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Theatre Marketing Crisis?

April 3, 2019

For those who missed it, back in February 2019 some fault in theatremonkey’s part of the world threw everybody off the telephone and internet for almost 14 days. Though after 4 I was able to rig a 4G Wifi dongle solution (most 4G providers were also down), it meant online time had to be rationed carefully as there was only very limited data transfer available – and speeds were not the usual 56Mb or more that get the job done.

This meant being able only to access theatre news on a few websites for short periods, and no browsing for the latest opinions and gossip.

What it also meant was being pretty much cut off from the entire theatre world. Living day to day with various streams of theatre news, the latest happenings – every press night, new production or booking period announcement, and on to which actors went off sick at the interval, and which performances got cancelled half way through – provide a steady flow.

Guess how much of this stuff is in the offline mainstream printed press, television or even BBC “Red Button” information text? Yes, that’s right, absolutely nothing. For four days straight, not a word about theatre in any newspaper (except the Baz Bamigboye column each Friday in the Daily Mail, bless them). Otherwise, nothing. Two West End openings were not reviewed anywhere in print, there’s no “listings” pages in the Evening Standard any more – a few adverts, but not the double-page comprehensive one of old. Likewise even “Time Out” magazine goes that route, as does “Metro.”

Had I been interested in football – no problem. Still pages of it at the back of every newspaper, even non-league teams get the odd mention of how they are doing. I was able to read about the Super Bowl, and the Joshua fight negotiations too.

I don’t know if the newspapers have given up on theatre, or theatre marketing have given up on newspapers – I suspect a mixture of both… one thing I do know is that this situation is worse than terrible and will continue no matter what.

Already, fewer young people are going to the theatre, and the West End in particular keeps going on elderly regulars, the odd “star play” and hit musical, plus inflating tickets to enormous prices when they think they can get an audience.

My isolation from anything happening lead me to conclude that there is NOTHING getting out to the wider world beyond those who already know and care. State schools don’t teach drama and can’t take children to the theatre as there is no money for either, and precious little political will. The chances of anyone after school reading, hearing or seeing anything about theatre at all is apparently almost nil (being fair “All About Eve” got some coverage thanks to Anderson / James). In other words, unless you are lucky enough to have a private (fee-paying) education or someone highly theatre-motivated in your life now, forget it.

Sure, there’s a broader thing of panto undergoing massive revival, thanks to the high-profile Palladium, so there’s a tiny chance one family tradition is being revived, but that’s as far as it goes in the mainstream, I’d guess.

Judging by the number of emailed press releases I get about productions, the PR agents are a hard-working lot, but they are clearly having no success whatsoever getting big media to listening to them. Is the solution for some to band together to produce free or sponsored content that cash-strapped media outlets could use direct to fill pages? Are producers themselves being given all the information they need about marketing, from marketing agencies? Are the marketing agencies themselves stuffed with young people who never had the newspaper habit and don’t think investigating it is worthy of their time or client’s money?

I just don’t know. All I do know is that if you are not online and already know exactly where to look for theatrical news and information, there’s nothing else out there. Fact. And anyone in the theatre industry who doesn’t find that one of the scariest things ever needs to wise up, and fast. That is all.


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