Our Leading Lady opened yesterday. 178 seats sold, breaking the first night record for a non-musical. Fiddle, guitar and Civil War reenactors at the reception. Baked brie and sausage grits. Artisan beer flowing like … beer.
The Greenville News review didn’t run this morning as it should have, but the Ubertati.com review did. It was mixed, citing the difficulty of wrapping a comedy around the slaughter of a beloved president. Point taken. Difficult to do and difficult to sell.
We talked for a while today about how our philosophies have evolved over the last several years. For my own part, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that if we can’t state clearly how we’re going to sell a show and to whom, we shouldn’t do it. Doesn’t matter how well-written, castable, timely, award-winning, thought-provoking or significant it is. Doesn’t matter how long it ran Off-Broadway. If we can’t articulate a non-faith-based marketing strategy, we should send it back to the kitchen.
Recent example: Mauritius, by many accounts, was one of the best shows that Centre Stage has mounted, but it was a bear to market, largely because of its arcane, pronunciation-defying title and its oxymoronic premise (a thriller about stamp collecting).
So, despite the excellent cast, experienced director, high production values, favorable notices and positive word of mouth, some nights it played to fewer than 100 people. What’s in a name, you ask? In the case of Mauritius, confusion.
Similarly, it could be argued that the catalog description of Our Leading Lady raises more eyebrows than interest. Yes, Mr. Public, it is a comedy and, yes, it takes place backstage at Ford’s theater on the night that … well yes, we do hear the gunshot, but … no, the gunshot isn’t funny, but … Wait! Where are you going?
The season we’ll announce April 20 consists of titles that are descriptive of content and either familiar or evocative. And the premises of the shows are straightforward. So rather than spending our time explaining the product we have to sell, we can spend our time selling it. A scene machine stocked with clearly labeled, attractively packaged energy bars.