Thesis: Celebrity is one of the strongest social forces in America. Increasingly, though, people are responding to apparently oxymoronic “Narrow fame;” that is, being highly salient for some quality among a modest sized niche of people. Theatre companies can take advantage of this phenomenon by promoting their currently unknown performers as though they were already well known.
I am indebted for this idea to DC actor Danny Gavigan and a bunch of his friends for a recent Facebook thread. Danny posted a question about why local actors’ names are not used in theatre marketing imagery when their faces are. The level of commentary and discourse that followed was, for the internet, unusually high.
The most nearly persuasive argument against including names of not-yet-famous actors is that any additional language on an advertising creative has the potential to distract a viewer from the central call to action – please attend this show. It’s not an idiotic concern. I’ve worked with mass advertising before. Clutter in many circumstances does depress choice. However (as I’ve written previously) for art theatre, mass advertising is a less and less productive tool. Most of your communication should be directed to people with whom you already have some connection and plan to have a connection into the future.
Jason Schlafstein, of Flying V Theatre, brought into the discussion the idea that including the name of an unknown who you want to work with in the future is essentially an investment. You are teaching prospective and actual audience members that performer’s name. Do that a few times over a few years, and with your target audience, you may help that performer achieve a narrow fame that you can harvest as a draw on future productions.
If including actor names in your imagery is the only thing you do to teach audience about your stable of go-to actors, you probably won’t make much headway. However, as one tactic in a broad strategy to build relationships and admiration between your artists and your audience members, it could be a significant contributor.
How else can you create and harvest narrow fame in your operations? Oh, and might you get better work out of people if you were part of making them feel more valued?