Sunday, September 18, 2011

Of Fall, Hot Tin, and Names Above the Title

Posted by Bruce Miller
Fall is really here. The calendar says we have to wait till Sept 23, but I'm not buyin'. The 2011-12 theatre season is well underway, marked by the openings of Central VA's first comedy of the year (Lend Me a Tenor), drama (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), and musical (Keep on the Sunny Side).

As Lucian Restivo from Stage B posted Friday on Facebook, "it's cardigan and scarf weather," and he couldn't be happier. After the dog days of summer, I'm right there with him.

I made my reservations for Hot Tin and I'm really looking forward to it. It's definitely one of the new season's highlights for me. I loved Who's Afraid last season from the same Rusty Wilson / Firehouse directing / producing team. Hot Tin is a great play--a masterwork--and Rusty's assembled an unbeatable cast: Alan Sader, Laine Satterfield, Adrian Rieder, Jackie Jones, Larry Cook, Dean Knight, Andy Boothby, Laura Rikard, Stephanie M. Hill, and three talented no-neck-monsters.

Susie Haubenstock wrote a great review, and I've heard nothing but glowing word-of-mouth. If you don't have your tickets yet, I encourage you to get them. I suspect they'll start selling out most performances pretty soon.

I'm excited that Rusty will be directing In the Next Room or the vibrator play with Cadence in Barksdale's Theatre Gym next summer.

This coming Friday, we'll open Becky's New Car, a very clever and contemporary new comedy from Steven Dietz, at Hanover Tavern. We're trying something new, and if you have a reaction, I'd love to hear it.

Bouncing off my desire to celebrate and promote Richmond's "stars" with a little more fanfare, Billy Christopher Maupin, who is not only directing Becky's but marketing it as well, decided to place Melissa Johnston Price's name above the title in our promotional materials--not our standard practice.

At first, I buzzed B C and asked him not to do that again without checking with me first. I was worried about setting precedents and all that. But then I decided that this will be a good experiment.

Melissa Johnston Price is certainly a local star, holding a prominent place in the pantheon of Virginia's most revered actors. And the character of "Becky" certainly is the leading role in the play. Why the heck not let the ticket-buying public know that this is a special opportunity to see an exceptional artist in a terrific part?

Sometimes I think we Richmond producers need to set aside all timidity and begin to blow the horn a little louder about Central Virginia's brightest and best. If we don't, aren't we failing to create the public excitement we need to create in order to grow the overall Richmond audience?

What do you think? When we're lucky enough to have a star in a major role, should we put his or her name above the title? You can communicate with me publicly as a comment to this post, or privately as an email.

I can't type my email directly cause little robots that do nothing but surf blog posts 24/7 pick it up and start sending me even more spam. Or so I'm told by our IT gurus. So here's today's puzzler. My address is: b.miller@ the name of either of our theatres followed by the word


--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

While it's certainly an entertainable and enjoyable idea to tote someone local over the title of a show, the thing you must keep in mind is that I'd say at least 80% (if not more) of the general public (or even the ticket-buying public) doesn't know who these people are. While Melissa Johnston-Price is a "name" within the Barksdale and local theater community, she may not be a name to the outside world. Her name over the title may not have much clout other than to make Barksdale feel good about its production. That is not said to be rude - it's said because it's the truth. Now, Scott Wichmann and Jan Guarino, perhaps, have "names" that have been more recognizable to the Richmond consciousness over time - those may possibly sell your tickets. But even that could be debated. People within the theater world know theater names. People in the regular world outside of the theater universe don't know names. Sally Smith in Bumbletown, Oklahoma, doesn't know who Bernadette Peters or Michael Crawford, or Audra McDonald or Sutton Foster is - they just don't. And those are big, Broadway, money-making names. It's a very interesting subject to think about. I say try it - but I am not 100% sure how you can measure if this marketing scheme will actually boost or help sales at all. Creating excitement? Again, tricky to say. But I say go for it and see what happens.

philcrosby said...

At RTP, we've been using actors names and photos as an integral part of our advertising strategies for years. We don't do it all the time -- our recent "Suddenly Last Summer" is an example where we thought an all-graphic treatment would prove even more powerful.

But where we feel the actors' names or pictures will add to the marketing message, we advocate it and we KNOW that it has a positive impact.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Just to throw some more light on my reasoning behind the name above the title.

Stars are not made without press and marketing making them so. Popular? Sure. A star? Not so much.

So why not make stars out of Richmond actors. There are "stars" in RVA theatre. They just need to be billed as such.

And it seems exciting to look at the promo for a show and say "Hey, this has a star in it." Now "star" becomes relative, but it definitely sends a message.

And in a play that pretty much belongs to a sole character, it seems to be completely merited.

We had the season a few years ago where most of the shows had above the title billing:
- Joe Inscoe and David Bridgewater in The Drawer Boy
- Scott Wichmann is Scapino!
- Erin Thomas in The Lark
- Jill Bari Steinberg in The Syringa Tree

I, as an audience member (before I worked in marketing), found it thrilling that I was going to see a show that had a star. Granted, I cannot be accused of being a "regular" audience member, as I am reminded pretty much daily by my bosses that I'm too immersed in theatre to even pretend that, but it sure got me excited to see those shows. And I did see those shows. And they certainly each did feel like they had a star.

There are such thrilling artists in RVA theatre. Well-worth touting.

And since ticket sales are going well...I'll slyly take that as a sign that maybe that (along with the stellar photos by Jay Paul, an incredible cast, wonderful design team, etc.) might be playing a small role in that.