Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Whaddaya Mean? We Only Get to See 5 Minutes of It?"

Posted by Bruce Miller
Many years ago, my dear friend Cynthia Theakston, working in group sales at Theatre IV at the time, came up to me after I'd made some stupid mistake or other and asked, gently, "Now Bruce, what have you learned from this?"

I hear Cynthia's voice every now and then to this day.

There are two things I've learned from my recent decision to add previews to the beginning of the run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:

1. Follow my instincts. It was the right thing to do. The cast and crew felt significantly safer and cared for. And the preview performances are going off without a hitch.

2. Define the word "preview" next time. Richmond theatregoers at large don't know what it means.

I'll estimate that two-thirds of the three hundred or so callers who've contacted us at the box office misunderstood what we meant by a "preview" performance. In hind sight, I should have known this. At least in Richmond, "preview" is an insider word.

You know those five-minute promotional teasers you see during the first-half hour of your 21st Century movie-going experience? Many people today call them "trailers," which is their proper name. People of my generation, however, spent decades calling them "previews." If I'm not thinking, I'd probably still call them "previews" if and when I ever had the opportunity to talk about them.

When we announced in the paper that we were re-designating the early performances of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as "previews," a LOT of ticket holders thought we were going to be showing them a 15 or 20 minute "trailer" of the show, rather than the entire production.

Now we know. We should have defined the word "preview" in the press release we sent to the paper.

A "preview," in theatrical lingo, is a FULL, 99% finished performance of the show being presented, not a snippet. Most folks attending these Dirty Rotten previews tell us that they can't see anything that needs fine-tuning.

Wikipedia defines a theatrical "preview" as follows: "Previews are a set of public performances of a theatrical presentation that precede its official opening. The purpose of previews is to allow the director and crew to identify problems and opportunities for improvement that weren't found during rehearsals and to make adjustments before critics are invited to attend. The duration of the preview period varies, and ticket prices may be reduced."

We've long discussed having previews before all Barksdale productions. What do you think? Should we incorporate "previews" into the schedule of every show we do, and sell them as a subscription option in our brochures?

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of previews because it gives the performers a time to "test the waters" and it offers the community lower priced tickets. It is a unique experience to see a show "not quite finished" and I believe many people would love the opportunity for that. The only con of previews is that it would lower the excitement and anticipation of opening night.

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to offer scheduled previews and another to turn a week's worth of performances into previews at the last minute. This may make performers feel "safe," but I don't think it makes audiences feel that way. It feels kind of unprofessional to me, actually.

Sybel Crone said...

I like the idea, sorta like the old IDRs? Think its a great idea Bruce, Cynthia did you a favor back in the day! Great for the cast and crew.

Bruce Miller said...

As is obvious to everyone, I have my detractors, today's 3:16 PM Anonymous being among them. I agree that there are those to whom turning "a week's worth of performances into previews at the last minute" is going to seem "unprofessional" to some. Nonetheless, it happens with a degree of regularity at our nation's most professional theatres, both on Broadway and in regional theatres. It was certainly not my preferred course of action, as I have already stated. Therefore I understand and respect whatever criticism is out there.

Bruce Miller said...

Wow. I just reread my comment. Please forgive my stupid grammar, and eliminate the words "there are those to whom" from that second sentence.

JKD said...

Yes Bruce! Its a Brilliant idea when you have a run that lasts for over a month! You know you want that extra time :) I would!

philcrosby said...

Bruce ...

Way back in the day at Virginia Museum Theatre, we had one preview performance (Thursday) before Friday opening. Of course, back in those days, we also closed a show on Saturday, struck Saturday night, dry-teched Sun/Mon and threw the actors onstage for TWO 10 out of 12s (Tuesday - Wednesday). So that Thursday preview was often only the second or third time we had gotten through the show without stopping.

It was always a low subscription series price (IIRC less than half any other series price) and it always sold out on subscription (500 seats!).

After 18 years of opening cold after only an IDR, Richmond Triangle Players is adding one low-priced paid preview performance prior to every opening night. We will not be offering it on subscription this year, just as a single-ticket offering. I will keep you posted on how it goes!

(PS, you did the right thing in delaying DRS, no question. Cannot wait to see it!)

Anonymous said...

Bruce, as the artistic director of a major theatre in town, you will never please everyone. But it's clear to anyone with rational thinking that you do the best you can. You and Phil deal with a lot more than the average person knows and having your decisions deemed unprofessional is silly and obnoxious. There is nothing unprofessional about putting safety first. As a theatre professional myself, I think it was very wise. I think previews are a great idea (as long as the performers still get paid the same :). Richmond Shakespeare just did it before King Lear. And if theatre goers don't know what a theatre preview is then... then... I don't have a good response for that. Keep up the good quality work!

Bruce Miller said...

JKD!! Good to hear from you buddy. All you others as well. But it's been too long with JKD, and I miss him.

RosieB said...

I saw the first preview of DRS, and agreed at the time that it was the right decision to delay bringing in the critics. As Bruce said in his blog, it was "99% finished." But Bruce, Phil and Chase know how important that last 1% is. I saw it two weeks later and it was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. The show and the cast had gelled and then relaxed. It wasn't 100% finished, it was 110%!

I've marveled at how Barksdale can consistently produce great openings after only an IDR. The pressure on everyone must be intense, and the shows are often even better after a few performances. I'd think that one or two previews would result in even better openings, and eliminate the "need" for some critics to point out the smallest glitches -- which will certainly be remedied before the next curtain. (Or, are critics sometimes more forgiving knowing that the opening performance is the first performance???)