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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.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Richard Foreman and Branding

I think George Hunka and I may have finally found a place we meet regarding Richard Foreman. A lightbulb just went on.

George has noted that, despite some misgivings that have been expressed about whether or not certain theatre (Richard Foreman explictly) is inclusive or elitist, Foreman happens to pack his runs with audience. On Theatre Ideas George notes, quite rightly, that Foreman must be doing something right.

And I contend that it is... branding. That Foreman is a New York City brand, whose posters can be seen covering the city whenever his productions are on the way, which is every twenty minutes. They cover the walls of any available surface, and they have a distinct look. One that says "Enter here, all ye wacky New York Theatre Artists and Downtown Scene-sters. I am Foreman, and I am ubiquitous." He promises a "Richard Foreman experience." His name is his Brand.

Note the posters above and you'll see that Foreman's name is prominently displayed. Also, there is a consistency to the style and iconography. This is the epitome of branding. Ask any college student wandering around NYU who Richard Foreman is, and what his next show is, and they'll at least try to remember what they read on one of his posters. They are aware of him, and that is how he maintains his audience. Image, in a nation without state funding of any consequence, matters.

I would like to add that this is not a judgement on the quality of Foreman's work, which is unique and an acquired taste and certainly valuable. This is to highlight that an artist as bizarre and unique as Foreman advertises, and advertises like no other theater producer/director/writer in New York does.

I stand corrected therefore. We can all learn a tremendous amount from him.


Adam said...

I have never seen one of his posters. I mut not be in that part of town enough.

Freeman said...

Worthy of note


Devilvet said...


I would go a little further than just branding.

Let's not forget that of the original 60's and 70's avant garde, Richard Foreman is (I think) the only one who has been producing consistently (i,e, 1 show a year for maybe 2 decades?), in the same venue (St. Marks), with reasonable ticket prices (15-20 dollars as opposed to Robert Wilson's 75 dollar BAM appearences)

The Brand helps, but all these other factors are equally important and have helped Foreman generate years worth of downtown word of mouth.

Devilvet said...


Don'y know if you ever look back but do you find any of points valid?

I'm not trying to shoot holes into your brand theory, just want to state that it is only one leg of the table so to speak.

Freeman said...

Hey there,

Yes and Yes. I agree that Branding is not the sole executor of the estate, and it's not even something I would LIKE to think of as important.

But before we say "Branding isn't the only thing we could do" I'd like to think about how often we fail to do even that. It's easy to look at one thing and say "Yes, but there's more we could do" before we say "How could we simply accomplish that one goal?"

I use Foreman as an example of a brand. The Foreman Brand. Built through years of exposure, yes. Like most enduring brands. But a Brand Nonetheless.

I am very aware that to a lot of people I sound pretty cynical and clinical when I talk this way. But one thing I avoid saying is "We should change theatre or do theatre 'better'."

I have a lot of opinions about theatre and I have a particular way I like to see it and work on it myself. But in the end, that's up to me and that's what makes my art unique. Or as unique as I can make it.

To help the broader theater community, I do believe we need to think about methods of drawing in audiences, of interesting them, and that means thinking outside of the academic placenta and into, damn it all, the market.

Devilvet said...

I hear ya about the market talk.
How ever you need to be able to tell me what you do as an artist specfically and uniquely.

YOU need the brand. Not the downtown scene. I think the posts are all bleeding together into one big uber post in my head. I'll stop commenting here and stick to more recent posts for me comments and to elaborate further if you wish.

Jamespeak said...

In our online dialogue a few years back, Mac Rogers pointed out that posters for Richard Foreman's posters were "the ultimate example of masterful branding matched to highly personal, non-pandering content." He hit the nail on the head, that Mac...


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