The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Guest post: Matthew DiMera responds to “Is bigger, better?” September 2, 2009

Filed under: Guest post,Local Shows,Rent — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:53 am
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Yesterday, I wrote a guest post for Musicals in Vancouver entitled Some Shows are Better, Bigger. Today, Musicals in Vancouver writer, Matthew DiMera, returns the favor, and responds.

I’m a true-blue theatre-goer and there’s a special place in my heart for musicals.

I’ve seen most of the local musical theatre productions this year, and this summer Vancouver has definitely had a bumper crop.

Local theatre publicist, Art of the Business blogger, and all-around social media maven Rebecca Coleman recently opined in a guest post at Musicals In Vancouver that some local productions were missing some of the spectacle of their Broadway/touring brethren.

She’s not entirely wrong.  My first introduction to the world of musical theatre was through the touring versions that periodically graced the stages of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Vogue or the Ford Centre.

Those shows were brimming full of special effects and large-scale props and they definitely helped to make the shows the successes that they were.  My pre-teen eyes were amazed and won over by the sheer spectacle of it all.  The falling chandelier in Phantom of the Opera or the turntable-barricade in Les Misérables seemed to be inextricably attached to the core of those productions.

Those touring versions don’t stop by our fair city that much these days.  And that’s just fine with me.  Because, lately, they haven’t been delivering the goods in the way that they should or like they used to.

Last summer, I saw Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Centre in Vancouver.  It had everything one could possibly expect, dazzling costumes, snazzy sets and a distinct lack of onstage talent.  So not really everything one could want, but two out of three ain’t bad, right?spamalot3

I’d like to wish that this was an anomaly, but it’s become more and more of a sad pattern.  Touring shows have become lazy, and talent and charisma are often secondary (or even tertiary).  Producers know that they can just whip out a few big-budget effects and the audience will ooh and aah in unison.

And maybe, in some places that might fly.  Thankfully, it doesn’t in Vancouver.  Our local stages are a wellspring of amazing actors, singers and dancers.  We know what talent looks like, we’ve been spoiled by it and we’re not willing to settle for anything less.

When local productions skip the flashy motorcycle entrances or the extravagant turning sets, part of me misses them desperately.  And there will always be room for critiques and hopefully improvements on the local front.  I too, found Javert’s suicide scene, in the Arts Club’s Les Misérables, to be jarringly uninspired.

But, when it comes down to it, I’d rather see local attempts than nothing at all, even if they sometimes (or completely) miss the mark.  I’ll take a good Joanne as she is, anyway I can get her (the motorcycle is optional).

When I enter the theatre, I’m happy to suspend disbelief and let my imagination fill in the holes left by the absence of multi-million dollar budgets.    Keep bringing the talent and the great performances, and I’ll be yours hook, line and sinker.

What do you think? Is better, bigger? Let me know in the comments below.

Matt DiMera is a Vancouver-based journalist and writer in his 20’s.  His current writing focuses on theatre, musicals, as well as local LGBTQ issues.  His blog is Musicals In Vancouver.

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My very last post about RENT (this week) February 27, 2009

Filed under: Marketing with Facebook,Shows — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:05 am
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Some of the author's RENT gak

Some of the author's RENT gak

Yes, yes, you’re rolling your eyes, you’re saying “enough, already with the RENT, Rebecca. We get it. You love RENT.”

All that is certainly true, but this is a post that is only tangentially about my favorite musical. It’s more about the power of social networking (another of my favorite things).

There was this huge caffufle about RENT last week. A new version of the show, which is cleaned up a little bit, taking out the heavy swearing and explicit bits (like “Contact”) has been specially created for High Schools to produce. One high school, Corona Del Mar in California, had it scheduled as thier spring production. Coincidentally, they’ve been having a few issues with homophobia, and the choice to produce RENT was probably deliberate.

The caffufle happened when the show got cancelled. The reaons are not entirely clear why, but there is some concern that the play was deemed, even in its less-spicy state, to be, well, too spicy. Cries of ‘homophobia!’ were heard, and a bunch of the students got the word out via social networking sites like Facebook and Bloggers.

It worked. There were stories in the LA Times, the NY Times, and lots and lots of blogs.

All’s well that ends well: the show is back on.

Let this be a lesson: don’t cross the kids. They know how to mobilize.

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Getting them in the gut, or yet ANOTHER post about Rent February 25, 2009

I took a small business class at BCIT in September of 2007. It was great, because it allowed me the time and space to finally write that business plan I’d been putting off for the last six years or so before. Part of the course included a chunk on marketing, and any basic marketing course will teach you about the basic marketing principles of features and benefits.

Features are the specific things that the product or service that you are selling possesses. For example, if you are selling a painting, you can say that its done in watercolours or oils, how large it is, its primary colour scheme.

Benefits are how the product or service can help you. That same painting, for example, might look perfect hanging above your couch, or perhaps appreciate in value, and make you a bunch of money.

Truthfully, we don’t often buy stuff because of its features. Socks, maybe. Or a juicer. Most people buy based on emotions, and as artists, I think we have an edge. When you’re happy, what kind of music do you listen to? When you’re sad, or depressed? How do you feel when you stand in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers? When you watch the final scene of The Princess Bride?

The advertising agencies of the world spend much of their time trying to elicit an emotional relation to their products, because they know that people will buy something that makes them feel a certain way.

Despite the fact that Rent is now closed, it remains, still, one of my favorite musicals. Yes, I’d go so far as to callMe, as a Renthead myself a Renthead, and be proud of that label. Why? Rent got me in the gut. Big time. I remember so clearly hearing those songs for the first time, watching the 1996 Tony Awards, and being totally blown away. I absolutely remember not being able to see most of the second act when I saw it at the Nederlander in New York, because I was crying so hard. I remember how nervous I was  singing Amazing Grace when I auditioned for the local production. I am a rabid fan, because I connected with the show’s message, lyrics and philosophy on a gut level.

What happens when you get people at a gut level is, they become passionate about your cause, passionate about your work. So the more passionate you are, and the more you are able to communicate that in a way that solicits emotions, the better chance you will have that someone will buy your CD, come to your play or film, or buy your painting, sculpture or photograph.

For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, check out this story in Marketing Magazine, written by Edward and Sheree, from a Bowen Island company called Storytellings.

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Overnight Sensations October 4, 2008

Filed under: Business of Arts,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 7:20 am
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This blog post has dual inspirations, both linked to recent events. First, I recently listened to a great podcast over on the Prosperous Artists called How Not to be an Overnight Success. Listening to that podcast reminded me of my favorite quote about overnight sensations, which I will share with you in a sec, after I tell you about the second inspiration for this post.

Me, as a Renthead

Me, as a Renthead

One of my all-time favorite musicals, Rent, just closed after a twelve-year run on Broadway. From a marketing perspective, it’s hard to say if Rent would have been the huge success it was, had it not been so shrouded by tragedy. For those of you who don’t know the story, Rent was written by Jonathan Larson, a 35-year-old struggling writer and actor in New York City. His work was starting to become more and more recognized, and he was being mentored by the great Steven Sondheim. Rent, which, in his own words, “is about a community celebrating life, in the face of death and AIDS, at the turn of the century,” had gone through an extensive workshop process, and was poised to open on Broadway. The night of the final dress rehearsal, Jonathan, not feeling well, went home and put on the kettle to make a pot of tea. He collapsed on the floor, dead from an aortic aneurysm.

Rent opened at the Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. It launched the careers of Jessie L. Martin and Taye Diggs, among others. It won numerous Tony Awards and Jonathan was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer that year. In 2005, it was made into a feature film, starring 6 of the 8 original cast. It created a new generation of Broadway theatre-goer: the Renthead; die-hard fans who returned dozens and dozens of times to see the show, often camping out for $20 day-of performance tickets.

Okay, that was a long introduction, but here is the meat of the matter: in her acceptance speech when she accepted the Pulitzer Prize on behalf of her brother, Julie Larson said, “It took my brother Johnnie fifteen years of really hard work to become an overnight sensation.” Being an artist it tough, few people with argue with you on that. You learn and work and create, and sometimes you don’t book the role, sell the painting or land the gig. We live in a country where the arts are under funded. It’s discouraging.

Whenever I’m feeling discouraged, I always ask myself this: “what else am I going to do?” For me, being an artist is pretty much it. I get frustrated sometimes, I want to walk away, but it never lasts long, because the passion I feel for what I do always brings me back. And I am ultimately grateful that I have found a profession in life that I love.

Let me just add one thing to that: it’s great to have passion and belief that you are going to ‘make it’ (whatever that is, to be discussed in a future blog post), but you also need to put your money where your mouth is. That means, make a plan. Do tangible things like marketing and networking to help you on your way. Create or join a community or support group, and get them working for you, and you for them.

You might never be an overnight sensation, but then, maybe those don’t really exist. Instead, I’ll leave the last word to Julie Larson: “Stay true to yourselves and to your dreams, and know that they can come true.”

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