Have You Heard...?
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 24 mar 2018
This coming weekend sees the premiere of the final show in Tallgrass Theatre Company’s season, Neil Simon’s Rumors. A comedy of manners and misinformed party guests, the hilarious farce is based on certain characters concealing information, often less than successfully. Conversely, Tallgrass Theatre is trying very hard to do the exact opposite when it comes to their theatre offerings. Spreading the word about their productions is a lot more than just starting a “rumor.”
The one who really knows what is going on is Kelly Mayhew. She is the Production Manager for Tallgrass, a job that encompasses everything from glorified gopher at rehearsals to coordinating promotion and ancillary events for the group. She’s become the person on point for publicity for Tallgrass these days. It is not a job she necessarily sought out, but it has become a role (or a series of roles) that she’s grown into.
It Has to Start Somewhere
“I wouldn’t say I decided to take the marketing ‘job’ as it were with Tallgrass,” says Kelly, “as my background is mostly Stage Managing and Prop Design. However, as the Production Manager and a former Secretary for the Board of Directors, I had a lot of the history and paperwork that goes along with running a theatre at my disposal, and volunteered to do most of the social media posts about the productions.”
“But I wouldn’t say it’s a one-person job either. We’ve always maintained a group mentality and use everyone we can to help market a show. Because Tallgrass has this ‘group-think’ approach to everything we do, we keep open communication between our Trust, our Board, and our production team and discuss ideas to help get ‘butts in the seats.’”
And that’s the trick for all small theatre groups, whether they are brand new or they have been around for years. Not just getting those potential patrons to try out a Tallgrass show, but to develop the theatre “habit.” Ticket sales may not pay for the entire budget of a production, but it would be foolish to not pay attention to attracting and developing a regular audience.
Mayhew says the first step is the key. “It really is just about getting people to see a show once, and then they are hooked. Sharing, getting the word out, having the cast engaged in the marketing of the show, is the biggest drive to help bring new people to the theatre. But buying a ticket to a show you’ve never seen, in a theatre you’ve never been to, is a risk. And if we can help ease that fear of that first timer to the theatre, that’s what we want to do. Make it friendly, approachable, and teach the audience that they’ll have a great time no matter the show on the stage.”
Getting the Word Out
Of course, some shows are easier sells than others, a fact Mayhew knows all too well. In the present case, Neil Simon’ Rumors has the famous playwright’s name in the actual title of the show. It’s a much easier risk to take when the name of the show is more than just plain Rumors. “Because Neil Simon is a big name and comedies are easy to sell, we just let our cast and crew have fun and then let everyone know how much fun they are having. I think if an audience member knows they’ll get to laugh, it really is just letting them know the dates and times.”
Other methods of outreach are relatively new to Tallgrass, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not being utilized to the fullest. While Neil Simon’s Rumors might be a bit easier to promote, other shows take a more nuanced approach. Tallgrass Theatre’s annual Dream Project allows different artists to explore their vision in shows that might not otherwise see production, and although those choices are more unique, all the shows for Tallgrass still need promotion.
“We reach out to groups that might be interested in using the show as an event for patrons. We look at partnerships with people in our own organization that have connections in their day jobs, we try to find avenues of getting new audience members through targeted ads on social media.”
“But we never forget that we have a dedicated base of people that come to all of our shows. We keep them in the loop and send them personal thank-yours when they donate time, furniture, props, or even cold hard cash. They are the reason we get to continue doing what we love doing. So we do think of them when we are picking shows and we encourage them to share their experiences with friends. Word of mouth is really the best marketing tool.”
Numerous notices and posts on Facebook and other social media have been made by Tallgrass creatives concerning Neil Simon’s Rumors, from updates on rehearsal progress to pictures detailing the steady advancement with set building. And this starts at the very beginning of the production cycle.
“As Production Manager, I am the most visible to the production staff,” Mayhew relates. “I do introduce myself to the cast at their table read and they’ll see me occasionally throughout the rehearsal process. Most of my influence on any social media posting is trying to get the cast to check in and share their experience with Tallgrass. I am very vocal about what goes on our FB page and links to Twitter and Instagram are growing. And this year we’ve started a committee to help get more outreach to the community. Definitely a work in progress.”
That progress has to be gained continually, as the world and ways of engaging a potential audience are constantly evolving. Tallgrass has embraced it wholeheartedly. And while there have been expected growing pains, Mayhew knows they’re worth the efforts.
“We’ve been struggling with [marketing] for years, and finally this year we got some amazing people working on a committee and the ‘group-think’ is really bearing fruit! Advertising has changed and marketing has to be so tied together, fast and engaging. It’s something we’re learning as it’s happening too.”
And Then What Happens?
“One of the biggest focuses of our Trust group is that we really want to educate people about what true community theatre is. We want that family feel, the ability for someone who wants to volunteer to come do it. Someone who hasn’t been in a show since high school or college to come audition, someone who used to build sets to join us on a Tuesday night or Saturday to help build.”
“We’re also trying to reach out to designers that might just want to do one show but need that insider knowledge of what we can do in our space to come chat with us. We also really want people who donate to Tallgrass to know where their money is going. Being totally open and transparent about how we utilize donations and trying to get larger companies and groups to see the benefit in supporting their local theatre. Tom [Perrine, artistic director of Tallgrass] started that with his backstage tours after performances - that personal touch, I think, is making a big difference.”
So, if you think a night out at the theatre might be fun, especially for a laugh-filled show written by one of the great comic playwrights in history, then going to see Tallgrass Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors is an easy risk to take. The show starts on March 30, and runs for three weekends. Performances are at the Rex Mathes Auditorium in West Des Moines, and tickets are available through the Tallgrass Theatre website and also at the door (while they last, but I expect this one to be popular, so you might not want to wait that long!!)
And rumor has it that Tallgrass might be announcing their next season soon, perhaps during the run of Neil Simon’s Rumors... which would just be appropriate, I would think. So go enjoy, laugh, and then start your own Rumors about what a great show Tallgrass is putting on. You can tell all your friends, “Have you heard....?”