Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Invites To Shows...Are They Spam?

As The Seeing Place is preparing to open LOVE SONG, many of us have a familiar sinking feeling in our stomachs that it seems is somewhat universal when it comes to putting on theater in New York.

Strangely enough, it's got nothing to do with the show.  We're scared to do it, certainly - but I've put my acting career on the line enough times to know that if I get slammed or praised, my ego might react for a little while, but it's probably not going to appreciably change my life.  We may not make our money back, but it wouldn't be the first time - and we've promised six plays this year.  Heck, we just sold a bunch of season tickets to those plays.  So, we're committed. 

What many of us are most scared of is alienating our friends when we ask them to come. 

If I tell my friends that I want them to see my show, then they tend to hear one of two things:
1.)  I want everyone to come see ME and support ME and look at ME and love ME!
2.)  I think of them as walking dollar signs - because I'm a producer on the project.

Here's the problem:  I have to market to people or they won't know about the show.  The world doesn't revolve around me, so we have to remind people that we really want them to come - or they don't.  I just missed a dear friend's show that I was dying to see, because he only told me once.  Surely, no offense is meant when we reach out a second or third or tenth time.  In marketing, it takes 7-10 times for anyone to take notice.  I've found that it's not a much better average with our peers.  We all lead busy lives.  We forget easily.  And in fact, I only come to my friends' shows when they let me know that they want me there.  Simply mentioning it is not enough.  I want to know that they stand behind their work.  I want to know it means something to them.  Why?  Because that means that it's better or I'm going to like it more?  No.  Because I know that they have something to share.  

I know I get confused when I reach out to my friends and get a response as though I've harassed them.  It's heartbreaking to tell someone how important they are to you and be met with, "Yeah, I heard you the first time."  Or "I've already supported you this year."  Partially, I get that response because we're in our fourth season.  But it goes deeper than that.  We live in a commercial city, and unfortunately we seem to have bought into the idea that Art is either a commodity or a favor.  It makes us sad. 

The thing is, I'll bet that most of us are not looking to impress anyone.  Personally, it feels good when people like my work.  It feels even better when people like The Seeing Place Theater's work - and I mean that.  But more than anything, we all kill ourselves bringing something to life.  And then we birth it for three weeks and it's done.  I want to share it with the people I care about.  And after the show is over for the night, I want to spend time with the people that came.  Because theater is (and always has been) about COMMUNITY.

We sit in a dark room and celebrate humanity together.  And then we have the opportunity to come together afterwards and discuss life.  It's unfortunate that the Theatre - and even movies - have become something of a bourgeois pleasure.  And that price is costing us something very beautiful.  The group of us at The Seeing Place firmly believes that the Theatre is an important past-time.  To us, it is sociology without the science.  And that's why we keep our ticket prices so low.  As screwed up as Lenin and Stalin may have been, they understood how mainstream cinema creates a common language for people of all walks of life to come together.  In their case, they may have been speaking of propaganda in film.  But it applies even more to live theater.  There's a reason why Harold Clurman referred to great plays as being "propaganda for a better life".

This is a call to arms.  We need a shift of focus in our community.  We're opening a show on Friday.  We want to share it with our community - especially with those closest to us.  It's not because we need our egos stroked.  It's because we want to share our souls with you.  And we want that to create something bigger than a show you came and liked.

Consider that, when I invite my friends, that it's as though I'm suggesting we go to a movie and hang out afterwards.  The only difference is that I'm providing the entertainment.  I expect that the show is only the first part of our evening together.  And I challenge this community to engage in that possibility with me and with The Seeing Place. 

We open John Kolvenbach's beautiful comedy, LOVE SONG, this week on Black Friday.  When you come, please stay after and crush a cup of wine with us.  How often does a community get a chance to conspire?  I never knew the exact definition of that word until an actress names Rhona Gold taught me.  It literally means:  To Breathe Together.  It's touched me ever since.

What thoughts do you have on the subject?


  1. PROPAGANDA FOR A BETTER LIFE. I. Love. That. I love that so much, that when I go to a show that doesn't do that for me, I get very pissed off and/or depressed. I love that we can provide theater for less than what you can see a movie for in New York. I love the idea of the theater as a place to hang out - we need to take the stuffiness out of it, it needs to be blue jeans and beer, I want people drunk as hell watching my show and cheering me on or yelling at me.

  2. When I invite people to multiple shows in a year, I find myself unconsciously apologizing for asking and somehow sabotaging their opportunity to attend my show. I avoid reminding people about things, and avoid telling people how much it would mean to me to have them there. The thing is that I would love it if my friends told me how important I was to them and that having me at their show would mean something special. This article is reminding me that I should give my friends the same honor of letting them know what they mean to me.

  3. Gorgeous. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! We all feel this way--and I really hope it's not perceived as such on a grand scale by our friends; I hope the vast majority of them see it for what it is. :) <3

  4. This post really really hit home for me. There are soooo many actors who are really actor/writer/producer in NYC simply out of necessity. So many times we have to wear different hats because that is the only the way the show will actually go on. One of those responsibilities is being the producer and promoting the show. It can feel cheap or awkward, or as we said in rehearsal the other night, "douchey". The reality is twofold. One, it has to get done, so DO IT. But, the more pleasant reality is, we need to have faith in ourselves and the work we are toiling so hard to stage. We are doing the very best we can and we shouldn't feel embarrassed or awkward about telling people about it and wanting them to see it.
    I am getting ready to put up my one man show, Halfrican-American, in a few days, and every time I begin a new run of this show, I deal with these feelings. And, unfortunately, being a one man show, I can't really say "come see what these amazing people are doing". But, I can feel confident in the knowledge that I am doing my very very best, and with the wonderful direction of Anthony Augello, will be bringing a very personal and (I believe) powerful show to the audience. It wouldn't be right for me to not tell people about it, and I would never want a friend to hold back a story that they felt equally proud of for fear of looking as if they are selfishly promoting their project. If you believe in what you're doing, share it with everyone you can. Also, remember...it has to get done. So, DO IT.

  5. I just like this post so much. I want to go back to the time when going to a show was the thing to do. It's amazing to me how many "theatre people" don't actually go to the theatre. $100 tickets I understand - we're not all made of money. But for $12? There's really no excuse. Actors watch movies all the time and proclaim, "Oh what a brilliant performance! I want to act just like that." It needs to be the same with theatre. Watching a technician work on stage is one of the most rewarding things I can think of... and I just can't get over the price.

    Let's get this community excited about seeing a show again. And not just for the show... wine, too.

  6. I constantly struggle with this issue. I question whether the show to which I invite my friends will be worth the effort they have to put forth on order to travel in from upstate to see. Even if I were able to be truly objective when considering if the show is "worth it", I need to now counsel myself to remember what a really dear friend just said to me......."It is always worth it..... I am so proud to have a friend who is an actress..... I want to see what you are doing." I must also remind myself that my other friends are constantly asking, "Are you doing anything these days that I can see you in?" So, I am blessed by having some pretty terrific and loyal friends. I think I will have to put that on a reminder note on the fridge! It may keep me from being shy about inviting and yes, I guess, even reminding them about my varied projects as they come near in time. Here's hoping that the numbers of people who feel that a "bad night at the theatre still beats a mediocre night anywhere else" keep increasing. I walk into a theatre and feel the vibration of earnest effort and love.... and I need to trust that many of the people I know feel that way too. They probably do, since they wouldn't have found their way into my "inner circle" if they didn't.

  7. This has definitely been something I have struggled with. As someone who used to manage street teams fro Broadway Shows, it can be hard to not sound like I am "selling myself" whenever I am talking to people about my work. But when I remember why I do theater and the value it brings, It becomes less about support me and more about sharing something. With so many actor friends, and so many projects being talked about constantly, there is definitely an element of persistence needed to breakthrough to people as well. I have totally missed friend's shows that I really wanted to see due to a lack of reminders. One way I do this is through texting. Personalized text messages work great when reminding friends about shows. Let's be real, a Facebook event is needed, but how often do we just ignore them. But even in the way I reach out to friends through text must be rooting in wanting to share something with them, as opposed to "come buy this". Awesome post!

  8. Couple things I really enjoyed about this post. To begin with, I am certainly in the same boat as many people seem to be. Telling friends about a show I'm in is never a comfortable thing for me. Not only does it call attention to yourself, but it also makes them feel obligated based on your friendship ties. But I love how some of the responses to this problem were framed. Theatre IS about community and (hopefully) propaganda for a better life--who better to share that propaganda with than the community that you love? I also love how Rob suggested that it would actually be wrong not to share your powerful story with someone if you feel you're doing your best. And the definition of "conspire"! I love that! Thank you!

  9. When I'm in a play, I always cast a broad net to the various communities in my life. A few waves of emails and Facebook postings. Sometimes I get a great response, sometimes more limited. I think over time people have gotten to expect them from. No one has ever asked me to stop emailing them. My view is that I'm putting it out into the world and the world will respond as it will. I cannot control people's responses.

  10. Thanks for addressing this and speaking my thoughts to a tee.


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