This post may skate on the edge of self-promotion, because I am going to be drawing attention to a brief e-book I’ve co-authored; but I have a good story to tell about how this book is an example of the kind of unconventional theatre promotion we need more of. This is much more a “Steal this idea!” pitch than a “Buy my book!” pitch.
The book is called Just the Ticket (http://smile.amazon.com/Just-Ticket-Washington-Quarterly-Entertainment-ebook/dp/B019ZUAMHQ) It presents 12 curated evenings of dinner, a play, and a bar afterwards around DC all during Jan-Mar of this year. There’s also a bit of supporting material to help people unfamiliar with attending the theater or navigating in DC feel more comfortable experiencing the evenings. The primary target market is visitors to DC. A desirable but harder to reach secondary market would be DC area residents who are not aware of the local theatre scene.
We got the idea for the book because we’ve started buying short, cheap, insiders guide books on Kindle when we travel to unfamiliar places. There’s a growing market for this kind of thing. Great places to eat with your kids in Hong Kong. Singles guides to Rome. DC is served more lightly than some other destinations, so we figured we could jump in and sort of lay a snare that might lead some visitors into seeing plays while in town. DC is a fertile place for this because most visitors are much more aware of daytime things to do than of nightlife. A lot of them are actively looking for things to do once the Smithsonian closes.
There are three main reasons I encourage other theatre promotors to have a look at the book.
First, I think we’re on to something by putting theatre attendance into a full date night context. Even though we are asking more of people by suggesting they do three expensive things in the course of an evening rather than one, the format emphasizes the value proposition of an integrated evening out. Many people who aren’t playgoers are partly blocked by not understanding how to fit it into a lifestyle. We’re trying to tell them – “You are a fun, sparkly person who eats well, appreciates culture, and has drinks afterwards.” A lot of conventional theatre marketing instead says – “You are a good, diligent person who appreciates culture and wants to be elevated by it.” I think it’s possible that everyone who wants to see themselves in the latter way is already a regular playgoer. People who want to see themselves as fun bunnies represent a largely untapped vein.
Second, we put a lot of work into trying to emphasize, in our descriptions of the plays, what will be enjoyable about seeing the play. I started with a little bit of a recipe of trying to include a HOOK that would initially keep the person reading the paragraph, a WOW that primes the person to enjoy something specific about the production, a MEMORY that suggests something that will probably stay with them afterwards, and an ABOUT because people always want to know what the play (movie, book, etc) is about. Again, most conventional copy about plays tends to emphasize why they are worthy rather than why they are enjoyable. The worthiness speaks to the audience we have. The enjoyability may need to be shown to the audiences we want.
Finally, I hope this book will spur imitators in other markets. New York doesn’t need this book, because attending a play is already on the canonical tourist’s checklist for that city, but other markets with strong local theatre such as Chicago, LA, and Atlanta might well benefit from a home grown version. Even in smaller markets where it is harder to generate a theatre opportunity in every week of a quarter, a broader cultural evenings out book might be valuable.
Oh, and if you’re coming to DC on a visit or particularly if any of your less theatre minded friends are headed this way, please encourage them to have a look at the book and try one of the evenings. We’ve committed to keep at this for at least 5 more quarters. By then, we hope it will have grown into something we can hand off to somebody else as a going concern. I’m looking forward to what we learn.
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.