications, but it’s much easier to get the little guys on the phone.

If you have press coming to a live show you want the house to be packed.

I mean really little guys here, and I would suggest inviting them to some early rehearsals now. If you get access to the NY Times you want to show them a finished show, but if you get some guy (or girl) who blogs about theatre in spare time they would probably be delighted to visit a table read or maybe even blocking. As the show gets more polish, invite publications with progressively larger audiences.

This may be obvious to Andrew, but I’ll mention it here for anyone else reading. If you do have press coming to a live show – not a rehearsal – you want the house to be packed. That may mean you need to paper the house. It’s worth it. Rather than just hand out tickets on the street, you’re probably better off approaching local businesses and offering tickets that they can give to employees and clients as gift. No matter what, though, make sure that any journalist who is there opening weekend doesn’t feel like they are in an empty theatre. Assume that the size of the audience is going to affect the piece they write.

Worth a thousand words

I would also suggest investing some of your time and energy in video. Spend a few hundred dollars on a good digital camera that takes video if you don’t already have one. Create a YouTube channel, and put up some good promotional videos. If you have someone who can do high production value with editing and some simple graphics, so much the better, but it is still going to make a dent if you just take some great photos and upload them to a service like Animoto that will automatically turn your photos into a video. And anything between is great, too.

Lots of time spent on video production:

Simple video with photographs:

The point is a few videos about your show gives you (and your friends, family, actors, etc.) something to push around on Twitter and Facebook. Even if you don’t use social networks, it gives you a reason to email everyone you know with a link to the video. That’s more interesting, memorable, and actionable for them than a few sentences describing what the shows about and how hard you are working on it.

Funding promotions

If you have a great promotional idea, and you just lack the money, one option might be Kickstarter. I’ve mentioned Kickstarter before on this blog. Now my personal experience is that you need a really good hook. If you just say you’re looking for money for general expenses with this show, I don’t think that captures people’s imaginations. You need to talk about some very specific need like you need a certain amount of money to take out a full page ad in the Times or organize a flash mob or sponsor the little league team of a casting director’s kid. I’m just rattling off ideas as I write this post, but the point is to get really precise about what you want to do with the money to have success with Kickstarter. Then of course you need to tell as many people as you can about it. It’s a mini-promotion in itself, but it gives the people who want to help – and who aren’t power players in the industry – a way to make a difference.

I wrote this trying to quickly get some ideas out. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you have an idea on getting industry folk in the house – whether you think it’s useful for Andrew or not – I invite you to mention it in the comments.

And if you’re going to be in Manhattan between May 24 and June 10, take a look at what Andrew and company are producing.

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  1. Got this response from Andrew:

    Hi Clay,

    Thank you so much. I just read your post and all of your ideas are great. Some I am working on, some I hadn’t thought of, and some add a better layer on to a previous idea. The most helpful idea was getting bloggers and smaller writers to come to rehearsals. I was scared of inviting them just for previews and not having enough time to get the word out once the show opened. Having them come to reads or rehearsals is a great idea, and possibly could attract writers with a bigger following once we get some good reviews under our belt. For not being in NY all of your ideas were on point, helpful, and applicable. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into the response. Thank you very much. And of course if you’re in New York during our run, you’ve got tickets and drinks at the theater, on me.

    Again, thanks a lot!

    Andrew Rosenberg

    Happy to help, Andrew!

    Clay Mabbitt on Tue, Mar 6th, 2012 at 9:07am

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