Monday, May 05, 2003

People Who Are Not Afraid

I watched the Boston University Production of Noel Cowrd's Hay Fever this past weekend. The set was
outstanding. The play is tour deforce of wit and manners, or, as the tagline on the marketing says,
"very bad manners." The program indicated that Noel Coward wrote the play in three days, and this was
the subject of a good amount of talk in the seats around me as to what a genius he was. However, as I
watched the play with great delight, the thought occured to me that it was not neccessarily a well-constructed
play, although it did have all of the trappings of such. The genius of the play, indeed of most of Coward's
writing, lies in the fact that he unashamedly courageous. He is not afraid in the least bit as he writes
away in a fever mode.

A recent Broadway Revival of Private Lives showed that people really have to work to make
serious of his plays. His works are a fresh breeze, and that is not a criticism at all. Remember
that works of genius defy the commercial conventions and go on to success. His light and airy
farces and his razor wit and dialogue will survive in productions probably forever, when, on the
surface, they should probably not have outlasted their original run.

Every play and song Noel Coward wrote, he wrote as if it was his last, jamming nuances, ideas
and melodies, and characters into them as if he were about to expire and needed to get it all out.
"Risk your reputation every time you write a play, " is advice I read recently. Noel Coward is a man
utterly confident in his talent, and his right to be writing and composing.

Paula Plum did a fabulous job as the matriarch of the Bliss family, and even though she is not a singer,
she did here best to soldier through the song required of her. It made me a little saddened that Mrs. Plum,
who is supposed to be Boston's shining star, diva, grand dame, is not able to deliver a Noel Coward song
with suitable panache.

The young actress playing the daughter Sorrel, was a bright and shining example for the BU Theatre Program.
if she does not go on to great success, I would be very surprised.

Friday, May 02, 2003

A Letter of Advice

I wrote this response to a playwright who had written in to Larry Stark's site about how the press was not
coming to see his play, and that it was resulting in poor ticket sales.

Hi Brian,

I am trying to make it to see your play. It sounds great. But really my letter is an open offering of advice
from one who has been in your position.

First, I would like to officially welcome you to the world of the smaller theatre producer here in Boston.
You have received your baptism by fire.

I want to thank you for the letter to Larry and tell you that many of us have gone through what you are
going through right now. All of the press releases, all of the calls to Arts sections of papers. I heard
of one company who finally succeeded in getting the theatre reviewer on the line, only to be told very
coldly, “Listen, I don’t know how to get it through your head, I Am Not Coming To See Your Show!”

Wear your scars proudly and soldier on. You are talented and nobody has a right to take that
away from you. This town is thrilling to me because we are still, somehow, able to mount productions
through independent means against impossible odds and an almost vengeful press.

The one thing I will impart to you, and to other theatre companies who want to listen is this:


Now, this is not to say that a good Globe Review will not bring people to the theatre. It will, undeniably.
However, you always must think…What if I get a bad Globe Review?

I know you say that the press had brought you “nada” on the tickets, but I guess my
question is are you playing to empty houses?

If you are playing to empty seats the next questions follow:

How many people are in your cast?

How many people are in the crew?

How many Brothers and Sisters do all of you have?

How many Aunts and Uncle’s do you have?

Do you attend a church or place of Worship, and how many parishioners or people attend there?

How many people do you work with in your day job?

How many amateur baseball leagues are around?

How many people are in your neighborhood?

How many people are in the neighborhood around CWT?

In short, are you honestly doing everything you can be doing to make sure that the seats
are filled?

I know where you are, believe me. I can remember being involved in shows with casts of
larger than 10 people and playing to virtually empty houses on opening weekend. It is
really easy to blame the lack of press for this, but you have to wonder why 10 people
can’t get at least a few rears in the seats, if not a sell-out weekend.

Needless to say, I have learned my lessons. When we have a show going up, we
do nothing but hound friends, family, co-workers, fellow worshippers and theatregoers
about the show for months ahead of time. We all but dial the phone for them when they
make reservations. One theatre company I know went door to door in the residential
area around where they were performing to drop off flyers and tell people about their show.
It paid off in a big way.

I promise you that each time they come to one of your shows, your audience will need
a little less arm-twisting. Best of all, they will bring friends. You need to build an audience,
just as the bigger theatres build subscriber pools. People think, “If I could only get the
reviewer here.” As if they know for sure that they will receive a good review. If you are
going to live by the press then you are going to die by the press. The smart thing is to
start building an audience that will be able to support you when those reviewers do decide
to start coming.

Do not fall into the dangerous thinking that somehow you are not a serious artist or a
successful playwright because you cannot get scores of strangers to inexplicably want
to travel to Charlestown, fight for parking and work their way around the narrow streets
to see your show. However, I will say that if we cannot get family, friends, roommates,
office mates and the like to come, then we are not serious entrepreneurs or successful
businessmen and women.

I also agree with you on another point. We need to keep working towards doing full- length
plays that will originate here in Boston. However, I will take issue with you that you and
say that you are not the only one who is putting on original full-length plays. You are not
doing anything so unique that it is deserving of more or less attention than anybody else’s work.
If you want to be a producer as well as a playwright then you will take the advice I am offering you.
If you are just looking to score as a professional playwright then I would advise you to start
marketing your play away. Margaret Edson sent her play Wit to every theatre company in
the country and only one decided to produce it. It went on to win the Pulitzer prize.

Maybe consider taking the show on the road to a Fringe Festival or to another city.
From my experience, you can walk away with a nice review from a major paper in
another city, and then send that on to the Globe or the Herald and they will take notice, believe me.