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Steal This Idea: Cutting Your Way Through the NEVER HEARD OF IT Barrier

01.18.12 | Comment?


CATEGORIES arts administration, audiences, festivals, locavore, marketing, new play development, new plays, new technology, non-profit theatre, playwrights, presenting, social media, steal this idea, storytelling, the future, theatre festivals, video, watch this

As the founder and now social media manager for Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival, I have recently had the delightful and curious experience of being able to dip my finger daily into the stream of material our 100 plus world premiere projects have created to promote their shows. I asked myself, how can I harness this wealth of creative promotion in ways that can be of value to our national new play community? With that in mind, welcome to Post One of a multi-post series called “STEAL THIS IDEA.”

First, some quick background:

The Fertile Ground Festival attracts projects from literally all walks of life and all levels of professionalism- from a writer who successfully overcame homelessness and the sex trade to a writer whose last piece was for NPR and whose next piece might well be for film or television. It also attracts all scales of producing partners- Portland Center Stage and Whitebird Dance both have fully staged world premieres in the festival, while the PDX Playwrights collective has probably 20 plays that will receive bare bones staged readings over the course of the festival. The common link amongst all the projects is that they are all Portland generated, and they are all world premieres.

Every project is tackling the same problem that all new work faces: How do I overcome the “never heard of it” barrier?

Audiences want to get a sense of what the experience will be like before they take a risk on a new work. The challenge is that it is nearly impossible to have real performance footage of a new work before it premieres. So how do you help a prospective audience member glimpse the future of a work that is still in the process of creation?

Here are five incredibly different, very intriguing ways this year’s festival participants are using video to address that challenge:

Variation One: Go Graphic

Festival Project Waxwing, from tiny and brand new theater collective String House Theatre employed the talents of an illustrator to take audio recordings from their new work and create a whole world of atmosphere. Check it out:

Variation Two: Showcase the Artists

The NW Children’s Theatre and School has participated in the festival three years in a row, contributing world premiere work for young audiences that often attracts some of the festival’s largest audiences. For this year’s project, Rapunzel- Uncut! created by local playwright James W. Moore, they focused their video efforts on a behind the scenes peek at the young rockers who create the ‘house band’ for this hip update on the Rapunzel story.

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Variation Three: Direct Address + F word = WIN

Portland’s LORT theater Portland Center Stage, brings a main stage world premiere of Jason Wells’ The North Plan to the festival, creating a video that feels like a direct address confessional from the character’s foul mouthed and hilarious lead character. None of the language in the trailer is directly from the show, but the result is a pretty good snapshot of the show’s key ideas.

Variation Four: Inspire with the Mission

Playwrite, Inc. is a social service organization that utilizes playwrighting as a tool to help transform the lives of “youth on the edge” in Portland. Their project trailer takes a totally different tack, inspiring the viewer with the effect of the work on the young writers themselves rather than focusing on the pieces being performed (which are probably not even written yet!)

Variation Five: Fake it… Artfully

Portland Playhouse, a mid-sized theater company that’s had three very successful festival projects, uses the real actors from their performance to create a trailer that feels like an artful fake of the real show. Particularly effective are the intercuts of slightly disgusting food closeups that create the same unsettling sense of everyday foods that feel suddenly, subtly WRONG that Dexter uses to great effect in their intro sequence.

One of the things I find fascinating about these examples is that, with the new technology available for video creation, it is nearly impossible to identify these projects by budget size simply on the basis of their video trailers. Each is creative, each is polished and feels professionally produced, and each creates a very different set of expectations for the show being promoted.

What can you steal from this? And which approach works best with your mission and aesthetics? I invite you to share your own samples of newplay video in the comments below.

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