Thoughts from a Los Angeles Theater Producer

Rebranding Revisited

Posted in Producer Tools, Producer's League by Rick Culbertson on September 17, 2009

In my last post I argued that we should embrace Hollywood and market ourselves as the place where you can see working Film and TV actors on the stage, live and up close.  David O (My amazingly talented musical director for Divorce! The Musical) took an exception to my post. 

 Click here for my last post and his comment.  And then read on for my response.

David makes an interesting point.  But, is that all our theater community is?  “Cutting-edge, risk-taking, avant-garde, rock & roll, ethnically diverse, forward-thinking art?” I don’t think so.  I do agree that all of his examples are as he describes, but I certainly don’t think that Divorce! The Musical, Marvelous Wonderettes, Louis & Keely, and Life Could be a Dream are cutting edge shows.  Divorce!, though it offers wholly original music, is definitely not avant-garde. 

And what about this assertion that “there is a substantial community here that creates theatre, true theatre, that doesn’t give a fuck about film & TV artists (no offense), that is truly on the cutting edge of the art form?”  I don’t think this is correct, at least not when describing the community as a whole.  As I said before, I don’t think I have ever seen a play or musical in LA that didn’t have at least one actor with a Film and TV credit.  And LA theater is filled with writers and directors that work in both mediums as well.  We have seen material move from the stage to the screen and from the screen to the stage, countless times.

Let’s face it; artists don’t come to LA because they just want to make a living as a theater artist.  If an atrist’s only goal is to make it in theater and theater only, he/she is not going to eat very well in LA.  Like it or not, LA is Hollywood— both in location and industry.  Just as New York is Broadway.  Hollywood is known for its film and TV industries, just as Broadway is known for theater.  Changing that perception in the minds of the general public is probably not going to happen.

That is why I suggest we embrace our relationship to Hollywood.  After all, Hollywood is very connected in our theater scene.  The Actors Gang is a perfect example: we all know Tim Robbins is this theater’s Artistic Director.  I’m sure he cares a little about film and TV.  Also, the very money that I raised to fund the LA production of Divorce! predominantly came from people who make a living working in Film and TV.  My hope is that by embracing Hollywood, we will raise the profile of LA theater, raise the awareness that we are so interconnected, and stop this argument of superiority. We need to start agreeing that we all want to tell stories– in whatever medium the story needs to be told.

Perhaps most importantly, there is an untapped market of theater audiences in Los Angeles- both local citizens and tourists who don’t still have no idea that we are here, and who don’t understand what we have to offer.  We are perceived as being out-of-work film and TV artists who are only able to do waver theater.  Showing the world that in reality, we are actually working film and TV artists doesn’t play into the stereotype– it changes it.  It changes the perception that Los Angeles offers “community theater quality”  to an understanding that in fact, we offer “professional theater quality.” 

That said, however, what I think David is really addressing is that for him, LA theater is cutting-edge.  For me, it’s something different: its original, small musicals. For a lot of people it’s sketch comedy.  Can Los Angeles theater be all those things?  Yes– and so much more.  Because we are now describing different niches of the L..A theater scene.  We have tons of niches! David lists several.  Add them all up, and we end up with an abundance of new, diverse works of theater that make our community thrive.  It is this abundance and this diversity that “really distinguishes LA Theatre from the rest of the world.” 

What David is suggesting is that we rebrand LA Theater by highlighting a niche. But not all of LA theater is that specific niche.  What I propose, is a re-branding effort targeting the entire theater scene as a whole.  By first rebranding and marketing this collective scene, we can raise the profile of the entire theater community to a much wider, more diverse audience.  WIth my plan, we wont be marketing different companies, shows or niches. By contrast, we will be saying, “instead of going to a movie, go see a play!”  Think of this as being something akin to what the Beef. It’s what’s for dinner campaign did. With this message, they were simply saying: “Don’t buy chicken (or another meat), buy beef.”  They weren’t telling you what brand of beef to buy– just to buy beef.

We need to take a step back and realize that we need a cohesive plan for marketing theater in Los Angeles as a whole. 

We need to raise the awareness of our theater scene, and change the perception about its quality. 

We need to establish a visual presence on billboards and busses, there for all to see– the same way Hollywood’s film industry does when it markets its movies.  

Right now, when I drive down theater row at night, the whole area just looks like empty buildings surrounded by car dealerships (I will write about this unfortunate problem later).  We need to upgrade our look, remind people we are here, and that we stand together as a community. We need to show the general public that L.A. has the best artistic talent in the world.  Most of this talent has come here because of Hollywood, but the gold is in the fact that they also do theater.  Good theater. And some of this Hollywood-driven theater is cutting edge.  Just ask Tim Robins.


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