At first glance, the post from SHN: Broadway in San Francisco, a presenter of major theatre tours on the west coast, looks like the same old hoax that dupes people every few months.
That hoax post may have cluttered up your social media feeds. It suggests that by posting a certain message, you will prevent Facebook and Instagram from owning your shared content. It is utter poppycock, but it keeps recurring, since on the internet nothing ever disappears. Especially crackpot theories.
Whether you realise it’s a joke at this point or not, it remains worthwhile reading, as it goes on to say: “With this statement, @shnsf gives notice that it is extremely frowned upon to arrive late, to unwrap candy or lozenges during the show, to use your cell phone, and to openly criticise Patti LuPone in any way, shape or form. Any violation can be punished by having to sit through Lestat, which we will bring back if necessary.”
Presumably no one reading this column needs an explanation of who Ms LuPone is. However, for the uninitiated, Lestat was a 2006 Broadway musical based on Anne Rice’s vampire novels, with a score by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It lasted for 33 previews and 39 regular performances.
What is striking about the SHN post is that it is a genuinely funny, theatrically knowledgeable piece of a presumably much larger campaign to sell season tickets to the SHN roster. It manages to take an annual marketing effort and reframe it with both humour and genuine theatrical snark.
Humour seems to be in short supply in theatre marketing these days. Yes, there’s witty work by the advertising folks working with Mischief Theatre on its various lampoons, but that’s directly representing what audience members might see on stage. One might expect the same of various productions of Noises Off or One Man, Two Guvnors.
But it’s pretty rare to see wit deployed for shows that aren’t outright comedies. The dourly named Les Misérables, which admittedly became a worldwide brand, used to adapt its waif image to recognise the opening nights of other Broadway shows back in the day, yielding some incongruous and entertaining juxtapositions. It kept people talking about Les Mis long after it had outlived its early buzz, in part because people waited to see what the waif might be wearing next.
The late Stan Freberg, who had one of the last radio variety programmes in the US and brought his humour to hit records, subsequently became an advertising man who pioneered the use of humour in advertising. Some of it is now outdated, even questionable in its racial and ethnic representations, but Freberg knew how to take a mundane product and embed it into consumers’ minds by making them laugh.
This isn’t to suggest that we necessarily want Sacha Baron Cohen acting as the spokesman for Rosmersholm, although it might be fun to see him try. But the SHN post is an excellent reminder that theatre need not always take itself so seriously, even when the work may be serious.
If the marketing of the arts, of theatre, always trades in a narrow range of style and approach, it may become like wallpaper and simply squander resources or, worse, cause people to tune out.
There’s no question that humour, like theatre, is a matter of personal taste. But with a bit of testing, and even some trial and error, levity might find ways to break through the clutter, perhaps to people who otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention, just as English National Opera’s condom-package advert did for Don Giovanni a few years ago.
If you’re not convinced, ask someone whether the threat of a Lestat revival might motivate them to act. Those in the know will surely tell you to take up tickets to other shows, and wooden stakes, to prevent it.
The annual Public Works offering in Central Park from the Public Theater, which begins tomorrow night (August 31), has an even higher profile than usual this year.
Unlike past years, which have been new works based on Shakespeare, this year’s show may be classically based, but it’s Greek mythology as filtered through the lens of Disney: a stage adaptation of the 1997 animated film Hercules.
The score, including songs from the film and ones newly written for the stage, is once again by Alan Menken and David Zippel, and the book is by Kristoffer Diaz. Lear deBessonet directs a cast that includes Jelani Alladin, Krysta Rodriguez and Roger Bart for the extremely limited seven-performance run.
Jamie Lloyd’s London production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal makes the jump to Broadway with its cast – Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox – intact and all making their Broadway debuts. Opening Thursday, it’s the fourth Broadway visit for Betrayal, last seen in 2013 with Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall.
Howard Sherman is a New York based arts administrator and advocate. Read his latest column every Friday at thestage.co.uk/author/howard_sherman/