My response to the demise of the Oleanna Take-A-Side talkbacks.

Oleanna got people talking.

So one of our early marketing strategies was to try and whip up our audiences into an even greater frenzy so that they would talk even louder and longer.

One of the rev-up devices we used was the “Take-A-Side” talkback series that featured a moderator and celebrity panelists, from former Mayor Dinkins to Fox TV correspondents to Tovah Feldshuh to University Deans to harassment litigation experts, and so on, all discussing the issues of the play and allowing the audiences to ask questions and make comments.

Everyone who I spoke to felt like the talkbacks made the experience of going to the theater even better.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mamet disagreed.  As Michael Riedel reported back in November . . .

Alas, Mamet hated them [talkbacks]. He never attended one, but he’s against them on principle, believing that his play should stand on its own and not be picked apart by “experts” on the law, feminism and campus sexual harassment policies.

It’s always tough to hear that your author doesn’t like something you want to do, especially when that something is helping market your show.

The analogy I use when describing why Mamet or any author would be opposed to such an initiative is that some authors are like painters who don’t want a fancy frame around their piece of art.  They just want you to look at the picture and only the picture.

I get it, and I respect it.

Of course, you and I know that the right frame can actually draw eyeballs to look at that picture in even greater detail.  And that’s one of the producer’s jobs . . . to attract eyes to the art.

As hard as it was to hear that our author couldn’t stand one of our initiatives, we soldiered on . . . until, that is, we needed some help.  We had to make a compromise, and the talkbacks went the way of the public-health option on the current health plan bill.

Was I disappointed?  You betcha.

Let me be perfectly clear.  I have the utmost respect for Mr. Mamet, his artistic integrity, his resolve, and because he’s a brilliant f-ing writer.

But getting people to attend the theater is getting harder and harder (as the NEA keeps telling us), and since our producing hands are handcuffed by so many other things in this business, we need to have the freedom to exercise good ideas when we have them (it’s not like we had a guy in a Gorilla suit standing out front trying to get people to buy tickets).

The more restrictive we make it, the more those Authors may find Producers sitting out the next one.

I know I’ll be sitting out the next Mamet.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.

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