James Johnson | Indy Week

James Johnson 
Member since Dec 30, 2015


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Re: “Resolution: In 2016, local independent theaters should focus on solving longstanding marketing issues

For a couple of years I had worked for an arts and culture weekly wherein the publisher would frequently dedicate his column to chastising local business owners for not spending enough of their budget on advertising.
He wasn't necessarily wrong, but one must consider the source, and how it comes off. For a free weekly alt. paper, which survives off of an advertising-based business model, to publish a story saying, "theatres need to do more advertising," it can't help but sound self-serving. After all, while a theatre can survive without much in the way of advertising, the same can not be said for a free alt. weekly.
Often times small theatres will do shows with the assumption that they will not "sell out," and thus spend accordingly. If the Burning Coal wants to do only shows that turn large profits, then the recipe is pretty well known for most theatres: do family-friendly musicals with small casts and big names.
"Nunsense," "The Fantastiks," "Cabaret," "The Last Five Years" can all sell out pretty easily without a lot of advertising, and all have relatively small casts ("The Last Five Years," which was recently adapted into a movie, only has two actors). But theatre isn't run like a normal industry, where the only deciding factor is what will result in the highest amount of profits. Theatres decide on shows that tell the kinds of stories the artistic director wants to give the community - whether they make all of their money back or not.
I think your piece is very well written and I doubt you wrote this with the Indy Week's bottom line in mind - however, I think there is potentially a disconnect, as to what motivates a black box theatre, and what motivates a normal business.
A theatre can blow thousands of dollars promoting a show and still receive a fairly small audience for it. Or they could spend that money making a high quality show and hope that the small audience they get, turns around and tells their friends, or even comes to the show more than once during its run. I think many small theatres would rather prioritize the quality of their productions, and hope for word-of-mouth, than prioritize advertising, while hoping for a quality production.

8 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by James Johnson on 12/30/2015 at 10:55 AM

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