The Playgoer: Selling August Wilson on B'way

Custom Search

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Selling August Wilson on B'way

Ben Brantley gave a respectful, though definitely qualified, thumbs-up to the August Wilson swan song, "Radio Golf." But it's doubtful that a review alone (even if it were more enthusiastic) will be enough to fill a thousand-seat theatre on Broadway these days for a non-musical with no stars. Even the Drama Critics Circle for "Best American Play" (as opposed to "Coast of Utopia") will hardly do much. A Tony would give it a bounce, sure. For a week or so.

Smartly, the producing team knows this now. And they also remember how hard it was to get Wilson's last, "Gem of the Ocean," to even open at all in New York three years ago. Hence a brand new marketing campaign, targeted specifically at the tristate area black middle class.

As Bloomberg's Philip Boroff reports:

To reach beyond the typical Broadway theatergoer -- who is a 49-year-old white woman, according to a recent Broadway trade association study -- the producers engaged an array of marketing specialists. Three of them are African-American run. Their targets are African-American-related church groups, professional organizations and book clubs, among others.
At a time when the lack of diversity in the Broadway audience is so lamented, it should be noted how much black audiences have come out for "Color Purple" and "Raisin in the Sun." And even white musicals like "Chicago" and "Aida" when prominent African American singers were cast (like Usher or Toni Braxton). But this should hardly be a surprising phenomenon. Give people a show that addresses them--either their actual lives or just their passions--and they just may buy tickets, especially if courted with group rates which makes the show both affordable and a social occasion.

It also will help in the case of "Radio Golf" that Wilson is a great writer, so the show will follow through on its promise. Unlike other audience outreach efforts to other demographics, like "High Fidelity," where the targeted audience shows up only to see how inauthentic the product is, and so they stay away from the theatre for another 10 years.

Of course, having the occasional black drama on Broadway is hardly a substitute for a sustained
African American theatre company running year round--something there hasn't been in this metropolitan area since Crossroads in NJ folded a few years back, and the Negro Ensemble Company shut down decades ago. But the "Radio Golf" producers are at least showing a respect for this audience that is encouraging. Yes, they're producers and need to save their investment. But at least they're following through on that investment in the bigger sense, too.

Says Donna Walker-Kuhne, from the Brooklyn-based Walker International Communications Group, whose handling the account, "It's only recently we were invited to Broadway...We want people to feel at home.'' Any invitation not limited just to the proverbial "49 year old white woman" is welcome in today's theatre. As long as the art itself is good enough to keep the guests at the party.


Rocco said...

Hey Garrett, I love your ad there, but I have to tell you that I thought you hadn't updated in days. The ad takes up the entire window on my mac, and so I couldn't see the new posts below without scrolling down.

Of course, that's mostly due to my own haste, but I thought I'd let you know.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Given Radio Golf's rather contemporary setting that provides an array of the African-American experience in the 90s, there's a lot not only for black audiences to chew on, but for whites as well.

I hope that audiences of all colors will embrace this opportunity to learn why August Wilson has been one of the last quarter century's most vital playwrights.