Friday, February 12, 2016

The Power and Guile of the First Line

“If music be the food of love, play on.”
That's the first line of a play.  Easy enough to guess Shakespeare, but which one?  Taming of the Shrew?  Richard III?  Midsummer?  If you guessed Twelfth Night, you'd be correct.

From a dramatic standpoint, the first moments of a play have to hold the heart of the conflict.  It's disguised, layered, waiting to be unveiled, but it has to be there.  The first moments have to sustain an energy that will propel the characters through the next two hours.  

"What I find most astonishing... is the belief that I might very easily-- as they say-- lose my mind one day, not that I suspect I am about to, or am even... nearby...."

The author throws in a few extra clauses into that long sentence that I omitted, sentence fragments meant to disguise the central theme of the play, but you can still feel the energy.  And if you know what play it's from, you feel it even stronger.  Guesses?  It's the first line of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. Yeah, makes sense now. 

It's rare, though, that I writer invests the central conflict or theme in the very first line.  Typically, it's spread throughout the first scene.  It takes enormous control of your narrative to successfully embed it the way Albee does here.  So it's with a bit of awe that I write Jez Butterworth's first line for Jerusalem.  


A question delivered as a statement.  Though spoken to Parsons, Mrs. Fawcett is calling "time's up" on Johnny Rooster Byron; Butterworth is dramatizing the changes of time in England, from the glory of old-- with its myths and power-- to the mundanity of new.  Nearly every character in Jerusalem refers to time, and for Johnny Rooster the question is whether he can call the ancient power of the past into the present in time to save his skin.

Powerful stuff, first lines.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Increase Web Presence by Tagging Photos - A How To

Short and simple, this one.  And it may be overly basic to some and absolutely revelatory to others.  It's one of those things I frequently forget to do and then curse the sky after hitting "post."

Images and video are incredible tools for engaging audiences and clients.  They're some of the most powerful tools you have.  But they don't reach out to anyone as images (people have to stumble upon them).  Search engines don't scan and categorize images, they scan the metadata connected to it. So before you post a single image (or video) on the web, open up the properties and add identifying information!  It looks like this:

Here's a master class tip: never over "tag" a picture, post, etc.  Search engines weight each tag equally, so if you have too many it just dilutes the searchability.  Only use 3-4 tags.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Innovative Marketing for Theatre

This, mate, might be more of a question than an answer.  We've just released a new video for our production of Jerusalem at the Phoenix.  It's both an innovative way to market the show, and a practical tool for helping audiences understand the thick British slang that pervades the play and sets the mood.  We wanted something light, fun, engaging, and informal-- that would get you inside not the world of the play so much as the world of the actors.  Here's what we did:

In comparison to other theatre companies, I'd say Second Wind operates on a shoe string.  We make amazing things happen on almost nothing.  Theatre is, after all, primarily an exercise of imagination.  The audience knows the action is a fiction, but suspend their disbelief to to allow their imaginations to journey on a rollercoaster of emotion and thought.

Over the past two decades, we've let our imagination explore a whole range of innovative, inexpensive marketing adventures.  Guerilla marketing, by another name.  How to get butts in seats tends to be one of those guarded secrets in the theatre world (like marketing budgets).  So let's let the cat out of the bag.

Most of the time it's hard to say whether a marketing technique is effective.  The metrics aren't there for a good evaluation, and there are typically complex variables.  I could talk for a long time about what worked and didn't work about each of these, but instead I'm going to give it a simple "grade" for effectiveness. If you want me to explain why I gave a specific tool a certain grade, leave me a post.

Post Show Discussions. I've included this because it's something you can promote and advertise beyond the show.  We've done a number-- critic from the SF Chronicle for our production of Ghost in the Light about art forgeries; Israeli Consultate/ Voice for Peace for our production of Murder; GMO activist Pamm Larry for Lullaby Tree.  The effective score varies, largely based on how controversial the play topic; the more controversial the better. The score is a range:  D-B

Wallet Drop. For A Beautiful Home for the Incurable will bought five used wallets, filled them with the fake I.D. of one of the play characters, and a message informing the "finder" that they had just won a free ticket to the show if they return the wallet.  We dropped five in various locations, one "returned." Score: C+

Played 3 Card Monty at the Tix Booth.  Almost got kicked out of the square on this one, but we set up a 3-Card Monty game in front of the SF Tix Booth for our production of Top Dog/Underdog. The game is played in the show.  Dressed as the character (a black-faced Lincoln) we challenged people waiting in line to play; winner received a free concessions voucher.  Score B-.

Art Contest. For Ghost in the Light we conducted a "forgery" contest at the three major art schools in SF. Winner received tickets to the show, their work displayed in the lobby, and they joined the panel discussion with the SF Chronicle critic.  Score C+

Behind the Scenes Video. We do this constantly.  We photograph rehearsals and put them into video, and  film special activities related to the video.  Wander around this blog and you'll see what I mean.  Score B

Post on Related Forums.  There are forums for everything.  For The Tender King we engaged in conversations on World War II history forums (the play dealt with Truman's decision to drop the bomb).  Score D

Elite Pass. For two of our productions we created an Elite Pass that would give members special privileges:  frree drinks, free returns, half-price youth ticket, and a workshop.  Score (B-)

Dress Up a Car. For several shows I've gotten a big magnet sticker for the side of my car.  Costs about $25.  But for The Woman in Black I went all out.  The sticker featured a hand coming out of a grave; a severed hand appeared in the window as a continuation.  It was October, and the show is a ghost story.  Got some looks.  Score C+

For comparison, I'll give my scores on some traditional marketing tools: Twitter (C-), Facebook (B), Youtube (B), Google Adwords (C-), Facebook ads (C), Posters (C+)

You'll notice nothing scored higher than a "B". That's because none of them beat word of mouth, building an audience base, email, and postcards.  Part of the "genius" of the Jerusalem video is that its designed to get the cast and crew-- who are a part of that word-of-mouth system-- excited about the show.  And it can be "re-used" on multiple platforms.

But these are just some of the things we've done around untraditional marketing.  What have you done?  Share an idea.  Join the conversation.

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