The theatre community in New Orleans can no longer bemoan the lack of press in town.
Ted Mahne, David Lee Simmons, Doug McCash, Andrew Adler, Alan Smason, Tyler Gillespie, Philip Yiannopoulos, Brian Sands, Dean Shapiro and myself are all covering theatre in one way or another on a regular basis both in print and online.
There was a time when something like Zanna, Don’t! getting coverage would have been a long shot at best. Now, it gets a feature story and two reviews.
And that is a good thing. First of all, it is a very good production. Second, given that The Tennessee Williams’ Fest is going to get a lot of print in the coming week, Zanna, Don’t! needs it so as not to disappear. Finally, Christopher Bentivegna’s production boasts a lot of talent many regular theater goers are not familiar with seeing, and without coverage, they might never be seen.
Those three points are the heart of what healthy theatrical coverage should provide. It should point to quality work, give that work a chance to find an audience, and introduce those who follow the art to new trends and faces. That is a three-legged-light-stand that illuminates a building narrative.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what is missing from the list of aforementioned performance journalists.
There are no women or persons of color.
Now, maybe that situation will rectify itself in the coming year on its own, but like the initial coverage problem, do not hold your breath waiting for it. If you want to see more diversity both on the stage and off, you’re going to have to pressure some of these institutions to come up with solutions along with offering fixes of your own.
But I think we can all agree that is a longer conversation for people with more insight and qualification than me.
What I want to focus on today is the responsibility of theatre artists in what is hopefully a genuine Spring of performing arts’ coverage.
Press Releases, Kits and Fliers: It all begins with your press release. Before including your two-page bio of how you studied with a strange shaman in Lithuania or your spellbinding work in Lend Me A Tenor at some Mississippi community theater, how about you start with place, date, time, price and contact info?
I know that sounds obvious, but I think I speak for my critical brethren when I tell you it must not be. I have had to pour over emails, stock cards and posters in search of at least one missing item crucial to knowing where I should be and when I should be there. Part of my job on a feature story is to list necessary info your show, and when you couldn’t bother to put it front-and-center it puts me in the foulest of moods.
Yes, I am a smart guy, and I do eventually suss those things out. But the time I spent looking for that has taken away time that could’ve been used putting those nice finishing touches on your preview piece.
I will clarify by way of a little story.
I get two press releases. One is a clean document that would make Sgt. Joe Friday happy, and the other is a self-serving mess about the staggering genius responsible for what they are sure will be The-Most-Important-Work-Of-The-Century-Of-The-Week. But it lacks the matinee times, box office hours and the ticket prices.
Who do you think is getting the closer look?
Art: Early in the process, take pictures that communicate the energy of your show, make sure they are at least 1 MB in size, and present plenty of options from which editors can choose.
Keep three things in mind.
First, print publications hate using the same photo twice. So, just because you sent a publicity shot for your feature story does not mean you are covered for a potential review. There are considerations for laying out the paper or online site that have nothing to do with you. Rather than trying to force your one image on an editor, give them choices.
Finally, do you really think it is a good idea to give three different publications the same photos?
Figuring Out How Your Piece Speaks to Community: You are wonderful, and you are talented.
You are not enough.
Unless you are someone who has built a sizable audience and has a sterling reputation for first-rate work, you are not news unto yourself. And interestingly enough, those sizable-audience-sterling-rep people I am referring to very rarely make themselves the story.
Those people ask themselves this very important question.
Why would anyone in this town want to see this?
Now, you should be able to answer that reflexively. After all, you didn’t pick it just to serve your ego, did you? You must’ve seen something in the work that you felt had to be communicated to a wider live audience.
That answer is your pitch to the press. And you should be thrilled to hear that, because I know you took the time to write out the reasons for the production’s relevance to its potential audience.
Of course, you, yourself and you might just be enough to sell the show. I mean, why would anyone want to cover Dita Von Tease in April with you taking the stage in the same month?
Accepting That Coverage Is Earned Not A Right: We’re not your friends, enemies or publicists. We’re the press. We gravitate towards the action, bite the hands that feed us, make heroes, drop people from great heights, and love a good underdog story.
Sulk, pout, and stamp your feet all you like. It won’t make you news. Being news is not your due or your birthright.
Nor is it an honor or a gift bestowed.
It’s either news or it isn’t.
Zanna, Don’t! proves a good model here. I decided to pursue the story, because it had been created by the same people who had done Evil Dead: The Musical. That effort had been a nice little hit and held the promise of more good work to come from its creators. The show itself had never been done before, fit the space, and seemed to have a potentially built in audience who might not know about it.
That accumulation of factors made it something newsworthy.
Furthermore, their press release and publicity material was exactly how I suggested you lay yours out. They made it easy to pursue.
Tell you what… build your audience, spend a little on marketing, and focus on creating quality work. Keep doing that, and you might find we come to you.