Mixed feelings about this. I don't think I'm as disgusted as everyone else is.
I've written about the need for Off-Off to rebrand itself and think in practical terms to reach and audience. That discussion garnered some fickle, light response... the idea of the "real artists" speaking in marketing terms somehow distasteful to some. Then comes word that the Neilsen system is being brought to Broadway and the consensus is that it's another sign of the assimilation of theatre into the (as George puts it here) "masscult."
I'm going to be straight up about my belief that rebranding (or renaming if that makes some more comfortable) "Off-Off Broadway" as "Indie Theatre" is a very good idea. We're quickly becoming a tree that is falling in a distant forest. The term "markets" and "popular" are just ways to say "What people are paying to see" and "Who is coming" and "What do they want to see."
The problem, truthfully, is that the people that use the tools of marketing are, generally, those putting a big red ribbon on derivative nonsense. Does that mean, therefore, that the tools are cursed, somehow cursed, untouchable. That because Disney markets Tarzan effectively... does that mean that those who want to bring a large audience to "Waiting for Godot" should attempt to do so with ancient methods? Just as new media is exploding, and the power of individuals to shape the public's perception is starting to move closer to the power of Gray Advertising... should we quickly switch to dusty typewriters when we could be using Macintosh processors?
In short: I do not equate all sorts of marketing and branding. I do think that using a derogatory term for smaller theatre in NY (Off-Off) harms it in a way that using a more complimentary and accurate term (Independent) will not. If that's the logic of the masscult...so be it.
There are places I think we should not go (like live commericals on the stage) so I'm not an absolutist at all. I just think we need to think practically and engage with the times such as they are.
As far as Broadway wasting tons of money on Market Research...let them. I do not care what they do to determine who goes to see Wicked. Broadway is about as artistically oriented a venture as the Billboard Top 100. Lots of people paid to purchase Ashlee Simpson's last album I'm sure. That does not make it music. We all agree there. Then again, a lot of people buy Tom Waits and David Byrne and Bob Dylan. And so they should.
So, I say instead of decrying the discussion about theater marketing, let's try to keep it on course and keep it honest. Let's identify that Broadway is moving further and further away from anything resembling what many of us actually do... and that's ok. We just need to make sure that in rejecting Broadway's core values (Mamma Mia!) we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. We do need audiences.
If we naively think that the best way to capture audiences is just to do very good plays...that's a slippery slope. That logic means that Mammia Mia is good because many people come to see it. It isn't, and they do. Which means...tada...marketing trumps quality. Terrible, terrible sad truth. Which means if you have something you believe in, you'd better be willing to creatively market it if you DON'T want your friends and family to be your only audience.
There's no shame in the desire to bring people in the room to experience what you have to offer. To offer it to the right people, to people who will appreciate it, you need to know where they are and how to reach them. You have to help them find your play. There are crass and elegant ways to go about this...but it's the reality of an art that was always meant to be shown to a group.
So let's not treat market research as some sort of untouchable evil. It's there. Using the principles of modern media and marketing (perhaps without using awful yellow checklists) might do us all a bit of good.
- 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.