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.

Actors As Dickensian Urchins

Actors!

Echoing yesterday's chatter about the unpaid American actor, The Stage's Mark Shenton—A British person!—complains that to not pay actors a living wage, even in Fringe productions, is terribly unfair. Setting aside the fact that there are many actors on this side of the Atlantic who would be happy to get any wage at all, no matter how deadly, there is something about his argument that seems too simple. Let's take a look, shall we?

But another actor friend has also suggested to me that, as long as there are theatres that don’t pay actors a living wage, she won’t be going to see shows at them. She’s going to withdraw her support as an audience member. And maybe that will force those theatres to examine their business models again.
They are sustained by actors who surrender their rights to be paid at the first audition, and audiences who subsidise the theatres by still buying tickets for them. It will only change if both the actors and the audiences behave differently.

Dust off your red flags! Stencil out a placard! Have your set designer draw up plans for a barricade! We're going on strike, dammit. Or, alternatively, we could gather up all of our magical American money, flit over to England, and take advantage of the British actor's apparent willingness to debase himself in exchange for a pat on the head and a bit of porridge. Want to cast Newsies or Oliver? Just hang out a sign advertising free red wine, and you'll have dozens of adorable little mongrel thespians at your door, dressed in super-classy English rags.

What Shenton doesn't point out is addressed beautifully in the comments, by a couple of fringe-level producers who chime in to remind him that, on productions where the actors are paid badly, the producer is usually paid worse. Says Free Will:

When you consider that the hire of a fringe theat can cost up to 500 a night (the unscrupulous venue I used actually charged us 400 just so we could get into the theatre to have a dress run 3 hours before we opened) the sad fact of the matter is that only a rare few shows that go onto the fringe will take enough money to cover production costs never mind raise enough to then pay everyone involved a good wage and leave the producers with enough to break even.

That's £500, or eleventy-million dollars. As much as I hate seeing actors let themselves be taken advantage of, I feel for the small producer. Everyone here is losing money and time—as long as they lose it in equal portions, it's hard to complain about unfairness. The real lesson here is that anyone who wants to make money off the stage should start by owning a theater. A more artistic ambition consigns one to life shoveling coal beneath the Barbican, or however it is British actors spend their time. (I could write a How-To Investment manual called Whatever You Do, Don't Be An Actor. It's going to be very short.) 

The last nifty bit comes from the second commentator. I didn't read any farther than that, because mine is a go-go lifestyle, and I have quite a bit of sitting about planned for the rest of the morning. "The alternative is the US model where Equity actors are forbidden from working in non-Equity shows on pain of expulsion from the union," says Robert Shaw. "The US Equity model is sterile and oppressive; to art, to innovation, to risk-taking and to its members. It's definitive proof that this is not the way to go."

English commentators are much more intelligent and articulate than the American variety. And, wait—Robert Shaw? That guy knows what's up.

Mmm. Acting.