Two Non-Terrible Theater Promo Videos

The inimitable Howard Sherman pointed out today that theater companies are about a decade behind when it comes to using Internet video to promote their show. Unasked-for interviews with cast and crew, slideshows of production stills, and gruesomely tedious humor videos are, sadly the norm for this kind of thing. It really should be no surprise that theater people don't always get video. If they did, they would be working in Hollywood, making grown-up money. But, Sherman points out, those who are lost in front of an editing bay should really hire someone who knows what they're doing.

I liked this part:

Let me digress for a corollary story. In the mid-1980s, when I started working professionally, every company heard that they needed to get into “desktop publishing,” a means by which they could create all kinds of printed materials without resorting to waxing machines, t-squares and razor blades to create print-ready mechanicals. All they needed was one of those snazzy new Macintosh computers (PCs were woefully behind in this area) and a piece of software called Pagemaker. The result was, for a few years, a rash of the worst-designed documents you’ve ever seen. What no one seemed to catch on to was that desktop publishing was simply a new set of tools – you still needed a designer to operate it.

I can think of two genuinely clever theater promo videos. Just two! And I watch lots of videos—they're a premier way of using the Internet to avoid doing actual work. The first is from earlier this year, when Qui Nguyen's Agent G was playing at the MaYi Theater Company. Qui and the Vampire Cowboys did a series of videos showing Qui annoying the hell out of David Henry Hwang. They were short, funny, and the last one featured the kind of excellent violence for which I so love Qui's work.

See? Violence! Wow!

Even better were the widely circulated videos of David Furr and Santino Fontana, of Roundabout's 2011 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, reading quotes from the Jersey Shore in costume and in character. You've probably seen it before. It's worth watching again.

So why did the second video draw over a million views, when Qui's didn't crack 1,000? Well, as funny as the sight of Hwang on Nguyen violence is, it's funny only to a segment of the theatergoing population—which means an infinitesimal sliver of the population at large. Just because your video isn't terrible doesn't mean anyone will watch it. The viewer needs a reason not just to laugh, not just to remember it, but to force his girlfriend, landlord or cat to share in the fun. So, to sum up:

Angry playwrights = funny. 

Fancy people saying dirty things in spiffy costumes = gold.