Ok. So I’m one of the founders of a theatre group more or less based in my home town. Truthfully, I’m the least experienced of this group. We’re a bunch of community theatre enthusiasts who have decided to start our own theatre group. Together we’ve had a few critical successes, but we wanted some autonomy. Most of our shows ended up with a modest surplus of cash with only one production that was well executed but poorly attended. The next show is largely funded by the receipts of the previous show.
Together or in groups we’ve done Proof, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Murder Room, Beets, and Love letters. Last fall I was in Room Service. We’re starting to accumulate a bit of experience. Luckily there have been no disasters.
What does it really mean to be a board member of a theatre group? It means that you are a producer. It means that your main purpose is to find and allocate resources so that others- sniff, sniff– can perform. As a board member you find out what it really means to be a producer of a show. It’s a lot of work.
So here is the deal. We have two productions scheduled, one at a very nice municipal theatre next January. The question before us is this- how do you marshall resources and staff willing to work for free to put on a good show? Yes, we have 6 board members who are also actors, writers, and directors. But we can’t do everything. We need people for props, costumes, sets, and makeup. We also need someone to do lighting and sound. Possibly two or three of us may be in the show with bit parts.
In show business, there are several criteria for success. Obviously there is critical success. Everyone wants to be part of a great show. We’re obligated to provide a nights entertainment in exchange for tickets. So, we need to snag some good actors and a director up to the task of directing upcoming Neil Simon production. Fortunately, we have an experienced director who has contacts in the local network of actors. So, with some luck the audition will be well attended with prospective actors.
But beyond all of the handwringing about production value, what matters most to the producers is that we put butts in seats. We could put on the best performance in history, but without an audience, it’s all a silly exercise.
The question arises, then, as to how does one get the message out? We recently learned the expensive lesson that newspaper advertising is highly unreliable. A good writeup in the local entertainment insert can be very helpful, though. But the staff writers have to see a compelling newspaper story in order to do a good writeup. So, if you’re doing a Neil Simon play, one that has been done many, many times, how do you stir up the excitement?
Well, you have understand who your audience is and what they respond to. Who attends plays, anyway? In the case of community theatre, there is a substantial reservoir of blue hairs and the Q-tips who love to see a show. You know, retired people. So then, how do we get the message out to the retired folks? This is the nut we have to crack in the dog days of summer. Who is willing to go out on a January night to see a show?