The show ended a couple weeks ago. Long enough for the production crew to have a chance to catch up on real lives and consider the lessons & successes of Shrew. I thought I’d share a few of them – some that surprised me, one that makes me hang my head in shame for being so naive.
One of the small decisions we made for Shrew was to not print tickets, per se, but send confirmation emails to those who purchased tickets and have them print them out and bring them to the performance. Given that we live in the age of the Internet, it seemed like a reasonable idea.
You’d be surprised how much our patrons said what they really wanted was to have a ticket, a conventional ticket, in their hands. Or at least, I was surprised, at first.
Then again, it makes sense. Tickets give you a tangible thing to hold on to – something that lets you feel the anticipation of an event, even without any other reminders. It lets you have that sense of belonging to something special, even before it starts. I am thinking back to when I was young and my parents would take me to Disneyland – the classic “E ticket” that would let me ride on one of the “cool rides“. Even if it took me a long time to use it, holding it in my hands, making sure I hadn’t lost it, etc, gave me that thrill that comes with having a physical ticket.
So, going forward, we’re going to offer our patrons an option: for those who want to continue as we have done, we will send you your confirmation email and you can print it off OR you can request that we send you a ticket and we’ll send it off to you.
Communications or “How to use backstage chatter to improve overall market message”
SM Heather had a brilliant tool that she employed throughout the production. At the end of each rehearsal (for the start, weekly towards the end), she would send an email to the production staff – the technical director, props, costumes, music, etc) letting them know things that had developed out of that day’s rehearsal. Whenever we found that we’d need a specific thing, we needed a set piece to survive a certain amount of force, or costumes that would have new & interesting stresses put on them, she’d include it. When I would say “Remind me that I want to look at X”, that would get included. It allowed the information to get farmed out to the respective areas and provided her with a simple method of follow up – if she didn’t hear from people about the message, she’d know that there was a breakdown in communication and take further steps. It also kept the rest of the production staff up to date on what was going on in other departments than their own. It made it easier to share that information.
Why not apply this same technique to the Producer’s job? Perhaps not on a daily basis, but a weekly message to the cast & crew letting them know what ticket sales are like, what publicity opportunities have come up, etc. And if we’re going to do that, why not also use it as a way to improve the quality of our social media output? Not have the producer provide the media, but provide suggestions for ways to promote the show beyond the “Buy Tickets!” message – seed ideas for blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses, etc. The producer would be in a better position to massage the message and keep up to date on what information was going out for the show. They could even coordinate cast/crew members’ input into this blog – giving a more “insider’s look” to a given production than just my voice.
It would also open up more dialogue between the cast/crew & the producer – more creative minds means more ideas of how to promote the show. That’s no bad thing and gives the producer a larger well to tap from.
Always have a Plan B
Here’s where I get to hang my head a little and admit that I got cocky. As you know, we had to cancel a performance because Polly – our Kate – was very ill and had been in and out of hospital a bunch that week.
There were many reasons we weren’t prepared, but the biggest was my fault – a total lack of a viable Plan B.
In previous productions, thanks to having listened to so many of the rehearsals, if one of the actors keeled over, myself or one of the other stage management crew could step in, if needs be. Two problems with that clever bit of planning – combining someone who could pick up the lines as quickly as needed with a body that could fit in Kate’s dresses. Oops.
I shudder to think what would have happened if it had been Nick instead of Polly – I can fit in Nick’s costumes, but I don’t think many people will ever truly believe I’m a man (and the rest of the SM team were all women and even more voluptuous than myself…)
We’ve come up with a small list of ways to avoid that in the future, while addressing the concerns of having volunteer actors. Everything from straight understudies to having the multiple actors learn the same bits and then have set dates that they’ll swap roles came out. It was a hard lesson to learn, but hopefully, we learned it the hard way and won’t make that mistake again – Plan B – it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law – Murphy’s still out there and Plan B just makes sense.
There were other things that came out of the post mortem meeting, but these were three of the biggies. Hopefully sharing the lessons we learned help other theatre companies just starting out.