I was recently listening to On The Media, and a representative from the Beer Industry had some interesting things to say. Here is the MP3 of that segment.
Herein lies the point: the beer industry has lost a little market share compared to the upscale wine and spirits industries, which have relied on "point of sale" marketing and have a self imposed (at this point) ban on television advertising. To combat this, the beer industry as a whole is creating a message for the public to raise awareness and reapproach its audience.
Recently, Steve Oxman and Scott Walters both noted an awful fate of Theatre: that it would become a sort of community activity and therepeutic exercise.
In the midst of this is a bit of self-parody where we try to define the term "Avant-Garde" as if anyone in the audience even truly cares how we define what.
Earlier, there was some discussion of changing the term "Off-Off Broadway" with "Indie Theatre." (Discussion therein could be found here.) Zach Mannheimer went so far as to propose that we all leave the cities and evangelize in the countryside.
All of this is coming from a few facts and a few fears.
One fact is that the audience seems to be divided and dwindling. There are hundreds of shows that are put on in New York City alone, every year, and much of them go unseen and unheralded. Some of them, rightly, should be unheralded as they are merely vanity projects. Some of them are youth exuberances. And some of them are real and potentially lasting pieces of artwork that are lost in the shuffle. The problem is the audience of theater is not a casual audience. It is a built-in audience of friends, relations and other theater practioners. We are an incestuous bunch, indeed.
But the product isn't the problem, and the product's ubiquitousness isn't the problem. It is that we have failed entirely to use any sort of modern approach to making theater essential viewing to anyone beyond a select few. Then we have solidly promised never to compromise, never to make pieces of "fluff' just to bring in audiences, we curse Disney's newly won Broadway and we look into the prisons, where we think we might be able to do some good.
I propose that we re-examine how to market our product without changing it. To change the audience and raise awareness and create a sense of urgency and focus without, in fact, performing "A Christmas Carol" to fund our production of "Fences."Must market Theatre, not plays.
We should create an organization that represents the Industry of Public Theater, or the Industry of Independent Theater. We can use the model of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, perhaps. But regardless, we must come together to create print campaigns, talking points, representatives, a business model, grant writing for small stages, new ways to approach ticket sales, and above all... a plan to simply raise awareness for what we do.
To target a demographic, study that demographic and do the correct and careful things to cultivate it.
To stop speaking in generalities about theater funding below the Regional level, and do research. Put out studies. How much theater in New York, on a yearly basis, is funded by grants, by ticket sales, from an individual's pockets. How many plays break even? What can we learn from one another about what works?
Research spaces. How do they compare in price? What do they provide? Making that information public and readily available might force spaces that currently overcharge and under provide to renovate or reconsider their fees.
We can define "Indie" theatre by using our research and seeing what truly differentiates Off-Off Broadway from Off-Broadway. Create criteria that separates well-intentioned vanity projects and showcases from professional theater that currently lacks Off-Broadway scale budgeting.
But most importantly, to create a plan that utilizes available resources to raise awareness of Theatre as a whole, to use slogans, logos, advertisement, word-of-mouth and promotions to expand our audience and educate new audiences.
In the coming year, after the Holiday, I would like to offer to organize an initial meeting to simply discuss how this might be acheived. Interested? Able to offer space? Want to attend?
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.