In the interest of full disclosure, I have to preface this particular entry by reminding my readership that I am ensemble member of the Jobsite Theater. All this really means, in the grand scheme of things, is that I have worked with Jobsite in the past and they do not need to see a monologue from me at the beginning of their casting season. They know what I’m capable of, and if they think I might fit a role they call me for that specific show. I am not involved in the business end of Jobsite at all. I am not on the Board of Directors. I have no financial stake in Jobsite beyond the shows that I do with them, and my interest in their health and future only impacts me directly in that if they were to fold I’d actually have to actively seek roles with other companies if I wanted to keep acting.
I mention this only because what I’m about to write is going to be fairly critical of another local company, American Stage, and I do not want you all to think that my words are in any way motivated by a desire to see them fail. The truth of the matter is that any company that does well here is good for the community at whole, and that’s kind of why I felt the urge to make this post.
You see, I got an email today from American Stage about their latest production, A Tuna Christmas The subject line of the email states boldly that “The Critics Love ‘A Tuna Christmas.'” There’s only one problem. They don’t. Oh, the critic they quoted did but there’s only one problem with that. I personally have never heard of the publication that they were quoting. This doesn’t necessarily mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that there is a “holy trinity” of publications in the Tampa Bay area that have the readership numbers that one would want to reach with a positive review. Two of those papers have reviewed A Tuna Christmas, and I think it’s fairly safe to say that neither one of them loved it.
See for yourself –
‘Greater Tuna’ at American Stage : familiar if not particularly fresh – St. Petersburg Times
Performance of A Tuna Christmas flops on American Stage – Creative Loafing
Now why would I go through all the trouble of mentioning this? I wrote above that seeing a local company do well in the Bay Area is good for the whole community, so why would I make a post to specifically point out bad reviews for a show I’m not involved in (and have not seen)? It certainly won’t help me get cast there if anyone involved actually stumbles across my entry, that’s for sure. It might even make me look bad to my peers AT Jobsite. So why do it?
Because I think this kind of advertising is dangerous, that’s why. Not dangerous in the “oh my god we’re going to die” way, but dangerous in that it can backfire and make us all look bad.
Let’s be honest here – Any time a show is reviewed the company in question is going to do its best to put a positive spin on what was written about it. If you look hard enough you can find a diamond to pull out even in the roughest of reviews, and you can use that to promote your show. That’s fair. But there is a fine line between pulling something positive out of a crappy review and making the claim that your show is a smash with “the critics.” As I stated above, there are pretty much three outlets that local companies look for positive reviews in, and anyone who sees that email would naturally assume that the critics in question worked for those papers.
So why is this a problem? I’ll tell you why. It’s hard to get asses in seats for local theater as it is, especially for shows that aren’t necessarily part of the “mainstream.” Let’s assume that someone went to see A Tuna Christmas based solely on that email, without ever having read any reviews on their own, and they ended up absolutely hating the show. They may end up thinking that anything the “critics” like from that point out is something that they are going to hate, or worse they might go back and seek out the reviews only to realize that they were seriously misled in the email. At that point you’ve got a serious problem. You’ve lost the trust of someone who paid you good money to see a show, and American Stage is one of the better known companies in the area. Your standard “Joe Six Pack” theater goer could very easily make the assumption that if American Stage isn’t honest with their patrons the other companies in the Bay Area aren’t much better.
What’s good for one company is good for us all. The inverse is true as well. Dishonesty is never a good thing. It might get asses in seats for one production, but at what cost? The fact of the matter is that in many ways the theater is no different than a sales environment. If you get a customer in the door by misleading them or promising them something you can’t deliver you might get their money but you won’t get their loyalty, and customer loyalty is what keeps a business running. This is something I believe the folks over at Jobsite understand, and it’s yet another in a long list of reasons why I’m proud to work with them.
I sincerely hope that American Stage reconsiders this kind of advertising strategy for the future. I know a lot of fine people who work with that company, and I’ve seen some absolutely fantastic productions produced by them. Their reputation with the local theatergoing community is, as far as I can tell, pretty solid. Misleading1 their patrons does them no favors, and as an artist it will certainly make me think twice before accepting a job there.
Now if you’ll pardon me I don’t think I’ve buried myself in a deep enough hole with my fellow artists in the Bay Area. I should probably write a rant about how much I hate WMNF now or something just to finalize the deal.2
1 – While I’m on the subject I should point out one other thing. They are using a picture of “ranney” from Gem of the Ocean to advertise their upcoming production of August Wilson’s King Hedley II. If I understood him correctly in a recent conversation, “ranney” has not accepted a part in that production and cannot take one due to conflicts that he has. This may very well change, but it’s yet another example of promising something to your customers that you may not be able to deliver.
2 – I’m kidding. I love WMNF. Really. I’ve even sent them money!