Over the past few years, and notably in the last few weeks, I have seen a number of incredible pieces of theatre and works that I loved being a part of the audience for. However, something wasn't right when I saw them. A couple of the shows I liked the most had just as many empty seats as there were seats with people in them. Now there is likely a variety of reasons why that may be, however I'm just going to address one, self promotion.
When we did Closer last year for Anywhere Theatre Festival, there was a artist meet and greet in the weeks leading up to the festival launch. I remember one of the festival directors, Paul Osoch saying something along the lines of “self-promotion is the most crucial element to a successful show, you need to let everyone know that you're doing a show that you're proud of, even if you have to do it over and over again.” I sort of responded as many people do, going “Yeah, I know that. That's sort of obvious”. However it really isn't so. You sometimes take marketing for granted when you're involved in a show with a big name director, or in a prominent venue, or headlining a larger festival, but when you're doing a show that's just as important to you that's further out of the limelight, you can sometimes get complacent. We've felt it hard before. Our season of Closer last year was one of the funner shows I've been a part of, and the show was well received by most audience members, however there were nights when we were performing to more empty seats than full ones. In reflection, a lot of the issue was that we never really sold the piece to our audiences when we thought we were. A Facebook status or two and an event invite isn't enough anymore. If you want to get people to your shows, you need to give them new, exciting content, every time they log into Facebook, Twitter or your website, they need to see something that they haven't seen before.
When you think you're marketing enough, you really aren’t. There is no limit to the self-promotion that you do. If this show is what you've poured your heart and soul into for the past 3 months, then let your friends know just that. THIS IS YOUR SHOW, and if you're proud of it, let people know about it. Our website updates every day. Monday through to Sunday, and I'm damn proud of what we do. I tell everyone that I can about them and I shouldn't be ashamed to do so.
A prime example of this is a show I saw last week, called Home Front. The show was amazing, yet it was so dissappointing to see half of the seats in a relatively small theatre being left empty. From what I have heard from others who attended the show on other nights, it was a similar situation for most of the nights. Some people involved in the show shared events, and all of that but there was not an overwhelming commitment to sharing what they have worked on for months on end in a process which required hours upon hours of hard work and level heads. They should be incredibly proud of what they had achieved.
Compare this to Super Famous Nobodies, a student show in the same theatre, which was packed for every single night of the show. I loved that show too, however it was not a considerably better show. The biggest difference in the two shows was SFN's marketing presence. Every cast member changed their profile pictures to images from the show's marketing images, they would talk about the show to others whenever possible (even when I thought it wasn't possible to bring it up) and they followed up on people buying tickets. They were intensely proud of what they created. They deserved to be. And they let everyone know how proud they were. As a result, the show all but sold out before opening night. I was lucky to get a ticket to the preview (which was also sold out) due to a couple of no-shows. This is how independent theatre marketing should be done. There is no shame in self-promotion.
Theatre makers. Please. Promote your shows until your heart's content... and then keep promoting! Audiences don't flock to the theatre any more, and you should not expect for people to do so. Musicians never stop talking about their EP's, albums, t-shirts and other merchandise, so why should theatre makers feel as though they shouldn't. You've put in so much hard work. You deserve audiences to come and love your show. Give them the opportunity to do so.