A Drink in Hand, A Wedding to Organize
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Against the Grain Theatre, a small opera company in Toronto, has become famous for presenting the best opera in a small setting in the country. With the arrival of Nancy Hitzig as their general manager, they have begun to work hard to get the word out about their gem-like productions. We asked Ms Hitzig, who is the former manager of education and marketing at Opera Atelier, to discuss the company's strategy for Figaro's Wedding. (The production opens tonight and runs to June 2)
CHARPO: Tell us about the first sit-down where your advertising strategy for Figaro was hashed out. Who was there? Who proposed the ideas? What ideas stuck and which not?
HITZIG: Our collective meetings are always around a kitchen table! Joel [Ivany, artistic director], Caitlin [Coull, communications director], Toph [Mokrzewski, music director], Cecily [Carver, community engagement advisor], Miriam [Khalil, founding member] and I gather around the table with a drink in hand to figure things out!
We wanted to approach Figaro’s Wedding as though it were a real wedding. We discussed a real engagement announcement in the Globe and Mail, having Christopher Plummer (or some other awesome Canadian actor) walk Susanna down the aisle, pop-up performances at local wedding shows, and other zany ideas. In the end, we decided on strategies that gave us great reach online and really helped tell the story to pique people’s interest.
We confirmed that all our promotion materials would be like a save-the-date - things that would make the audience members feel “invited.” We often find that the audience wants to feel like they are a part of something greater, an essential part of the art. That was where the proposal video and “meet the wedding party” video came from. [see both below] We wanted to get our audience revved up and excited to attend the wedding of the year!
HITZIG: Our artists are as excited as we are about Figaro’s Wedding. We asked them in writing (per our Equity agreement) and then went ahead with filming and editing.
I often say that it’s about being efficient and respectful of artists’ time – whether it’s our own core members or our guest artists. We approach artists with a script and an idea and often it helps get them really pumped for the show. I know they had a lot of fun shooting the bridal shop scene of our “meet the wedding party” video at Felichia Bridal on College street. We were familiar with the shop because Cait and Toph are getting married this summer, and that’s where she bought her wedding dress!
We also had a professional writer/director write and shoot the videos for us…he also happens to be my boyfriend, Roger Rousseau. He wrangled his extremely talented editor friend, Mike Lane in and everything sort of fell into place. Having skilled filmmakers certainly helped.
CHARPO: Now - and this is prickly - how do you accommodate union rules around this kind of campaign?
HITZIG: We are very aware of the union rules and always work within them. Equity is our friend!
CHARPO: I've noticed a quite wonderful relationship with COC in this too (the concert at Four Seasons for instance) - how did that come about?
HITZIG: It’s a double answer – the amazing Nina Draganic, COC director of programming, is our director of communication’s mentor and dear friend, and has been a great supporter of AtG from the beginning. She approached us in the summer to ask if we wanted to do a noon-hour preview and we saw a tremendous opportunity!
The second part is that Alexander Neef and Johannes Debus have been great supporters of our work since the beginning. The arts community, and in particular, opera, is an ecosystem where there needs to be emerging art to influence and inspire the bigger companies and vice versa.
We are constantly delighted with the COC’s support as well as many other companies, like Tapestry who have been great supporters on this project!
CHARPO: Finally: is it working? will you do it again?
HITZIG: It is certainly creating buzz! May 29 and 31 are sold out, there are only 40 tickets left for May 30 and for the June 2 performance. I think that speaks volumes. I also think this shows how the community has rallied behind our work and demonstrates fervor for masterful and immersive art experiences. All our promotions reflect the spirit of the work! I know we’ll come up with many zany ideas for our next offerings to keep Toronto and the Canadian opera scene on its toes. That’s our responsibility, to be authentic, (hopefully) clever and thoughtful. For now, enjoy some of our videos.
Watch Figaro propose!
Meet the bridal party: