Another Piece of Marketing Advice

Many of us are humiliated, on some level, to be the one who has to sell the thing. The thing itself has some value, and the person who gets to invent the thing has one value for it, the person who gets to create the thing has another, and the person being asked to buy the thing may have a vastly different idea. After all, Warhol’s Soup Cans were originally sold for $100 a piece, and that dollar amount was probably wrong in *everyone’s* mind at the time, one way or the other.

But to be the middle man is a little bit embarrassing. You have to say to the inventor and creators, “I’m gonna be asking for less than you want, and I’m gonna have to tell half-truths and generalizations to get people to buy it for even that much…” Then, you have to swallow your own passions and prejudices, and go to the market and stand on a box and say, “Well, you’ve got trouble! And that starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for … well, in this case, “Play”, and do I have a play for you!”

But it isn’t all crap. In fact most of it *isn’t* crap. I believe that if you’re doing it right, you never have to con or cajole, you simply have to reveal your enthusiasm. The only time you have to lie is if you don’t actually have enthusiasm for the thing you’re selling, if you don’t actually believe in it.

Two things have happened in the last 24 hours that illustrate this point. Our fundraiser last night went off like gangbusters, although we had a hard time actually raising a ton of funds since “anyone directly involved in the show” got to come in for free, and that’s, like, 50% of the people we know. But two representatives of Rabbit Hole Ensemble came to our party and I got to spend… I don’t know, about half an hour with them.

But we talked about theater. Now, we’ve been bouncing around cross-promoting our shows, but last night we were talking about being in love, and it turns out, we’re all in love with the same thing. We *do* want to sell our shows, we *have* to, we’re not idiots, but we weren’t talking about ways we can raise our profiles or get reviewed or listed or blogged… all we wanted to talk about was other people’s shows, stuff we loved, stuff we wanted to do. In the theater.

Now, our company cross-promotes with a lot of other companies, but this special relationship is one that we’ve developed with only a couple of others, where we recognize a love of the same sort of things. It’s an organic thing, we can’t really *make* that happen. And, of course, we still advertise, we still hold fundraisers, we write to our facebook groups… We pimp the shows, that’s the dirty truth. But given a couple of drinks and a cool night on a Brooklyn roof and we drift to how much we love each other’s work, and how much we love the theater.

The flip side of this is the facebook message that I got a few hours ago. Another person in the festival sent a message that I’ll paraphrase here.

“You should come see my show.

I know, a lot of people are telling you to come see their show, but this invitation is something you should separate from all the other shit you’re getting. This isn’t like every other show.

When you see me, off in the corner, thinking to myself, it’s this show that I’m thinking about. This is my heart.

Come see it. It will blow your mind.”

This is someone that I had pursued to do some cross-marketing because I liked the idea of his show. I no longer want to work with him at all. The lack of generosity here, the assumption that most of theater is shit, but he actually loves his play… it’s stunning.

Why do you think we do it? You see, your assumptions about what the rest of the world wants says a lot about your own motivations. You think your show is different because when you go see plays, you don’t care about what anyone is doing, and you have to assume that they don’t care either. So, you must think we do it because infamy and riches are right around the corner.

Let me make this completely clear for anyone who thinks this is a possibility – THERE ARE NO RICHES. THERE IS NO FAME.

And if you don’t respect live theater, then please, make the move to L.A. *earlier* rather than later. There are a giant stack of actors who are in New York, but secretly have no interest in doing live theater, they want to do TV and film. There’s WAY MORE of that in L.A., and your disrespect is a drain on our community.

When you’ve had a few drinks and you’re on the roof of a converted car repair shop in Brooklyn, do you want to stand by yourself and muse on your own greatness, or do you want to hang out with me and Emily from Rabbit Hole and talk about how much we love other people’s plays? Because the drinks and the conversation – that is as rich as you are gonna get here.

All the marketing is pimping, we know that. But we may as well pimp than do nothing. If it’s a difference between selling 40 seats a night and 140 seats a night, then the pimping is worth it. But if you think that we don’t value the work because we spend some energy boiling it down to a palatable message for the masses, then you’ve misunderstood the size of the masses and the importance of what we’re doing. The world barely notices what we do, but to us, it’s the world.

It’s a small group, with a lot of mutual admiration and respect. If you don’t have that, then there’s a whole wide world out there for you to explore your genius. Maybe you can make it on BroadWAY. But the off-off world, and The Fringe Festival in particular, is probably not gonna have what you’re looking for.