Using Video to Promote Theatre Productions: Urban Arts Case Study, Part I

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If your business involves selling a visual product that lends itself to narrative, do what the movie trailer business has done for years — find your most resonant moments and make it the teaser for your product.

Victoria-based Urban Arts Productions had a great product in their adaptation of Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh, but didn’t translate that creative success into large audiences or a key critical review (see my overview post on their publicity challenges).

Doesn’t this make you curious about the scene? Imagine it as a video clip.

Not only could video have played a role in helping them to promote their adaptation, having short segments of past productions could also help them document their achievements on their website.

When you’re a small company just starting to build your brand and reputation, there’s nothing more powerful than letting would-be buyers experience your product for themselves.

1. Master the Basics

If possible, film the scenes you want to showcase in the actual performance space with full makeup and costumes. Like any good appetizer, your goal should be to give the audience a taste of the full experience that leaves them curious and wanting more. If you can’t get access to your performance space or permission to film there, shoot dress rehearsal scenes as best you can in another location.

Quality production values are great if you can afford them or have access to reasonably accomplished professionals (local university or college film departments can be a great resource on that front), but there’s also something authentic about doing it yourself on your smartphone if you have no other choice.

You want to offer the audience a raw emotional connection to your content, not contend for a Best Cinematography Oscar.

For ideas on how to produce great video, see my post on Collaborative Video Production and my accompanying presentation on Slideshare.

You can also check out the ever-increasing resources available online, such as Youtube’s content creation school.

2. Generate Serial Content

Once you’ve mastered the basics, keep your audience engaged through a steady stream of serial content. Consider filming rehearsals, cast auditions or outtakes backstage to create ongoing material.

Assuming you can create reasonably compelling content (which is, after all, the hinge of your entire business model if you’re working in a performance-based industry), you’ll add texture to your audience’s experience and give them fodder with which to sell your show to their friends.

You’ll also be padding your production team’s resumes with valuable experience for future projects requiring both film and multimedia expertise.

3. Keep it Short

Edit your clips to be as short and powerful as possible.

If 45 seconds tells the story and grips your readers, keep it to 45 seconds. I would be wary about going over two minutes if you’re just beginning to feel your way through this process. Being exacting with your length will teach you discipline.

Besides, three minutes is a long time in trailer country; five minutes can feel like an eternity.

4. Give it Legs

Whatever video you produce, make sure your content is shareable. There’s no point to great video if it doesn’t have legs beyond your site.

Youtube and Vimeo are great options. Set up a channel and use it to pull and push content across your website and social media presences (more on this next time).

5. Document Your Success

Archiving clips from past shows in an accessible place on your site is another possible angle, especially if you got a particularly good review and your company’s repertoire is thin. Judging by the past reviews of Nevermore, this might have helped Urban Arts’ efforts to promote Marie Antoinette.

6. Keep it Fresh

Let’s say your video experiment results in the best case scenario: complete success and the envy of all your peers and competitors.

Six months later, I guarantee those same competitors will be doing this kind of promotional work. Suddenly, that core audience you were reaching isn’t responding.

To keep your edge, you’ve got to keep it fresh. Get creative and start brainstorming unique opportunities.

Consider inviting a theatre class from the local high school or college in for a workshop and film their interactions with the cast. If you go this route, remember to get all the rights and privacy permissions you need to film and post the session ahead of time, particularly if minors are involved. No one loves a law suite.

The upside?

Your bonus video subjects may be equally interested in shamelessly promoting themselves and could help push your content across social and digital markets you might not otherwise be able to access.

Looking ahead to Part II

Next time, I’ll talk about your theatre company’s website as seamless content gateway.

Catching up? Here are links for the whole series:

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