The Story Behind the Theatre; Publicity and Promotion
You know New York City the theater capital of the world. Riverside radio WRVA are brings you the story behind the theater. Creating the electric atmosphere of the theatre persuading the public to participate in the excitement of the show. These are the jobs of the publicity and promotion people whose work begins long before opening night. And it doesn't end there. The effort to acquaint a potential audience with a particular magic of the theater must continue as a production endeavors to survive after its premiere publicity promotion and press agent three are the topics of today's story behind the theater. William cast Stevens of build all publicists and David
Rosenberg general press representative for Alexander H Cone talked with our host for the series Lyle Di Jr. managing director of the Equity Library theater. Frequently even before a script has been finished promotion and published he begins to pour out about what might even be a tentative forthcoming production theatrical production and even occasionally in May marquees will go up with signs announcing a show for an October opening this far apart many months apart. But this kind of pre-publication tea and promotion are becoming an increasingly important part of any kind of a Broadway production and is equally vital concerning the stars or the people who are in the appearing in the production as well as the show itself. For one thing exciting or what you might say unusual image of any show never hurts in terms of theatre parties and van sales all the kinds of things that go into a production before it's even in rehearsal and the creation of this image
the dissemination of information to what actually must virtually be thousands of individuals offices columnists newspaper people all comes under the general heading of promotion and publicity. But above and beyond the usual work connected with these jobs of promotion and publicize the. There are dozens of projects and even if you will gimmicks which must be thought out sometimes discarded and always coordinated Of course by the press agent the production office of a specific show the publisher to director. So to jump right into it. Bill can you explain promotion for us in terms that might make the field sound a little less shady and a bit less like Barnum running a sideshow I think when anyone says promotion they think that they're going you're going to try and do them out of something. Well basically I think the object of her motion is to dupe people into something rather than out of some particular idea the object of her promotion is to get people into the theater and to try to to
create a feeling for the public in connection with the show. I feel promotion starts long before people realize that it starts. For instance on a major motion picture you will star promotion even before the film goes before the cameras. A good outstanding example of that at the moment is Cleopatra. They started promoting that picture like you know a year before that it was it ever started being filmed and then of course they had the delays and this kind of thing and their promotion has continued. There's hardly a person in the country that does not know about that picture because of promotion. But I'd like to just say first I believe it's in three separate distinct areas. The interviews in features which include actual news stories opening date what have you. The stunts which we will go into later I hope you know and the tie ends. Those are your three biggest areas of promotion. They're not
shady but a person who does good promotion will not turn a deaf ear to any kind of suggestion no matter how wild that will get the name of the show the star or something about the shows are stars before the public. Well then David you for instance are with a production office where does an outside press agent come in in relation to promotion and publicize the connection with your office. I work exclusively for producer Alexander H COHEN Right. I am. It's an unusual set up most press agents or publicity people or agents into themselves and are hired by Various. Yeah I do say I work exclusively for single produce but then what I'm interested in is what what is your relationship then with an outside press agent who's hired by Cohen to work on his show. Do you outline things with him and you know I am. I represent all the social he doesn't he doesn't use the outside ones you know and outside press uses an
insider I don't hear the ins and I have a basic disagreement and they start do go right down. It's not necessarily true that anything that gets space there is taste good. Something within the bounds of good taste. For example probably one of the most effective and generally accepted as affective promotional stunt tours and look back in anger where a woman from the audience went up on stage and slapped an actor across the face. This created a great deal of attention but it also sort of extended beyond the bounds of good taste and it has to be a point where you can get exploitation and not affect a performance or insult the dignity of your audience or your potential audience in a sense. Like I said all shows have their images. There are certain shows that you absolutely would not try with as a band a while to start on you know the thing that just sort of comes out of the blue to you and it creates a bad image. But on the other hand.
Bad images have worked to bring people into the theater as well as good images. Now I'm not I'm not approving of them. I just say as a matter of statement they work. There are several instances in this season of the theater where I feel that extraordinarily bad taste was used in a promotional campaign but that did not stop it from stop the promotion gimmick from actually doing what it was supposed to do. Well this is what I want to ask in your opinion then David mentioned this. Gimmick of look back in anger which of course I had heard of too I think was quite a famous one. But this kind of thing in terms of helping the show stay in the public eye. Do you think no matter what it is it is helpful or even if the image created is a bad one. I feel this mile as long as it is helpful to that particular show. But you think about a bad gimmick like that and I think that was a pretty bad one probably brought people to the theater to see that show so it did achieve its purpose yes it did for one simple
reason people did not know that it was a publicist based on until some two years after it was at will handle them right. It did bring people to see the show it created a desire within the pay of the theater going public to see a show that would create. So much animosity within one a human being that they go up and slap an actor on stage him to find Obviously anyone can can think of an idea like that what you have to do is have certain standards and eliminate that which you think may be in bad taste. There probably were alternatives to getting the public aware of look back in anger other than the slap across the but I think what Bill is saying is that you can't deny there are some offices that nothing is bad taste. Anything goes right. Yes and like I say I think it all promotion should be kept within the point of view of the
show. Yes. Take a show like film a great film around the world in 80 days. You know you handle the show with impeccable taste. You handle the show with more decorum than then and then a great many Broadway shows have ever been handled. But it's that kind of show with a family appeal show. It was a show that had something for everybody in it. And from the very beginning and even up until this day it is a prestige show. Therefore you know out of the way stunts. A show like go which we do not handle by the way am I shouldn't be giving other press a just telling what the but I sure like a funny thing happened. Now this show you can do absolutely anything I feel and get by with it. I believe this bad gimmick idea is almost like it doesn't matter what they say about you as long as I suppose you're not sure it's not true. No but this is the feeling I know that I'm disagreeing with. There are bounds. Oh yeah I mean indeed and I'm glad David.
What are they. It has to be something that you can't be insulting your audience you can't be deceiving them. I am very fortunate I work for a very promotional a minded producer Alex Cohen who is known for his unique devices and I think he always maintained standards and within the bounds of good taste he's always been very creative and it's always been fun when he opened the Nichols and May show he had a Shubert Alley block party at a Ferris wheel it was very creative and it was it didn't insult anyone's intelligence or dignity it wasn't deceptive to anyone. And for the drop of the hat to drop of the hat he included wish he had the buskers and he actually had fog imported to create a London that was going imported he had a fog making machine. And these are all things that nobody else has done them so they get great attention. But it was always something that was offering the public something. But your intention should not be one of deception of fooling your audience because it is when your audience
that doesn't believe what you're offering them when they when you've led them astray. These are some of the things that has hurt the theatre. Then you will hear it then you do not believe the basic principles of Barnum. But that there's a sucker born every minute. That's not the only principle. I'm not saying no I'm not denying that there aren't gullible people. I think that our job is to be imaginative and still tasteful. Well I don't want to let this boil down to argument of what is good taste and what is not good taste. Partially because I will admit I have lousy taste when it comes to get to do going ahead and doing what I feel will work for a show. I'll try anything once. As long as it doesn't sound far enough out of we can do it. Francis we handled the Leukemia Society and we created a live sign on top of the bond sign for the old Pepsi-Cola sign was now this star attracted a great deal of attention it was the first time live people had been up there since like 1940 so it's a great
deal of fun but and yet on the other hand this looks like a stunt. This looks like a kind of poor taste thing for the Leukemia Society but it did one thing it attracted the New York's attention to the Society's drive and I feel that it worked tremendously. Some people might consider that a bad taste you know. If I may get back to the woman and look back and I know what actually happened was a woman in the audience was hired unbeknownst to the actor on stage acted in the act and did not know about it the woman apparently was so incensed by this man's attitude towards the female character in the play that allegedly she was so angry she ran up on the stage and she slapped him across the face. And when interviewed by the press she gave these reasons why this is a deception to the public she was an instant she was hired and paid and left on the stage and interfered with the performance. Well that's it we talked a lot about good taste and everyone has their own values according to taste but I think you're quite right David this is a case of dishonesty.
You know this was not and I don't think at any cost the performance itself should be interrupted. Exactly. That's a politician because the play is the play is the play what we're hired to do why we exist is to create an excitement to go see the productions which we're representing. That doesn't mean that you have to lie about it. You have to expand upon. I think that that's again the image the magic the excitement you make the alternative seem as if when you lie or do you send out quiet little notices in the mail as the only means of communication to your audience there are in between. Great extent. David how how important are your let's say personal contacts with newspaper people and others in the theatrical field in terms of getting your shows mentioned and keeping them in the public eye. In other words if something is news or newsworthy do you think that's going to get as much publicity as if you know the right person to call in the newspaper to explain it a little further to say it. If it is to convince them I don't think you have to necessarily know the person although I think it always
helps if you have a personal rapport. But because the newspaper man's responsibility is not to his press agent but to his reading public. So but what you must know is if you have a story if you see the potential of a feature you should best know who to call where. Whose audience would buy this story if you know him so much the better for you. But a good idea is a good introduction to any newspaper man you may not know. Right but are there then for instance ideas or stories feature ideas that you would give specifically to somebody on the news instead of somebody on the time. So often it's the particular right and this is more than the particular paper for a woman's page on any paper might be more apt to a story about a woman the wife of a star for example write a letter. Well now this is another whole area as to how many other let's say even in terms of the newspaper sections of the newspaper do you try to cover. Aside from just theatrically I think I think the fun part is to get off the drama page because there is
your audience beyond the fringe we're very fortunate that we have for people who have such diverse activity as one of the boys in the company as a doctor. Well that's more than a drama page story the fact that he's a practicing doctor and while he's not on stage and it's a non drama page story and you reach a new audience because many people go to the theater and not the students of the drama page the way press agents are they the people that flip through the pages and might find something of interest on the woman's page or in the garden page or in the comic strips on this Welsh page may I add something on how we handle multiple accounts stars Broadway shows television motion pictures and we're we're a big office we have about 10 people on staff and we're very diversified. And my only suggestion is if you're a press agent Don't just read the drama pages. We have stories breaking in the automotive pages in the sports pages women's pages actual front news stories which I believe are the
hardest in the world to get unless you have somebody like President Kennedy. This is the hardest story in the world to get. We're talking about selling a show we're talking about publicizing a show and I'm going to jump your question and go right into an area that I feel is terribly important and I found I've learned this over a cumulative period of years. If you ain't got a show to sell I don't care what it is. Forget it. That's a very hard statement to make because people struggle when they they put a show together and they hire press agents and actors and all these people and they go out and they they try to do their best. But if you don't have a good show. I don't think there's anything in the world you can do to save it. But on the other hand Bill you say if it isn't a good show you there's nothing much you can do I hope that's true that should be true but every season it seems there are at least two or three shows that artistically are just knocked off the map they're called worthless
no good. And yet there's some kind of I don't think it's word of mouth. People don't like it that much but a fantastic promotion campaign behind it and that show will be a big hit for a season or two or three. It always seems to happen at least once or twice a season. I disagree with you if I feel the show has something to offer in the first place. Well let's say you might lose to the audience certainly come blow your horn was never a critic but audiences did like it yes but that's a that's much like a family kind of thing. But it obviously has its reserving. Neither was Don't write me but it had Phil Silvers. Yes well you see there are so many elements as to what makes a hit. You know it isn't all just artistic standards. There are a great many shows that run forever that are not necessarily artistically good Charlton's along with a clever promotional campaign I don't feel that that. That it will that a promotional campaign will help a
Dead show. This is what I'm saying if the show is bad is so bad that it it gets lousy notices and the public is not the kind of show that the that all the public wants to see. Then forget it. And yes I did there you get back to this thing of notices if they open to universally bad notices and maybe this is old fashioned now but you just still do see it occasionally don't take the bad notices and cut out enough words to make it sound sound good like a statement that this show is unbelievably bad. There is nothing good about it. The statement then that they were put in the paper as a show is unbelievably dot dot dot dot good nobody really does that anymore with quotes. They just I think they missed of the morning after that are nothing really mind that one obscure quote that that's favorable. Yes but I don't think they they juggle with. I don't think the critiques would allow them to join I wish there were press agents and publicity people have run into who have too much respect for the critics as a newspaperman to deliberately cut around
something they have still it's nice to get a lie. Most quotes they say. I say let's say their gym aid of course they are for one obvious reason. Ad space is the biggest reason. You cannot quote everything that Walter Kerr has to say about a show even if it's good or bad. So you must delete somewhere and naturally of course the producer and the press agent wants to find the best. Then neither of you feel that if there was the money to take a full page ad day after day and every paper on a bad show will do it that won't sell no. No it won't and neither will the biggest promotional campaign in the world. It will not help. It will maybe keep it running longer than it would have ordinarily run and I don't feel that any producer should or should close a show and unless he runs out of money until it's had a chance. Each show has to be taken on its own for example all the way home is such a peculiar case a show that had ecstatic notices and put up its closing notice the day that their reviews came out
seven rave reviews and the closing notice was up because they had and they had no advance as long as they had a they had a subject matter which people stay away from which is death. And it took a mention of it Sullivan I think that's generally attributed to the eventual success of the show although it never made money but it ran on for several months except the show ran on a struggle the NDR time never had a winning week that is Sanch that you could do pick up the notices the next morning and the press agent smiles and the producer is very static you know no one was in line and nobody games was called the miracle on 54 34 30 40 forth for 30 40 for which I now there's a good promotional campaign who is an excellent one except that it would be very good to see why people why people stay away what was attributed in the case of all the way home is that a critic would start at a very view of a brilliant play about a very dismal subject. Yes and no one not no one because eventually people got there but a great many people are not going to race to the box office to
read of that nor to see that's nice. Well Bill you've mentioned My Fair Lady of a moment ago. With a hit like My Fair Lady It seems the publicist never stops now. Is this mainly because nothing succeeds like success and it just happens or because the office continues to push the show even if there is a well you know they had you know Cheney is guiding them and Dick mainly who drew the person that they had He is one of the Grand Ole group of press agents that father that everybody that everybody can say there is an idol i feel of course that bill Dahl is right up there among them. But the thing about fair lady that is so great is nobody the press agent never had to go to anybody to sell the show. Well this is when I won it just this show the everybody came to the press agent to say can we do a story on My Fair Lady. And there's a vast difference when you've got a show because you have to go to the public to the newspapers television radio and peddle that show. Then when you've got such a tremendous show with so many advantages and so many
marvelous things going for it and big stars and big stars replaced by big stars and move to every theater in town and is still running and then put up a closed nose and can't close the show by popular demand. Has that ever happened before. I wonder Mr. maney did not have to go to the news and say we have a marvelous young beautiful star in My Fair Lady we'd like to talk to you about running that picture. This is where the first half the public wanted to know about your leaving is an illusion said run a picture of Julie Andrews and of course the news is certainly obligated to its public. And they ran and they ran another this is well on another one you say you see this is this is great this is my point of before that you know a press agent doesn't necessarily have to know the newspaper man because the newspaper man's responsibility is to his readers. You have to know what the writer needs but you don't have to have met him personally necessarily. But just know the right person to get into I think Liles question was one that I'm often asked Do you have to spend all your time wining and dining newspaper people to get your stories in the paper which is
not the case. No because it's often a part of it that an interview is done over dinner or a drink. This is this is usually the star's fault rather than the newspaper man's fault which he has no tongue you can a newspaper man can be socially be one of your best buddies or close one of your closest friends and if you don't have anything that's a story he'll say you're a good enough friend that I can tell you no this is not a story no my readers would not be interested in this hardly I feel that that you have to be familiar with the writer you don't have to do with his writing you don't have to know his his him personally but I still feel that. When I say personal contact I don't mean socially I don't mean go out with you Well I was answering what I feel is not tension if you want to drop down to his office with a with a particular story and get to know I mean you said a story is a good end of story is where you meet your newspaper man and then he will tell you personally whether or not he will use the story I feel is much stronger than mailing it to him or calling him and tell him that
you're sending it in the mail from a publicist point of view I feel this is I think that the trading of a drink for a story is a Hollywood myth and doesn't really exist yet so the trading of anything for a story I feel doesn't work. I was told You owe me a favor business. Yeah that and the Word and the pale of it. Yes I feel that that no amount of wining dining or anything of this type is going to say change the critic's mind on your notices. It just absolutely is not going to do it if you've got a bomb show then fine. I'm now told that the number of people that asked me if critics can be bought out. It's just amazing to me how many people might think that they really do. And I often don't understand why a critic may like or not like a show but that he has his own peculiar to me that he really I don't feel that the critiques Bamma show because they're Bunyan's heard. I think they have been terribly misjudged in the fact that that
these guys see every show that opens occasionally. A top critic will send an assistant particularly off-Broadway you find it there and they are bound to become seated very quickly with the theatre. The only point of view they have left is an objective point of view because they certainly cannot be subjective any more about it they cannot be involved with it. They've seen too much too many on both and it's a matter of timing. I worked on Little Mary Sunshine from the day it began and which I think was enormously popular and successful show and I enjoyed it very much but it had the good fortune of opening three days after the Sound of Music which was a widely held and greatly publicized show and the critics sort of had their backs up after it because they were greatly disappointed. Little Mary Sunshine was a show which they had never heard of before and they were absolutely bowled over which sometimes affects the critics reaction because their attitude in their reviews as I recall was here's an unpretentious thoroughly delightful show and what they were really saying as a
comparison to Sound of Music. One of you a moment ago mentioned the star being busy and not having time. Naturally you assume that they understand that if they're in a show the more their name and their show is mentioned the better it's going to be. I have found very few people. Who feel secure as stars enough to not want to do something they also know that the success of the show depend they know the success of the show is the fact that they must. This is what keeps them to remain a star. They realize that their asking price is determined by their popularity. A star can ask for more money depending on how many people they bring into the theater. They know that they have to. It behooves them to allow that so why don't they get published. There were very few that I think actually like to sit around and talk and answer the same questions to newspaper men. I worked on shot in the dark and there's probably a woman Julie Harris probably of any star that I've ever worked with is more self-conscious of talking about herself and she just doesn't enjoy it. She's a very giving woman who would rather talk about many things other than herself. But she realized that
people were interested in her and the day the show opened she said. From 11 to 5 every day. Except for Wednesdays when they're in that news and then I will see people in my dressing room I will I am available for interviews and it's not really pleasant to have to sit and say My son is 6 and when I was a little girl I wanted to be an actress and repeat the same question to him today. But she's a story and she realizes her responsibilities. I think that's a marvelous attitude for a start today. Indeed she says she is a genuine star. Well I'm sorry our time has run out but believe me if I ever have a show that I want to promoted or publicized tastefully and honestly why you two will be the first to be called on so thank you for being with us. Thank you. The story behind the theater today published in promotion little do I join your host for these backstage visits has been talking with William Cass Stevens and David Rosenberg about the role of publicity and promotion in the theater world. In past weeks we have heard how producers directors designers managers and the many behind the scenes members of a theatre production are hard at work long before a play reaches the
- The Story Behind the Theatre
- Publicity and Promotion
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Other Description
- The Story Behind the Theatre is a twelve part program produced by WRVR Riverside Radio. Each week, Lyle Die Jr. of the Equity Library Theater addresses a specific aspect of theater production and interviews two people working in the New York City theater industry. The series seeks to explain the many factors involved in producing a piece of theater by talking with playwrights, producers, directors, and other industry professionals.
- Media type
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-15-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “The Story Behind the Theatre; Publicity and Promotion,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 20, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gh9b9p8f.
- MLA: “The Story Behind the Theatre; Publicity and Promotion.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 20, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gh9b9p8f>.
- APA: The Story Behind the Theatre; Publicity and Promotion. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gh9b9p8f