Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Video Should be Center Stage in Theatre Marketing

One of the biggest selling points TV Ad Sales reps use (I certainly did during all the years I sold TV) is the ability for a visual medium like TV to convey the sight, sound, motion and E-motion of a particular product, service or event. For me personally, there is not a more thrilling visual medium than live theatre. Next to actually being in the theatre when the magic is happening, the best way to describe and re-create the thrill of live theatre is with video. I always wonder, then, why so many community theatres still rely solely on still production photos, press releases or static program ads to try to generate revenue and interest in their productions. True, video photography and editing is a skill that takes time (and in some cases considerable money) to become proficient at and a poorly produced video can backfire and reinforce the "amateur" stereotype of community theatre. But modern technology and pricing is steadily breaking down barriers to producing intriguing videos for your theatre and other businesses. "Duct Tape Marketing" Author John Jantsch recently wrote about this in his blog entry Making Video an Everyday Marketing Activity.

Video marketing should be an important part of every theatre's marketing mix. Here are just a couple of the reasons why:

Sales - When I go on a sales call for a theatre, I have to realize that the person I'm presenting to may not be a fan of live theatre at all. My first job is to convince them that the resource I'm providing - my audience, and their eyes and ears - can help improve THEIR business, not mine. But I also need to convey the excitement of live performance. This is where video comes in. I will often bring either a projector or just my laptop and show them edited video montages of recent productions or behind the scenes documentaries of the shows we're doing. It's also a good idea to provide some sort of brief performance as well. I have often performed a song from a musical or had our outreach performing group do a brief presentation. That is, after all, what we do. The key is EXCITEMENT! Let's turn them on!

Also, producing short commercials for a client and showing them on screens in the lobby or in the theatre before each performance can be a valuable element in a sponsorship package. Many advertisers may already have TV or cable spots produced in which case , it becomes as easy as editing their spot in a pre-show reel of other video messages. And there's no reason why sponsors should have all the fun. I have produced many video messages for our theatre itself to promote our seasons - previews of upcoming shows, welcoming messages from staff, etc. But again, quality is the key here, no one wants to be represented by schlock.

By the way, including samples of these video marketing efforts in grant applications can go a long way in describing the type of work your theatre does and your efforts in raising revenue to support it.

Audience Building - I started "Call-Back" because I was looking for a way to creatively raise awareness of a show that I was Directing that is not very widely known - the musical "Violet". Frankly I was inspired by reality TV. A documentary series about Boxing of all things. I could care less about Boxing, but the documentary was interesting. The actual Boxing match the series was building up to wasn't as interesting as the stories behind the scenes. In the voyeuristic society in which we now live, the same can be said of any business or endeavor- including theatre (though I hope not). I thought if reality TV shows could be produced about crab fishing, families with litters of kids and boxing, why not theatre? I mean, if ever there was drama behind the scenes of drama - theatre would be the place! And people did notice "VioletBlog" as it was originally called. And now 5 years later or so "Call-Back"is still going strong and often goes a long way to help generate buzz about shows and contribute to ticket sales.

Directing, Lighting,Costuming and Choreography - One of the things I notice as I edit hours of video for a particular show I may be working on is that it's like I'm still in rehearsal in front of my computer screen. Editing video sort of forces me to continue to examine the staging and the movement of the action on stage. I catch things I might not in the heat of the moment of a live rehearsal and I often bring in my computer to share those things with the cast at the next rehearsal to make adjustments. I have found this very helpful and costumers, lighting designers and choreographers can benefit from this as well. Even if you don't ever plan on editing video for any other presentation, I would recommend video taping rehearsals as much as possible.

Cast Bonding - An interesting phenomenon happens when I first engage my casts to stand in front of a camera and talk. At first they are very self conscious and even shy (yes...shy stage performers!). But when they see how that footage can be creatively edited into a fun segment that really is a slice of their lives in rehearsal, they suddenly start to own the process and soon are anxious to create new segments. The cast of "Violet" started to wear funny costumes and create hilarious little segments in character- all of which makes great video. But more importantly, the cast becomes closer in doing this. They see each other on local cable TV and on line and start to feel good about the buzz their show is generating and that people are taking notice. Their friends and families have seen these entertaining and interesting previews and are asking them how to get tickets and they really start to take pride and ownership of the production. These videos give them something cool to refer people to when asked about the latest show they're working on. Check out the latest segment of "Call-Back" - Call-Back: Oklahoma Pt.4: The Top Ten- featuring my cast from "Oklahoma" doing their Top 10 List of Reasons to be in Oklahoma - I think reason #1 says it all!

So get the cameras rolling and hopefully the money and audiences will be too!

Monday, June 29, 2009

New "Oklahoma!" Vids on Call-Back!

The Latest two Episodes of "Call-Back" featuring Oklahoma! Cast perspectives on the show and interviews with Choreographer Alex Tepe and Music Director Kira Seaton. Be sure and check out the cast's "Top Ten List" in Pt.4!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My "Oklahoma!" Director's Note

This is my Director's note for the production program for "Oklahoma!" I'm directing at Huntington Playhouse this Summer:

“There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow…”

How we take these lyrics - the first ever submitted to Richard Rodgers by his new Lyricist partner Oscar Hammerstein II - for granted! But the pure artistry in these and so many other lyrics and melodies from Rodgers and Hammerstein cannot be denied. The images those 8 words immediately conjure are indelible and undeniable. And therein lies the joy and the challenge of Directing this great American classic.

I am so glad to have had this opportunity to Direct "Oklahoma!" It really is one of those shows that just feels right, like an ice cold beer on a hot Summer day. It really is true that the more things change the more they stay the same and here we are again - just as we were when Oklahoma opened on Broadway in 1943 - in challenging, troubling times. And just as it did then, this first collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein comforts audiences and reminds us of the sheer joy and pride of being home, making a home and coming home to America.

But as is the case for every theater producing a classic play or musical, the challenge is to breathe some new life into the piece while remaining true to what people love about it. Every comfortable, old home needs a fresh coat of paint once in a while. Or, in the case of Oklahoma!, in my opinion, it needs its usually bright, shiny coat of paint weathered and aged a bit. Green Grow the Lilacs, the Lynn Riggs 1931 play on which Oklahoma! Is based takes place in 1900 – less than a decade before Oklahoma even became a state – in what was known as “The Indian Territory”. This was land set aside for Native American tribes forcefully relocated there by the government on The Trail of Tears, but soon the government opened the territory up to white settlement as well. And it is those new settlers that are the heroes of ”Oklahoma!”. These people would have been unglamorous, hearty people of the Earth, trying to settle in a somewhat hostile environment. I have never subscribed to the usual portrayal of these characters as fresh-faced cowboys and cowgirls in clean prairie dresses and matching, multi-colored kerchiefs. I have also never understood why there was never any mention of Native Americans in any of the Oklahoma text or the play on which it was based. Certainly Indian tribes had a strong presence in the area (as did African-Americans) and would have had some influence over the culture of the land and its new white inhabitants. They certainly have with this production and so wisps of Native American memories sometimes float throughout this production along side the lovable – if not so freshly scrubbed – characters and gorgeous music we have all loved for so long. I hope you like it.

My thanks as always to Tom and everyone at Huntington. And to the incredible cast and crew – especially my partners Kira Seaton, Alex Tepe, David Glowe and Keith Stevens, thank you from the bottom of my heart. What a clambake! I love you all. But most importantly I send my love and gratitude to my wife Lisa and my Daughters Mikey and Bailey. I Love you as big as the sky!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Technology and Art Can Make Directors Jacks of All Trades

The marriage of technology, social media and theater is truly awesome and makes the possibilities for creating amazing theater endless. This stuff really turns me on! For a bigger-than-life example of this visit Cleveland this July for the third annual Ingenuity Fest. In the meantime,here are a few of my ramblings about some of the ways I use technology and social media in directing. I think doing things like this and so much more can really increase your value as a Director to hiring theaters and immeasurably help your production staffs.

I recently wrote about improving our chances for media coverage for our shows by doing all the press legwork ourselves so budget-strapped and understaffed print and electronic media outlets don't have to. WE have to take the photos, find and write the stories and deliver them in a nice, neat package to local news outlets. WE become the reporters, photographers and editors. Since I'm currently smack-dab in the middle of directing a community theater production of Oklahoma and pulling the requisite hairs from my head in the process, it occurs to me that the tao of "do-it-yourself" also holds true to an extent for our roles as directors in guiding a show from read-thru to opening.

The modern director really needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of as many as possible. Producing theaters are just as (if not more) cash-strapped as the media outlets are. Theaters are always looking to get the most bang for their buck and need to contract people for gigs who truly can do it all - or at least have enough knowledge in as many areas of theater production to make facilitating processes as painless, organized and cost-efficient as possible for the other theater artists handling specific production duties. This becomes even more important as the marriage of technology, new media and art becomes increasingly pronounced. It's not enough to only be concerned with the script and action on stage and leave all the other elements to other artists and technicians. I'm not talking about taking away work from other very qualified designers and technicians. Indeed any production would be doomed without experts specifically proficient in lighting, sound, set design, costuming, P.R. and promotion and more. Just because a guy may be familiar with concepts of flight doesn't mean I want him i the cockpit during a dogfight! But how much more valuable is a leader of a production who has enough working knowledge and hands-on experience with these production elements that they can not only effectively communicate ideas to techs, designers and builders but also roll up their sleeves and do much of the preliminary legwork themselves? This effectively creates the same chances of success as delivering complete press packages to the news media discussed earlier. Directors need to be proficient in multi-media design, video and audio production, media relations, editing software and more. With that in mind, I've been compiling the following list of ways I've tried to incorporate these elements into directing with suggestions for other directors as well:

Set Design - Every director has a mental image of what they want the sets to look like for their productions. But it's amazing how many can't effectively communicate their ideas to tech directors or worse, throw a script at a designer and say "Whatever you think", then invariably complain when the set is built. Delivering thorough concepts and illustrations of those concepts to designers can make their lives so much easier. When the designer has a clear idea of what you're thinking they can then easily add their own ideas to the design rather than starting from scratch and shooting in the dark. First, it's important to know the space. Measurements, wing space, fly space, etc. Then the brainstorming can begin within the realm of reality. There is some user-friendly , cheap (or free) software that makes it easier than ever. I will often use Photoshop to create visual layers of design elements that I can share with designers. Exporting those images also makes it easy to email them back and forth to further facilitate discussion. I also use Google's Sketch-Up - a free 3-D animation application that helps translate ideas into concrete 3-d computer models. Here's an example of my latest Sketch-Up design for Oklahoma:

Sound Design - When I started in theater in the dark ages, there were no body mics or digital anything. Now sound design is an art and more important than ever. Since I've been in bands or in a recording studio since I was a kid I've spent a lifetime plugging in amps, coiling cords and pushing buttons on a mixing board. Software apps like Garage Band or Audacity (which is free) make it easy to record and mix sound cues and effects. Sites like SoundBoard.com offer free libraries of different effects as well. If you do a lot of this recording yourself far in advance of tech week, you not only have a better chance of getting the exact effects you want right away, but you also free up the Sound Designer for bigger projects like mixing mics, orchestra monitors and general house P.A. In the last production of City of Angels I directed earlier this year, I recorded all the sound (and video) cues before we even started rehearsals. Then I just handed the tech a cue sheet and a CD and we were off and running. I talk about that briefly in the intro to this "Call-Back" episode:

Video Design - Video elements in theater productions are more prevalent than ever. Sometimes, they are superfluous and can distract from the action. Other times they can really help facilitate sense of time and place or create a desired mood for a scene. If you're using video, you should try to become as proficient in shooting and editing video as possible. Apps like iMovie are really user-friendly and can turn simple footage shot with a consumer grade camcorder into some pretty cool video cues. Of course you can subscribe to video sites like iStockphoto or Fotosearch to pay for professionally produced still photos and video clips that you can purchase and then edit into cues as you see fit. Of course, tasteful, elegant and simple slideshows are always a snap with user-friendly programs like iPhoto, Keynote or Powerpoint. Lest anyone think I'm a shill for Apple, many PC based apps can do the same stuff. Just so happens, I'm a Mac guy. Again, if you do the legwork and shoot and edit this stuff into organized cues way ahead of time for a board op., life will be much easier.

Here's an example of kind of an abstract video cue I produced using the actor playing "Father" in a production of "Violet" I directed a couple years ago. We shot this in Winter a few months before rehearsals even began. The original recording heard on this video was used for editing purposes only as the music was performed live with the video. I use Final Cut now, but used iMovie back then. This was a case of having the challenge of telling the back story of this musical before the action on stage even began. The challenge was how to depict the horrible accident that happens to Violet without actually doing it on stage. I felt it was important for the audience to see what happened to this girl to set the tone for the rest of the story:

Costuming - I'm definitely not an expert here, but I do try to provide a detailed spreadsheet of each character and what they're wearing in each scene to the person who is the costumer. It's also important to provide them with enough time to provide some simple costume pieces for publicity photos if necessary early in the process.

Lighting - This is a highly specialized art and specialty (not that the others aren't) and definitely should be left to the experts, but any director should know the basics of focus, mood, color (gels), gobos, follow spots, shin busters, etc. Most of my hands-on lighting experience comes from lighting bands, not theater productions, but it does allow me enough knowledge to provide a detailed cue to cue spreadsheet to the lighting designer and effectively communicate what I'm trying to accomplish in each scene.

Publicity & Promotion - That's what "Call-Back" is all about! A video documentary series I started a few years ago that has caught on in this market that is meant to document the process of putting shows on from beginning to end. A lot of theater groups are getting into the video game and that's great. There are so many great ideas to promote shows (see this post). I've already addressed getting shows covered in the press in a previous blog post. The point is the Director who brings these portfolios and ideas to the table is invaluable to a hiring theater board. I always take publicity photos and edit them early in the rehearsal process. Rebecca Coleman has some great tips for publicity photos in her blog. And there's a pretty hilarious blog about what not to do with photos at "...In a Production Of". Here are some of the latest photos I took and edited for Oklahoma. But there are lots of other ways to create buzz. I always tell my casts that if they're waiting for the producing theater to promote and advertise their shows then they're in trouble. Ad budgets are virtually non-existent and volunteers are stretched thin with the bigger pictures of a whole season, not just one show. With social media exploding, it's easier than ever to self-promote online. I always encourage my casts to take pictures and post them on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Tweet (positive) updates from rehearsals, create Facebook event pages and invitations. Here's the latest event page I put together for Oklahoma. At one point recently, the Cassidy Theatre had three different shows being buzzed about at the same time on Facebook. It's free and it helps create a "must-see" type of environment. One other thing I always do is create simple websites for each of my shows. Again programs like iWeb make putting together sites easy.

Here's a screen shot from my latest site and you
can check it out at: www.oklahoma.com and
check out the others with the links in my

There is so much cool technology and so many
brilliant artists out there that it really does make
my head swim! I frequently find that spending so much time editing video and photos and writing and posting about my shows actually makes me a better director because I end up studying the show from every angle. I catch things I wouldn't in rehearsal and am inspired by other things I find in a picture or by creating a website. Very cool. So roll up your sleeves and dive in, explore - but most importantly, don't wait for other people to do the work. I could write forever, but alas rehearsal beckons soon which means it's time to put some of this stuff to work!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hot Violet!

This is why my bulldog would never survive in the wild! Of course, neither would I!!!

Which is it?

Can we please decide on how to spell Theater? Is is Theatre? Theater? Annoying already! I have a theat-ER friend laughing at me because whenever I use a Twitter hashtag for a theat...-screw it..."performing arts"-related tweet, I'm hashing twice...#theatre and #theater. She prefers theat-ER saying she thinks theat-RE is pretentious to which I replied "kinda like spelling "Jeff" "G-E-O-F-F"!! Any preference?

New "Oklahoma!" Vids!

The first new episodes taking a look behind the scenes of the 2009 Huntington Playhouse production that I'm directing this Summer! Visit www.oklahoma.8k.com for more info!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009



The perfect marketing analogy! Love this video! Are you a follower or a leader?

From Seth's Blog today:

"My favorite part happens just before the first minute mark. That's when guy #3 joins the group. Before him, it was just a crazy dancing guy and then maybe one other crazy guy. But it's guy #3 who made it a movement.

Initiators are rare indeed, but it's scary to be the leader. Guy #3 is rare too, but it's a lot less scary and just as important. Guy #49 is irrelevant. No bravery points for being part of the mob.

We need more guy #3s."

Thanks Seth!

Friday, June 5, 2009

"Thank You...NEXT!"

Even though I've spent the last couple of years focusing on directing, there is nothing like the thrill of actually being on stage. But to do that of course you have to actually get your fat ass off the couch, or director's chair and audition. I think it's really important for director's to audition a lot anyway. I know for me it's great perspective to be on the other side of the audition table and I know it helps me a better director when people audition for me. Can't be a leader if you haven't been in the trenches yourself, right? And there's nothing that can put a director who may have developed an overinflated sense of importance (c'est moi?) in his place more than hearing the words "Thank you...NEXT!". What do you mean the entire universe isn't tuned in to my electrifying theater visions and just waiting for me to walk through the door? "Thank you....NEXT!"

I recently had the pleasure of auditioning for the annual open call of professional theaters here in Cleveland. Walking into a room with representatives from 12 or 15 pro theater groups was humbling, felt great and was energizing. We'll see what the future holds for productions next season! I also have had a series of on-camera auditions through my agency The Talent Group and excuse me, but there's nothing more horrifying than that up close image of yourself on camera...like I need to add 10 pounds? Talk about humbling! Fortunately my last audition ended up in a booking as a character in an industrial video, so that's cool...but the point of this is the audition process is so important to what we do that any practitioner of the art should examine it from every angel, practice it, love it, hate it, do it. For me it helps me become a better auditioner and director. Holla!

Brides Will do ANYTHING for the Perfect Dress! Even See a Show!

Kudos to Chagrin Valley Little Theatre here in the Cleveland area for their awesome promotions for the upcoming production of "A Perfect Wedding". Not only are they auctioning off some beautiful wedding dresses donated from a dress shop that's going out of business throughout the run of the show, but they are also offering the set for actual weddings!! New brides-to-be will search anywhere for good deals on beautiful wedding dresses and the silent auction is likely to bring them in...even if they don't buy tickets to this show it could bring in people who may never have walked through the doors otherwise which is planting seeds for the future. Too much fun! From their recent press release:

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre will be offering two very special promotions in conjunction with this production; a silent auction of designer bridal gowns will be held throughout the run of Perfect Wedding, with gowns on display in the lobby of the theatre and at the theatre's website.

In addition, CVLT is offering a 'perfect wedding' on the Perfect Wedding set to any interested couple (opening and closing nights excepted). The theatre will provide the stage and will play any music provided on the theatre's sound system. A wine and cheese reception in the theatre's River Room, as well as free tickets for the bride and groom and a group discount to their family and friends are also included. Interested couples should send a 100-word or less statement on why they'd like to celebrate their special day in this unique way to nancy@cvlt.org by June 5. A three-person committee of CVLT Board members will choose the winner.