Blog Article / FringeReview.com / Writing: Journalism

Public relations in theatre

As most of you are no doubt aware, part of my various jobs is PR for various theatre companies, theatre-related applications, etc. I was having a long, drunken chat with a friend recently about theatrical PR, and there were a couple of sticky points:

1)      How can you work as a director, reviewer and PR man? Aren’t there too many overlaps?
2)      How can you sell a show you’re not that involved with/not passionate about? Won’t someone who’s passionate about his/her show sell it better?
Both are common misconceptions, and also highlight some of the main problems with public relations, and how the theatre has, generally, lost its connection the public. It’s no secret that theatre is not as well appreciated in this country as it once was, that it’s no longer a viable alternative to a film or a night out. I blame most of this on poor PR, and here’s what we can do to fix that.
First of all, and most importantly:  most people who work successfully in theatre run a variety of different jobs for a variety of different companies. If you can do everything on your own, run your own company and make your fortune, you’re one in a million. Obviously, various conflicts of interest will come up as part of that process. Part of being professional and handling things correctly is to do with honesty. All of the companies/shows/products I work for have a pleasant overlap, in which they can all benefit each other, but in some areas lines have to be drawn. As long as they’re drawn and established in advance, this need not be an issue. However, because this is in a theatrical metier, such multi-tasking seems to be shunned rather than appreciated. I think it has something to do with the ‘passion’ question.
You see, everyone assumes that, to work on a theatrical venture, you must be ‘passionate’ about the project. You must involve yourself with the work emotionally. If you don’t, no one will believe your own passion about your work, and won’t think your show worth their time, and won’t come and see it. According to most, passion is the be all and end all, the only thing you need to survive in the theatre scene. This is all utter poppycock.
I’m not denying that passion is important in theatre. If you’re working on the creative side of a project, you have to be passionate about what it is, where it’s going, and so on. However, there is nothing more likely to turn off an audience member than overflowing passion. When I read press releases or meet people who just gush about their show, how they’ve been working on it since they were 10, it doesn’t endear them to me. It doesn’t make me want to watch their show. When some of the facts about what actually happens in their piece filters through the tripe, I perk up. I want to know what I’m going to see, and so does the rest of a prospective audience, but the passionate drivel just gets in the way.
Too many companies sell themselves on their passion and enthusiasm, and it just doesn’t work anymore. Most thesps love what they do, and love to tell people about it, but this is not good PR. I always say the same thing, and I’d tattoo it to your thigh:
“I love my show, but I’d love you to make up your own mind.”
Challenge an audience to like your work. Tell them what happens. Entice them with your clever devices and set pieces. Your show is great. You love your show. Now get over yourself and sell it.
Well, a rant against passion, and a plea for professionalism… I hope I’m not becoming too jaded too early. I hope this is useful to all you Edinburgh shows writing press releases, and do send them through to me at chris@fringereview.co.uk if you’d like a review.
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