Time and Place: The Most Important Decision You Will Make In Theatre

Decisions, Decisions

The world of marketing is filled with complex and detailed decisions that require heavy research and analysis in regards all sorts of intimidating sounding topics such as brand awareness, market share and customer relationships. In contrast, there are also some extremely simple core decisions that any independent producer can make to instantly invoke the power or wrath of marketing. The most prominent of which is time and place.

The Right Place At The Right Time

jesterLet us imagine that you are a highly successful court jester who has put together a brand new act guaranteed to have people telling tales of your hilarity all across the kingdom. Your venue of choice for this world premiere act is, of course, the king’s royal court. Most of the humour relates to the trials and tribulations of being a nobleman, which you are sure will go down a treat. You perform your act that night and brace yourself for the relentless tsunami of applause that is guaranteed to crush you at any moment. Instead, you are met with silence. This is the moment you realise that the kingdom was conquered by barbarians last week. Not only are they unable to relate to your nobleman humour, but they really did not appreciate all those barbarian jokes you threw in. They make an example of you by placing you in hanging cage outside of the court and you are left to lament your broken jester dreams.

Being at the right place at the right time is critical. What the audience desires changes very frequently, as does the audience itself. The key to time and place decisions lies in three questions:

Why this show?

Why now?

Why in this space?

If your answers to these questions are something along the lines of “because I really love the script and this is the only time and space available” then you are already giving yourself a massive marketing setback, resulting in having to fight an uphill battle to make the show relevant to the audience. This fight requires a serious amount of time and energy with no guarantee of success.

The trap that the independent producer can fall into unfortunately coincides with their greatest asset, passion. There is nothing more powerful than artists passionate about a project, but that passion can potentially be blinding. Below are two cases where time and place decisions made all the difference: 

Case In Point: The Hot Shoe Shuffle

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In April 2015 a new independent company called Birdie Productions burst onto the Sydney theatre landscape. The inaugural production was to be The Hot Shoe Shuffle by David Atkins, starring Daryl Somers and to be performed at the brand new Bryan Brown Theatre in Bankstown. I was brought onto the show as the lighting designer. The production was a promotional machine, securing a spot on The Today Show, radio interviews, a slew of newspaper attention and coverage on many major theatrical hub websites. The show received a standing ovation on opening night and incredibly positive reviews from the critics. With all of that in mind, it was still exceptionally difficult to find an audience due to the fault of time and place.

The Hot Shoe Shuffle was first produced in 1992 and it is very much a product of it’s time. The show is about seven tap dancing brothers who have to perform their father’s old routine in order to be eligible for their inheritance. The script, the music and the tap dancing create a very solid identity, leaving little to no room for a modern interpretation. The world’s longest running musical, Les Miserables manages to keep itself relevant with universal themes of social injustice and human nature. The Hot Shoe Shuffle is a pure celebration of tap. It meets the needs and desires of an audience from 23 years ago, but to stage it in 2015 may be an out of time decision.

bbtThe Bryan Brown Theatre itself is a beautiful space, presenting a lot of potential and holds a capacity of just under 300. The issue is that it is located in Bankstown, quite separated from the established theatrical hubs of Sydney. The regular theatregoer must put in effort to get there and has no guarantee of quality as it is still a new and relatively unknown venue. The local demographic is highly diverse in terms of ethnicity and according to the 2011 census, almost half of residents were born outside of Australia. The median individual income per week is $377 and the median household income is $950. With this in mind, the local population is probably unlikely to identify with a show about seven snappy dressing caucasian brothers earning their million dollar inheritance. It is out of the way of regular theatregoers and irrelevant to the local population, so it was an out of place decision.

Case In Point: A Quiet Night In Rangoon

quiet-night-in-rangoon-webimageIn August 2011, I became the lighting designer for A Quiet Night in Rangoon by Katie Pollock, produced by Subtlenuance and performed at the New Theatre in Newtown. The story followed an Australian reporter uncovering the truth of the military dictatorship ruling Myanmar (Prior to their dissolution in March 2011). The production was absolutely relevant as Myanmar had only achieved democratic status five months prior to it’s opening and ex military officers still wielded enormous political power. In addition to this, the play’s symbol of hope, Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of the National League for Democracy) had been released from house arrest and speculation was mounting that she would run in the 2012 national by-election. The timing of this show fit smack bang in the middle of this colossal social and political change in Myanmar. It could not have been more relevant if it tried.

So why perform this show in Australia? The 2011 census recorded 21,760 Myanmar-born people in Australia, an increase of 75.8% since the 2006 census. In addition to attracting a hoard of regular theatregoers to a very relevant story, the production received large attendance numbers from the Myanmar community who had found a rare platform discussing the future of their people. The show was an unmitigated success because it found an audience outside of traditional theatregoers through superb timing and placement.

The Conclusion

Choose your time and place carefully. Ask yourself why this show, why now and why here? These simple decisions can set in motion a self marketing machine or they can doom a production before it even opens. It is very tempting as an independent producer to follow your passion and take the first available slot in a venue when it pops up, but think twice before taking an opportunity just because you can.

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts. 

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