Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Not?

In today's NYT, under the headline "Enter Stage Right: Live Advertisements," Campbell Robertson writes: "Seven fifty-five p.m. A moment, in theater, of whispered anticipation, of studying Playbills, of turning off cellphones. And a perfect time, before a performance of "Stomp" at the Orpheum Theater in the East Village last night, for a commercial. "Give me a picture of the London scene," said an actress in the audience on her cellphone, supposedly talking to her daughter in London on the eve of her own trip there. No, to answer your question, there is nothing sacred."

But after my initial kneejerk reaction, I wondered: why not? Theatre isn't church, as much as we often talk about it as if it were. We're used to ads before films -- what makes us so damned special? Hell, why not use this time to promote other theatre, sort of like Amazon does with its recommendations for other books. "If you like this play, you'd also like..." and then pitch some Off-Off Broadway production. This could be the theatrical version of the Long Tail in action, and actually be a way for theatres to support each other. Sure, we could put it in the program, but why when, as Ken Kelling (the communications dfirector of the Visit London program) said, "They're a captive audience. They can't switch channels or change over or walk out once the thing is started." Exactly. To hell with our purity, these are desperate times. Consider the possibilities!


Steve Cody said...

Desperate times call for desperate measures
With the advent of the citizen journalist and the myriad of technologies that have empowered the consumer to decide how, when and where he or she deigns to receive content, it comes as no surprise that an increasingly desperate advertising industry is becoming increasingly desperate.
What else can explain the explosion of commercials we're seeing in movie theatres across the country? Or, sadly, the very first "commercial" to be shown on a live theatre stage.
The nauseating event occurred last night before a performance of "Stomp" at the Orpheum Theatre in the East Village and featured some sort of pitch by Visit London, a tourist organization. Visit London's Communications Director Ken Kelling explained why he subjected theatregoers to the live "spot" by saying, "They're a captive audience. They can't switch channels or change over or walk out once the thing has started."
How sad. How offensive. But, we can expect to see more of these intrusions as desperate advertisers and their ad agencies continue trying to figure out a marketplace that no longer responds the way it used to. One day, they'll wake up and figure out the power of word-of-mouth, "influencers" and public relations. But, until then, don't be surprised if a toothpaste or cell phone ad precedes your long-awaited, much anticipated chance to finally see "The Producers." Hey, maybe they'll even start selling the products and services they advertise on stage right alongside the CD's and t-shirts they push on you after the show. I know I would have been open to purchasing some home furnishings after having seen "Pillowman."
The London tourist company that sponsored the ad could instead commission a short play about the City of London (along the lines of the BMW short film series). How cool would it be to produce an award winning play for the Web or even in the theater about the city you're trying to promote? For me, watching a play (online or in the theater) about something or someone is a lot more inspiring than watching a two minute advertisement before Showtime.

Scott Walters said...

Actually, Steve, it is the theatre that is desperate, not the ad companies. You may find it nauseating to hear ads before shows, but I find it nauseating that people are being asked to pay $100 a ticket, or $50, or even $20 to see a play because it keeps low-income people from an art form that can be inspiring. If some ads will lower those prices, or allow more daring plays to be performed, or stop companies from folding, or promote the work of smaller companies with no advertising budget, or make theatre less reliant on going hat in hand to foundations, then I'm all for it.