So You Think You Can Produce, Part 3: The Press
You’ve got your cast, and now it’s time for rehearsals. I hinted last time that we’d talk about schedules, but in fact, I’d like to move in a different direction. In brief, to sum up scheduling, you’ll need dedicated periods for learning music, choreography, blocking, and then for a sitz probe (sing-through with the band) and runs. Please do be as specific as possible when it comes to who is called to which rehearsals, and bear in mind the value of your actors’ time.
Cool? Moving on.
Something that might not come as naturally as scheduling to people producing for the first time is the marketing. You could put together the next In The Heights and execute it flawlessly, but if no one knows about it, no one is going to come. Let’s talk about some of the elements of marketing your show.
The Press Release
Reviewers and theatre professionals have busy lives, and their free nights for actually seeing shows tend to fill up far in advance. Around the time you’re casting, you want to send out a press release to let them know what show you’re doing, what’s interesting about it, and when and where performances will be.
Some elements to include:
- Date at the top and “For immediate release,” to let them know that they can start getting the word out
- An introductory paragraph stating the name and authors of the show, with a quick summary and, right away, information about the specific performance you’d like to invite the press to attend
- A paragraph with more information about the show itself and why it might be of interest to a reviewer
- A paragraph about the company itself, quoting any past press and highlighting why you chose this show
- Information about the cast, especially if any of them are well known
- Contact information for press inquiries
- Location, price, dates, information about any talkbacks, ticketing website, and again a reminder of the specific performance (opening or “press opening”) you want the press at
- Mission statement of your company
Why have a special night for the press to come? That way, you can have press packages ready with media from the show (pictures, mp3s if you have any, and other background information) and you can also encourage your biggest fans to come and be nice and vocal. It’s a shame when a reviewer sneaks in on a night when the audience is dead—you’d like to think that wouldn’t affect the review, but writers are people too, and they’re as susceptible to social pressures as the rest of us.
Who should I send this press release to, you ask?
I’ll tell you—everyone.
The Press List
Clearly you need a press contact list. You can get started on one yourself by visiting the websites of web and print publications and theatrical news outlets (including radio and television) in your area. Look at the bylines of people writing about theatre already and find their email addresses on the staff “Contact” page. If there isn’t a dedicated person easy to find, try the Arts Editor or someone with Entertainment or Events in their title.
You can also ask a friendly established company if they will share their press list with you, maybe in exchange for a small program ad or something.
Either way, I’m going to recommend something that some people will disagree with me about. I think you should email these people gauging their interest or appropriateness before sending the press release itself.
This is a tip I got regarding festival shows, but I don’t see why it doesn’t apply here as well. Working with the media means building relationships with people; even if it’s their job to go to shows, they’re going to privilege shows thrown by people they know over random shows put on by a random person with a wifi connection.
It can be a simple, short message. Greet them by name, say a bit about their show, and ask if they would be interested in receiving a press release and/or starting a conversation about the show. Thank them for their time, and sign off.
For CMTF’s first year, I personally contacted over 200 members of the press. Out of those 200, maybe 50 emails didn’t go through (this is a high turnover industry), maybe 50 people didn’t respond, and two people wrote back crabby emails (only one of 200 said I should have sent the press release right away; the other was upset that I didn’t realize that I should be addressing his colleague, whose contact information he then supplied).
On the flip side, two people asked to interview members of the staff, one local television station set up a small feature, one printed paper asked to do a feature on the festival, and several publications added us to their “recommended for this weekend” sections.
I think those are pretty good results.
You do want to have your press release ready to go when they ask for it, and you should respond as promptly as possible to any correspondence.
Not a lot of responses? No worries. Some reviewers need a formal invitation to motivate them to put aside calendar time. That’s what your press invitation will be for…but that’s a bit further down the line.
Meanwhile, you want to be thinking about the way your show—and the marketing images for your show—looks. (And sounds). Next time we’ll talk about design, from both a production and a marketing standpoint.