Saturday, April 19, 2014

creating a/broad, April 19, 2014

Private Previews
by Cameryn Moore

Earlier this week, my producer here in Peterborough, Ontario, told me that pretty much the only dedicated theatre reviewer in these parts—certainly the only one who wouldn’t feel compelled to burn my press release and then burn their own fingers off after having touched it—was asking about the possibility of doing a dress rehearsal the day before I opened and letting them in to see it, so we could get a review out early in the three-day run. I was… hesitant.

I never do press previews. I’ve never even thought about it. I mean, why would I? If I’m self-producing, an extra night of a theatre space just means spending more rent, for an audience that isn’t paying. My shows rarely run for longer than one weekend, so the press doesn’t usually feel strongly about getting people out. And anyway, I’m small potatoes and I say “cock” a lot. The media, especially in smaller cities and towns, aren’t exactly stepping up and grabbing hold of this particular hot spud. 

On the Fringes? There’s no time for a preview. There are eight other companies teching in your space right up to the first show on opening night. Critics come when they come, and you can only send out your press releases and story ideas and hope they come early in your run and write fast and well and really understand the deeper symbolic meaning of your blocking and somehow manage to convey that to their readers, but really you’ll be happy with four stars and/or a decent pull quote.

So, these have been my assumptions and operating procedures around critics and previews. This is why I hesitated. 

Would I do a special, by-request preview again? It depends.

In the end I went for it. The money from this run is all going toward my UK tour, and I need to pack the house to the best of my ability, so I went ahead and ran slut (r)evolution in front of four people. It was a calculated gamble that seems to be paying off. The review went up 12 hours later, has been retweeted and reposted a bunch, with signal boosts from the reviewer’s three friends who were there. While it is early days still—at this writing I had a more-than-half-full opening night on a Thursday and a lot of random and tipsy interest from people at the post-show bar last night—it feels like it may go a little bit viral, in the contained-virus sort of way that anything can go in a town of 75,000 people, half of whom are devout Catholics.

Would I do a special, by-request preview again? It depends. Is my show watertight? I mean, is it solid? (It better be, I shouldn’t be touring it otherwise!) How easy is it to pull together, based on my schedule? Am I going to have to pay extra for the space? How established is the reviewer in the region? (If it’s a new site with 50 hits per week… not good enough.) Can they bring a few people with them, ideally people who themselves are opinion leaders of some sort, willing to put themselves out on my behalf? (I do NOT want to do my shows to one person, ever. I already run that risk at fringes; never would I set something up that way on purpose.) 

That’s why I would never undertake a private preview in a location where I am not properly represented

Do enough people trust the reviewer and read them on a regular basis? How well are they networked with my producer, that is, how much can my advocate lean on the writer to move the press out fast? How well is the reviewer networked in social media, and how keen are they to get their own writing out in front of people? How respectful is the reviewer in correspondence, when requesting the preview?

That’s a lot to think about, and most of the information I need to make that decision can only be provided by someone who knows the area. That’s why I would never undertake a private preview in a location where I am not properly represented, by a producer or publicist or whatever. I am not qualified, in Peterborough or Atlanta or any other place where I don’t live—which is everywhere, pretty much—to assess the quality and conductivity of that area’s theatre-going community networks. I need people who live on the ground to scope out the terrain.

Sigh. This ends up being one more area in which I have to think hard and make risky decisions. It’s not much of a risk, when I’m not renting the space for an extra night, but it is still an extra night that I could be using for rest. And it’s just one person, GAH! I long for the time when I am known enough that, when I’m playing in a big city, my producer thinks that a preview show should be called. They feel they can get the big guns in, like, more than one, and that’s what we’ll need to do, and I’ll make damn sure that someone else is covering the costs of that, not me.

In the meantime, this private-performance approach has become an option for me, one that I hadn’t really considered before. And to be honest, on top of every other potential benefit, it does give me a little added prod about one important thing: give every audience your best, whether it’s one person or a sold-out house.

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