The Open Book Project: Early Days

Last week was my first official meeting with Acting Up Productions. I had met briefly with Brian (artistic director) and Beth (business director) before, but this was the first time that I met with Scot, who is directing the show. I had couple things I wanted to accomplish with this meeting.

  1. Introduce myself to the director
  2. Identify unique hooks for this production
  3. Scout possible tactics

I feel like good progress was made on all three fronts.

This post is part of the Open Book Project, where I let you peek over my shoulder as I promote a theatre production.

Introduce myself to the director

It may not always be practical or possible, but I believe it is extremely helpful to have the director of a show involved with the planning phases of marketing. I don’t think the director needs to be involved with executing most of the marketing tactics – and if this does happen it’s easy for the quality of the actual production to suffer because there are so many other demands on the director’s time.

The bottom line, though, is that I want Scot to feel good about what is happening with the marketing. I’ve met Scot briefly a few times before, so my purpose here wasn’t to introduce myself as a person. Rather I wanted to explain the project: why am I volunteering my time and why should he believe anything I say about marketing.

He appears happy to have me on board so far, and of course I’m very pleased about that.

Identify unique hooks for this production

Brian, Beth, and Scot have all spent a lot more time than I have up to this point thinking about this production. Among all the available shows they could have pursued the rights for, they decided to include Edward Albee’s At Home At the Zoo for this spot in their season. They picked this show to more or less consume months of their lives. Why?

What drew them to this show? I always think this is a great place to start as you try to put into words what is so great about your production. Sometimes the answer will be in elements of the story itself. Other times the picture in their mind of what they are going to put on the stage is what drives them.

Where is most of your production budget going?

In this case one idea that came up repeatedly was that this show will make the audience think. It’s intense, and the audience is going to find themselves evaluating some of the unconscious habits and choices that have crept into their own lives. Not everyone wants that experience from a night of live theatre, but the ones who do enjoy that really appreciate it when you do it well. That’s our audience.

In exploring other strengths of the show that we can highlight in the marketing we also talked about the reputation of playwright Edward Albee, the strengths of each of the three cast members, and the unique story behind this script (the two acts were written and premiered decades apart).

Questions to consider as you look for unique strengths in your own production:

  • What are the reputations of your cast and production team?
  • Has this production been done before in your area? (Both yes and no can be good.)
  • What’s unique about your venue?
  • Where is most of your production budget going?

Another strength that I want to emphasize is the cast. In many ways having a cast of only three people makes your marketing more difficult. You don’t have an army of friends and family talking up some of the seats the way you would for a show with a cast of twenty, but there’s a trade off.

Unless you have an exceptionally large talent pool to draw from, you will have a tough time getting twenty actors that are all equally captivating on one stage. As a result most large cast shows have some weak links.

But what happens when you only need three actors? You can find three very talented actors who can each nail their role. (By all accounts that’s what we have with this production.) It’s a very different theatre going experience when every line and every gesture that happens on stage is delivered by someone who is “on.” That’s a potential differentiating factor to emphasize.

Scout possible tactics

It’s important to focus on the strengths before you start fleshing out marketing tactics, but there were a few likely tactics floating around even at this early point in the process.

The team had a lot of ideas about what this script means. There’s a lot of texture you can sift through, and frankly it’s a show that lends itself to conversations after the fact. I asked everyone how they feel about talk-backs. The consensus is that a talk-back that was orchestrated and moderated well could be a good fit.

Now we likely won’t call it a talk-back. That phrase conjures images of an auditorium full of barely interested students who are only asking questions to avoid going back to class. Most of the issues this show raises are going to resonate with people who have entered the adult phase of their life, so we’ll probably call this a reception where you get a chance to speak with the actors. Rather than informal mingling, though, we’ll organize some specific questions and answers.

Another resource that we have available to us is a skilled videographer. I anticipate at least doing some videos to highlight the three actors. Not sure what form all of that is going to take, but Brian assures me we will have that particular talent at our disposal. I’m eager to learn more about that.

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