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Bewitched... or not bothered?

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TIGGOSAURUS
Broadway Star
joined:12/5/05
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joined:
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Bewitched... or not bothered?#1
Posted: 3/28/10 at 10:32am
Interesting article in The Times this week analysing the success of Wicked:

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/article7076222.ece

In a modest office above a tailor’s shop in Soho, Michael McCabe, the executive producer of the London show, inadvertently nails the formula for a hit on this scale. Shows such as Wicked, Les Misérables and Phantom take root, he says, when they draw out of audiences “a commercial — sorry, an emotional — connection”. McCabe knows that securing that emotional connection over time is a licence to print money.

Wicked has done this without the reassuring head start of a being a musical adapted from a hit film (such as The Lion King) or the back catalogue of a huge band (such as Mamma Mia!) and despite the withering disdain of at least half the critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Reviews of the Apollo show ranged from five stars down to no stars.

According to Matt Wolf, the theatre critic of the International Herald Tribune, Wicked is a landmark for the industry. “It’s changed the rules quite dramatically — the critics are no longer the ultimate arbiters. The old theatre model is rapidly unravelling and being replaced by a new viral model.”

However “if there’s any one thing that really made the difference for Wicked, it’s been social media,” McCabe says. “Facebook has been a phenomenon for us.”


I've so far managed to miss seeing this show on both sides of the Atlantic but hope to finally see what all the fuss is about next week. This article poses some questions for me:

1) Are 'Facebook fans' considered the theatre-going equivalent of 'Facebook friends'? i.e. not true theatre fans? I get the impression they focus on one show to the exclusion of all others (making 'favourite West End production' awards rather meaningless). Or does Wicked fandom lead many on to a deeper appreciation of theatre (and not just from following ex-cast members to new roles)? I've only encountered Wicked fangirls/boys at the Broadway lottery, never at all in the West End.

2) Could a show which is not as likely to be embraced by the 'twitterati' generation succeed to the same extent by using more traditional marketing and old-fashioned word-of-mouth?

Seen some shows in my time....
Updated On: 3/28/10 at 10:32 AM
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Justin D
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joined:4/11/05
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Bewitched... or not bothered?#2
Posted: 3/28/10 at 11:08am
Chances are, regarding your first question, most facebook wicked fans probably are only wicked fans.

For me, years ago, I was just a Phantom fan for many years, then I eventually decided (when i was all fanned out) to look into other shows, first, other shows by ALW, then what was "popular"
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27199361@N08/ Phantom at the Royal Empire Theatre
Princeton2
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Bewitched... or not bothered?#2
Posted: 3/28/10 at 11:15am
Regarding the second point. I think Wicked is an exception, it really is the Phantom/Les Mis of the day. However interestingly its Official Facebook page actually only has 10600 fans, other shows (Legally Blonde and Love Never Dies for example, have much more). A show would be stupid not to imbrace social networking as a marketing tool. It is one of the big modern ways of communicating with consumers and selling your product. Whether its Bebo, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube etc, they all offer direct access to the general public. Many many shows now have Facebook fan pages, and a growing number of actors do to. Its not JUST the teenage fangirls/boys that sign up to these sites. Age ranges from from teenagers right through to over 60s. It allows the public to feel closer to the show/actor, and the producer/actor to showcase blogs/video blogs, special offers, exclusive first looks etc etc to help generate buzz.

It is generally considered that social networking saved Avenue Q when it first opened. In fact there was an article about it (cant find it at the min), basically they set up a group on Facebook, put out offers on there etc etc, its popularity grew and grew among the type of audience it needed to attract (the younger generation).

The press arnt as interested in theatre as maybe they once were. Love NEver Dies may have hit the headlines, but thats all been about the 'Love Should Die' people, not about the cast for example. Whereas in the old days shows made stars of people (Ball, paige etc) its very rare for that to happen. Using Social Networking allows actors and productions to get their name out there, communicate with fans and sell themselves. All this is done so that whenever you sign into your social networking profile, the latest updates are there waiting for you, you can miss it. Its direct, and seemingly personal.

I would say also that not everyone on Facebook adds random people, I sure as hell dont, and I know many people who dont. In fact id say based on people I know more people are being more selective in who they add on facebook (of course there are always exceptions) People use it for keeping in touch with friends, and growingly, keeping upto date on their favourite artists, products etc. Save going to loads of websites. So I dont think you can discount Facebook and the like fans as they must have some interest in theatre otherwise they wouldnt have got interest in the show in the first place.

hmmm that was rambly, I apologise!
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TIGGOSAURUS
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Bewitched... or not bothered?#3
Posted: 3/28/10 at 12:11pm
Not rambly at all Princeton, a very thoughtful response. I suppose I was playing devil's advocate a bit. Personally I agree with a lot of what you say about the necessity of theatrical productions embracing modern media and social networking, I just wonder if it's a development which is looked down upon by many in the industry vis-a-vis more traditional forms of marketing. To my mind it still skews towards a much younger demographic and, generally-speaking, caters more for fandoms than occasional theatre-goers.

In the case of actors and performers, social networking certainly allows for more accessibility, but personally I'm skeptical about how much positive PR can be gained from twittering. Bewitched... or not bothered?
Seen some shows in my time....
Updated On: 3/28/10 at 12:11 PM
Princeton2
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joined:6/1/08
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Bewitched... or not bothered?#4
Posted: 3/28/10 at 1:03pm
Im not a personal fan of twitter, but it does do a good job of seemingly being friendly with fans, while keeping them at a safe distance. You do need to be careful what you tweet, or better yet get a 3rd party to run your social networking. If run well its a great form of PR, but there are lots of pitfalls you need to avoid!

Problem is, fandom is a great thing for a show, its a way of creating buzz. Otherwise you are reliant on the media creating a buzz for you, or paying for advertising. I dont think you can rely on social networking alone, but you definately need to have it in your strategy (take note Dewynters!). Social networking is an 'as well as' tool, not 'instead of'. Same with having a great website.

Its definately not just a younger persons thing (I know PLENTY of people in their 50s and 60s who use Facebook and the like), but the majority probably so. These networking sites also allow people more insight into the production that an advert just cant do (eg blogs, videos, music extracts etc), they are like mini websites. People like to feel involved, and most importantly, all this is FREE marketing