Every year I try to update my vision of how to create more theater, and what that theater should look like.
What exactly is my role this year as a theatre-maker in the 21st century? What can I personally do to develop, produce and promote more theater?
Is theater dying? Or is the way we make theater today dying?
The old Danny Newman subscription model doesn’t work anymore. Regional theaters and downsizing, or closing their doors. All of this has of course been accelerated by nearly two years of shutdown in theater.
Theater isn’t dying – it will always be around – but we need to examine how to build new audiences, to speak to those audiences and to market them off the sofas and into theaters.
Can we use technology to help us create more theater?
Strengths of 21st Century Theater
Let’s review at the beginning of the year what we’re doing right:
- We were a diverse society from the beginning. Thus, we are and must continue to be a diverse and inclusive theater if we are to develop new audiences.
- Theater takes the invisible idea, the invisible thought, and makes it visible. Today theater is doing it more creatively than ever, utilizing technology, “game theory,” and innovative performance techniques (immersive, site-specific, experimental structures, etc.)
- We all acknowledge that staging performing arts performances in a community accelerates the economic growth of that area and leads to a revitalized community. The arts are good for local businesses.
- The arts have a positive impact on academic achievement and personal growth of young people, as well as other marginalized groups and the elderly. The arts are good for society in general.
- The “live” component of theatrical performance create social engagements that build social empathy and understanding that can help heal fractures that are increasingly dividing us everywhere.
All of the above are true, but apparently we’ve done a terrible job communicating these strengths to the public. How can we entice new audiences in when ticket prices are stratospheric, yet thanks to technology, movies and videos are everywhere?
Surely we can use this same technology to promote theater.
Technology Makes Entertainment More Accessible
We are now surrounded with more entertainment options than any other time in human history – accessible any time on the little device we all carry in our pockets. YouTube is free, and paying for entertainment is over (except for live concert and sporting events) for many people.
Why not use technology to build an appetite for live theater?
Streaming theater is a viable option, if for no other reason than to serve our audiences. Allowing my college students to view bootleg videos of past musicals on Broadway or great plays at the National Theatre creates more of a desire to see theatre, not less. I love watching students discover HEDDA GABLER or SPRING AWAKENING for the first time, and getting excited about the work and the ideas.
Also, audiences are reluctant to buy expensive tickets for shows they don’t know. Familiarity with Harry Potter drives a desire to buy a ticket to that show, or a ticket to the parody musicals of “The Office” or “Friends.”
How can audiences become familiar with your show? Where and what can you post online to drive a desire to see your show?
Here are some ideas that I see working:
- Record bits of your play or musical being rehearsed (even if there’s no planned production yet) to post on social media
- Create a promo clips or sizzle reel and post on social media and on your website (a necessity now).
- Grab your friends and shoot a video of your show scene by scene. Edit and post on YouTube (this works especially well if you’re a millennial or Gen Z creator)
- Go live and play your musical one song at a time, with an introduction. Post on YouTube to create a playlist, and on your website
- Writing a play? Record a monologue or an especially dramatic moment, and post online
- Have a local staged reading? Hire a videographer to record it. Don’t forget to capture the audience’s reactions at the end. Post it on YouTube for a short time (if allowed).
Social Media is the new word of mouth. I’m not a “digital native,” but hey, I can learn. So can you.
Always Promote Yourself
The end goal of all this promotion is, of course, to get your show onstage. You’ll still have to do the traditional activities to make people aware of you and your work:
- Continually submitting to every play submissions contest you can find
- Networking with Artistic Directors, producers and literary managers, in person and online
- Volunteering at your local theater, or attending their galas – and donating
- Be active on the New Play Exchange and participate in the community
- Designing a modern website and keeping it updated
- Maintaining an email list of friends, family and followers
- Participating in online communities like CreateTheater, The Playwrights Center, the Dramatist’s Guild, and the BMI Musical Theater Workshop (to name a few) where you can network with other industry professionals.
Yes, it is exhausting to build an audience for your work, and to invest time in your social networks. It takes time, consistent effort, and passion. It. Is. Exhausting. I get it.
I am exhausted, too. But I’m always learning new ways to promote good work and stage good work. I will continually adapt our storytelling onstage to allow new audiences to experience theatre in new ways (look for an immersive show coming soon to a Brooklyn restaurant, and the resurrection of our 2020 Monday Night Reading Series online).
Because we’re theater people, and this is what we do. We adapt, and go where the audiences are. We don’t stand there and shout at them to come to us. That’s so “twentieth century.” We go to them.
Write good stuff and send it to me. I’m looking to develop new musicals and plays in the 2024 CreateTheater New Works Festival in NYC, and beyond.