The Why Behind Sold Out Run

I created Sold Out Run in part just because I could. I’m very comfortable with the mechanics of creating a website, and my experience successfully promoting a show back in 2010 gave me some ideas about theatre marketing that at least a few people were interested in.

But what started as frankly a rather casual experiment has become very important to me. I put out blog posts and podcast episodes each week. I’ve created a marketing kit. I’m chronicling all the steps I’m taking promoting a show with the Open Book Project. I’ve dedicated hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to Sold Out Run. Why?

Believe it or not when I started thinking about this post I didn’t know exactly how to articulate the reason I’m willing – even excited – to dedicate so much time to Sold Out Run week after week. So I fell back on an old exercise that I picked up from Raquel Richardson at Silver Square. (She reads everything so I have no idea where she picked it up.)

Why behind the why

Here it is roughly. Your first answer to a question beginning with “why” is often a superficial answer. Or it’s probably more accurate to say the first why question we ask usually invites a superficial answer.

Kids instinctively recognize when the answer to a why question doesn’t give the full picture. So they ask why again. If the second answer still leaves gaps in understanding, they’ll just repeat the question why again. Over and over until there’s clarity. Guess what I’m about to do?

Why do I do Sold Out Run?

I’ve written before about starting Sold Out Run because of marketing a show called Enter Love. After a hiatus of about a dozen years, I got involved with performing again. In the process I discovered how much I missed being part of this world.

Performing to a full house that was completely dialed in to what’s happening on stage is a wonderful experience. I hadn’t felt it since I was a teenager, and holy cow did I miss it! I experienced it quite a few times in high school, but when I went off to college I started transitioning away from performing and towards more serious pursuits.

Why did I leave performing?

I had an idea in my mind of what success looked like. We’ve all heard this, right? The formula for success includes going to college, getting a job with an established company in a growing field, and saving for retirement. Do this, and people will think well of you.

I felt compelled to pursue a life path that would bring me esteem and respect. I had it in my head that I should have a profession that would be greeted with smiles and maybe even a tinge of envy when I was meeting new people at a party. In a word: I wanted to be credible.

Why isn’t a career in theatre credible?

All of my ideas about professional artists were based on books and movies. So naturally I assumed that everyone in the arts was flaky. They must be pursuing the arts because they just couldn’t handle a real job.

These days I actually say about myself that I can’t handle a traditional 9-to-5 job, but it’s not something I’m ashamed of. 🙂

Plus the starving artist trope did not appeal to me. People vote for entertainment options with their dollar. If an artist isn’t making money, that must mean what their creating isn’t seen to have any value by society. (It didn’t occur to me that maybe the art is amazing, and they just don’t know how to get it in front of people.)

Never mind that the performing arts is where I felt most grounded and most whole. If people didn’t hold artists in high esteem, then I needed to set my sights on other career options that were more recognized.

Why does society undervalue theatre?

First off, I think most people who have seen good theatre do appropriately value it. Not everyone wants to attend theatre all the time, but they will at least admit it’s value if they’ve seen high quality theatre.

Now. There are a lot of recreation options vying for our attention. There are more ways to sit back and be entertained for two hours than one person could possibly get around to. Truthfully there isn’t even enough time to learn about all the entertainment options available in order to make an informed decision about how to spend your Saturday night.

So we often look for social proof. If enough other people are interested in a particular event, then we assume it’s worth our time. One million monkeys can’t be wrong, right?

Most theatre events lack social proof. Most performances have many empty seats. Most shows do not sell out.

Back to me

I confess that one of my needs to be happy is to be recognized for my work. Some people get satisfaction just from doing something cool, and they could work in a vacuum as long as it was something they love. Well, we’re all a little crazy in our own way, and my particular neuroses leads me to crave praise for the work that I’m doing. I need personal social proof.

But I know that about myself, and I’m trying to channel that need into the most constructive avenue I can.

I want to raise the level of esteem that the performing arts receives in our society. I’m doing that by tackling one small chunk where I think I can make a difference. I want theatres all over the world – and certainly in my own backyard – to get the respect that I think they deserve not just from me but from all of society.

I want to create more social proof for theatre as a whole. I can do that by helping people understand how to better promote their productions so more people see them.

There are kids graduating from high school every year who will live a satisfying life that positively impact so many lives if they choose to go into the arts. Some will, and many others will bow to the pressure to take a job that will crush their spirit because they feel compelled to match the societal definition of success.

That’s a normal instinct. It’s not their fault they choose it, but they are the ones that will suffer for it. If bringing a little more social proof, if showing that theatre is something society values can help a few of those kids choose to let their hearts lead them to the stage…

I loved that feeling back in 2010 of selling out every performance, and every sold out run that happens anywhere in the world brings a little more esteem to the craft of putting a production up on stage.

So that’s why I do Sold Out Run. I want professions in theatre to get the respect I think they deserve for a very selfish reason. I want it for me.

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