I suppose the last blog requires a bit of explanation, now that I’m mostly a producer and not as much an actor or composer. Yes, we are doing art for art’s sake, and yes, we’ve left the profit motive of the larger arts industries behind… BUT, we still want to work within a reasonable budget, and we’re still desperate to perform our stories in front of the largest possible crowds. So, we should talk about how we go about doing that.

In all questions, either business or moral, I turn to the most consistent source of good information, Kermit The Frog. In most situations, I look at my WWKD bracelet and have to conjure up ideas, or work through koans to get a good answer, but when it comes to marketing, Kermit, as Phillip Fill in Muppets Take Manhattan, gives us very specific advice. He wanders in to a marketing meeting for “Ocean Breeze Soap” where they have put forth such great ideas as “It’s like taking an ocean cruise, only there’s no boat. And you don’t actually go anywhere,” only to realize they don’t work.

           Kermit says, “Have you tried ‘Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean.’?”

The incredibly brilliant Tammy Oler once sat down with me to talk about branding and the use of social media, and it was actually thrilling, so most of what I’m going to say I have learned at her knee and then changed for my own uses (to follow the jazz metaphor from my last post). Basically, the two most effective ways to get people to show up to something are to let people know how awesome the *show* is, or to let people know how awesome the *people* are who are making the show. This is true for every artistic endeavor, including TV and movies and Banksy and everything. If Oceans 11 had 11 people with limited appeal involved, there would not have been a 12 or 13, but those people were so incredibly fun and charming that they were able to make several movies that simply DON’T MAKE ANY SENSE. And you still liked them. I mean.. I LOVE THEM, and they seem to have been written by undergrads…

So, wait – let me split this into two sections.

Section One – Showing people how awesome the show is.

We have a built-in appeal as independent theater. Sure, the shows themselves don’t exist yet, so there’s no way to let people know what they’re gonna see when they walk in – but they already know what it’s gonna feel like. The roar of the greasepaint and all that, people KNOW that being in a theater, being 18 feet from people who are spraying each other with blood, sweat and tears, is utterly exhilarating. But more often than not, they’ve forgotten, and they need to be reminded.

So, here’s how you start. As you try to tell the story of the play that people will see, make sure you include how you want people to feel as they walk into the room, and how you want them to feel as they walk out of the room. When you put up your list of cast and crew, all those credits and stuff are great, but they do nothing to give people a sense of what the show will be. If you publish an interview with the lighting designer, or the fight choreographer, on your blog – suddenly people get ants in their pants. Is there something about the venue, a sense of history? Is there *anything* about the venue? I mean, honestly, if you’re materials include the sentence “you have to walk down two flights of concrete stairs and past the bar to get to our venue, but the back room has three couches, so get there early!” then you have, just for a moment, taken me there.

Check out this video from the upcoming Fringe production of “Lipshtick”

There’s very little about this show that makes me want to see it… EXCEPT THAT I TOTALLY WANT TO SEE IT. I feel like I will walk away from that show feeling really good, feeling like I had a ton of fun.

Did you know that there is a show in this year’s festival, Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment, that is being done with tiny matches as puppets, and sets you could fit in a small bag? The whole thing is being done on a desk, with a screen behind it showing the whole show. That is insanely cool – I keep picturing myself in a classroom (in my head, it’s my driver’s ed classroom from Ridge High School, where we watched all the “Blood on the Asphalt” movies) sitting with forty other people, having our minds blown as E.A.Poe walks around on the end of a matchstick.

You can’t reveal how awesome the show will be because, frankly, you don’t know. TRUST ME. I did a show a few years back where I produced it and wrote the music for it and we got an A-List cast of Broadway level performers (all of whom have gone on to great things) and we controlled every single facet of it, and at tech we all just looked at each other and went, “whoops.” You don’t know what you have, even if you’ve got the same cast, same script and same director as the last time – we all change every six weeks and this time it will be different. But what you CAN count on is that the experience of being in the theater, that communal experience, is so natural, so base, so good and so HUMAN  that people willingly show up to church once a week in small towns, just so they can sit with their friends and listen to stories.

I’m not gonna tell you to feature celebrities and to talk-up interesting storylines in the plot and to play up awesome titles or great stage combat or whatever, that’s all a given. Of course you’re gonna tell everyone who’s in it and what it’s all about. This advice is IN ADDITION to that. Remind your audience how much they love being in the theater, how much they love watching real live actors do real live things. Tell them it’s 3-D if you have to. Just remember, we’re all storytellers – you’ve written this story, or you’ve directed it, or you’ve created an entirely ancillary story because you’re acting in it – so tell the story of the show as well.

Section Two – Showing People How Awesome The People Are.

Okay, again, this is in addition to everything you already think you’re supposed to do. Except, I’m gonna maybe steer you in the wrong direction here, because I have a bad knee-jerk dislike of trying to sell indy theater using non-indy theater celebrity.

Follow Kermit’s advice. Tell us who you actually are, because I guarantee you this is not TV. We don’t expect everyone in your show to be fantastic looking, we don’t need our stories to be linear and fulfilling, we don’t want to be told that your show is as good as what we might be doing if we aren’t going to the theater. Don’t bring up movies, don’t bring up TV. It totally deflates everything. Your show costs me $18, plus the two hours, plus the time it takes for me to get there and get back, plus whatever I’m paying the babysitter to do, plus whatever it costs me in lost sleep. Will I be able to eat twizzlers during your show? Can I drink 68 ounces of Mountain Dew, and are the chairs gigantic, upholstered and feature drink holders? And, honestly, is it easier to see your show than to watch Project Runway on my couch, eating twizzlers and drinking 68 ounces of Mountain Dew?

So, don’t do it. Don’t do a Reservoir Dogs shot of your cast, because I know damn well, it’s a live show, you simply can’t do what Tarantino did in Reservoir Dogs. And you’re just reminding me, I have Reservoir Dogs on Blu Ray at home.

Watch this video from Yeast Nation, a new show going up at The Fringe Festival

Everything about this show is insider-ey. The guys who wrote Urinetown, who produced “Silence” (which is moving Off Broadway – another huge Fringe success story), and a cast of people who obviously could be doing daytime TV or better. But they blow all the air out of the thing, they’re basically just saying, “everything you think we want- we don’t. That’s all bullshit. This play is *retarded*, and we love it that way.” They go so far as to have Elena, the head of the festival, take a look at their application and lose heart. It’s awesome. What they are saying is this – “We wrote Urinetown. But before we wrote Urinetown, we had a thousand ideas. We got lucky, but we’re still here, and we’re still insane, and sure, it’s easier now, but still – we’re all in this together. We are yet another group of assholes at the Fringe Festival looking for the next Urinetown. We are lottery winners, and we keep buying lottery tickets.”

Is any of this true? I don’t care. I am now desperately fond of everyone in this video, and everyone associated with this show.

In 2005, we produced a musical at the Fringe festival that featured an actress who had been nominated for a Tony. Every single thing we put out led with the phrase “featuring Tony Nominee…” It turns out that people liked her in the show because she was very ,very good, they didn’t give a single shit that she’d been nominated for a Tony. I know this because another show featured an actress who was a lead on a very well known TV show… and it did not do as well. Not at all.

So be honest. And be loud about it. If you are a group of grad students from Sarah Lawrence and you’ve lived in New York for two years, then I would lead with, “We’re well-intentioned asshats. We all went to Sarah Lawrence – what? YOU WANT SOME?” It’s so much better than releasing a grand unified theory of all of theater and deciding that it’s your private school birth rite to be taken seriously by New York. And if you’ve done something awesome, tell us about that too, but don’t try to make a long resume seem awesome. Believe me, to get a long resume, all you have to do is keep getting old. My resume is about a mile long, it doesn’t mean I’ve done anything, it just means I’m old.

Section Three – Tell Everyone

1) Where did you go to school? Do you have an alumni organization? What’s their email address

2) Where did everyone else go to school? I mean EVERYONE. E – V’RY – ONE.

3) Look at everyone’s special skills. Someone knows Ballroom dancing. Where do they take lessons? Who has the email address?

4) Who else has performed in the space? Who is about to perform in the space?

5) How many restaurants are close by? How about bars? Do any of them want to offer drink specials for your audience? Do they want a stack of postcards? DO THEY HAVE A FANPAGE ON FACEBOOK?

6) What other shows has everyone (see above) done? Who was the producer? Do they have a page on Facebook? What is everyone’s NEXT show? Do they have a facebook page?

7) Did you write to me and offer me a ticket? How about Isaac Butler and J. Holtham and Matthew Freeman and Adam Szymkowicz and Byrne Harrison and Shawn Harris and, oh, EVERYONE on this page.

Eight) Did you invite every playwright you love? Every actor? Every other producer?

(Has anyone else noticed that the eight followed by the parenthesis makes a smiley face? Do they think I’m an asshole?)

There are no kingmakers, and no single thing you do will work. Jimmy Comtois and I were talking, and he said, “It feels like 90% of the stuff I do is totally useless…” and I was like, “Yeah, it’s a mess.” and then Jimmy said, “I think, actually, it’s that 90% of every different thing you do doesn’t work, but you have to do all 100% to get that 10% to work” … and I totally agree with that. If you invite your entire Stage Manager’s alumni organization, you might sell five tickets. But if you have 20 people involved in the show, that’s 100 people. That’s two shows sold out. And that’s totally worth it.