Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Just an Observation

There are two reasons that I think I have an educated opinion on this subject.  First of all I have a BBA in Marketing from the University of North Texas. At the time I got that degree it was and still is a well respected business college.  It was my Dad who convinced me to forgo a Drama scholarship I was offered  at the University of Texas to persue an alternate career route if it became necessary.  I am not sorry that I made that decision.  It is after all called Show BUSINESS and I have certainly made better financial decisions than some of my fellow performers.
Secondly, my show “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” never rally found a huge audience because of the difficulty in marketing the concept.  It was a lesson of hard knocks and real life tough lessons.  I was not involved in the marketing aspect of the show, and not sure I could have made a difference, but it gives me an interesting perspective.  
Now when I got my BBA there was no social media, no Internet, no cell phones; the big ticket ads were television spots, billboards and Newspaper ads.  A local reviewer could kill a show with a snarky review, or make it a success with a kind word.  The way things get delivered has changed exponentially since those dark days of education, but the basic principle is the same.  You have to create enough desire to see the show you are advertising that great numbers of people will spend their money to see it.  Advertising still takes money and “going viral” is mostly an accident not a calculation.  

The lesson I learned from my own show is, artistically I had no trouble enteraining the people once they were in the theater.  The people who came to see the show genuinely loved  it but said they weren’t expecting to see that “kind of” show.  They repeatedly said,  they expected to laugh, but they didn’t expect to be moved, touched or brought to tears.  From the marketing and advertising they thought it was a stand up Ventriloquist Comedy show presented in a theater, not a personal journey into the love of a strange art form  and a valentine to our mentors.  It was a funny show, but had more colors to draw with than just an extended night club act.  We were never able to reach the people outside the theater to communicate what they would experience inside. 

Although we were not the financial success we wanted to be, the show did win the Tony Award for “Best Special Theatrical Event”.  That is what we should have been trying to promote: a “special theatrical event” not a comedy puppet show.  I appreciate that the American Theater Wing saw past the mis-marketing and honored us so generously with the Tony.   

I now find myself in a show suffering from a similar problem.  I am not using the name of the show on purpose.  I do not want the Internet Algorithms to send it to the wrong people for two reasons:  1) I don’t want the producers of this show to think that I am un-grateful or not having a great time here in Australia. And,  2) selfishly, they are paying me to perform, not to offer my production opinions.  And honestly, who am I to tell producers, who have been making a fortune running dozens of shows for the last 7 years, that they missed the mark on this one.  

But here is what I see.  The people that come to this show are blown away. They love the show, the spectacular production and the incredible talent. But based upon the advertising and marketing no one knows what kind of show it they are not coming.  Some of the reviewers have complained of the same thing: they thought the were coming to see a show we didn’t end up doing.  
I think the variety show and specialty acts are ready for a huge comeback.  And I don’t think we need to compete with each other as winners and losers.  But how will we entice the public to turn off their screens and come see it live, much more to pay for the experience and not “stream it” for free?  At this point I only know what DOESN’T seem to work.  Maybe we should look to the past for some guidance. 
Here is a poster from variety shows past:
There is no doubt that you will see some guy do an amazing feat of strength in this show.  The art is dated and the concept exaggerated but still it has action, intrigue.  I would be encouraged to see that show.
Here is the front of the theater where we are currently performing:
Never mind that not one of the people in these 6 foot cut outs (on the glass windows) is actually in the show. Can you tell me what they do?  Okay one guy can balance a single juggling pen.  But what sort of act will the others be doing? The guy in the vest? The stolling tuxedo guy?  The lovely lady modeling the evening wear.  I understand this is a new show and this advertising had to be done before the show was cast, but again what are these people promoting?  Even if it was the cast in a similar pose, would you know what anyone did?    
The fact is we have athletes who demonstrate more strength and acrobatic agility in breath taking acts than that strong man in the vintage poster.  We have a juggler who juggles five pins so fast they almost break the sound barrier.  There is a magician who can make cards vanish before your eyes.  We have a quick change duo that does 16 changes in four minutes...  an artist who draws beautiful pictures in sand which appear and disappear as they are projected on a huge LED HD screeen ; our singer brings the audience to their feet with a stunning number. The comic magician does a mind reading trick that literally brings the audience to a laughing frenzy of a standing ovation, and a sword swallower who makes this cringe worthy craft a modern day miracle.  And to keep the audience entertained between this activity are dancers who deliver as much energy and beauty as  anyone.  
It is a show full of action and movement but it is represented in the advertising by  people standing in a static pose doing well... nothing.  
All I know is if people really knew what an incredible show, and what wonderfully talented performers there are in this production, traffic would have to stop to get them all into the theatre.  
As you were,


1 comment:

Lee Cornell said...

Jay, you mention some reviewers complained that they thought they were coming to one kind of show, which you didn't end up doing.

How are their actual reviews afterwards? I would hope that they exude the show was way more than they expected and report that fact in writeups - potentially bringing more folks out to see the performance. Just curious.