Here is a story I heard. I am unsure if it is true but I choose to believe it. My favourite playwright, Edward Albee is being interviewed. The journalist is writing a preview for his new play ‘The Goat’ or ‘Who Is Sylvia.’ The journalist asks can you describe the play in 10 words or less. Albee’s reply is quick and taut, ‘If I could do that, I wouldn’t have written the damn thing.’
I like this anecdote for so many reasons. It perfectly sums up my own responses to trying to contain a piece or sum it up. For a good work of art, an intricate creation, this is an impossible task and one I’m not envious of others for trying.
This is my understanding of marketing. A difficult and slippery job. How do you sum up a show and all the myriad of reasons to see it? Can you take the spectrum of a play and master it in one brush stroke? How do you entice an audience to the work in one image, a blurb or a tweet?
I don’t know if there is a theatre maker in the country who hasn’t once looked at some piece of marketing and thought, ‘this is rubbish, I could do a better job.’ I know I have. But reflecting now. I’m sure I couldn’t.
Artists are completest. They don’t go into an art gallery look at the postcards for sale and say, ‘I get the picture.’ Yet this is what we ask of our marketeers. They get a show title, maybe a script. If they are lucky some ongoing dialogue with the busy director and even on rare occasions the designer. But until the show is made, all the decisions haven’t been taken. The canvas is still only a flat sketch. This is what marketing departments have to go on.
Alongside this, we put our marketing departments in uniquely difficult positions. Theatre marketing is the servant of two masters. The artist and the public. Other products bend to public perception, to deliver what the public wants to see. An artist’s job is to jostle, challenge and provoke trough entertainment. An artist will not always bend the knee to the will of the people.
Even writing that last paragraph makes me realise another layer of difficulty. So now we have a marketing department asked to sum up a piece of art while it’s still in an embryonic form while conveying it pleasingly and excitedly to the public. As if the will of the people is one universal voice. ‘Yes, we like blue’ it all says at once. As if it isn’t a whole spectrum of personalities and quirks and tastes. You can only please some of the people some of the time and under these circumstances that moment of pleasure at an image, a blurb or a tweet is a minor miracle.
So, I will try to take a pause the next time I bemoan the size of a marketing department and the easiness of their job. Still, a rubbish image is still a rubbish image. But under the circumstances, could I really do any better?
Imagery found online from 5pound theatre production of 'The Goat.'