Friday, May 28, 2010

Oskar Eustis takes to YouTube!

Via Matthew Freeman, Oskar Eustice announced the Public's 2010-2011 Season:

My only response to this is that Oskar Eustis is a surprisingly poor salesman.

The point of any act of culture, including advertising, is to take knowledge or experience and transfer it to the audience. In this case, the goal of this video-let is to make the audience get the feeling, "Holy Cow! I should go see The Public's new season!"

Do you know how you don't do that? By telling us that the work you're putting forward this season is amazing.

I mean, okay, you can say that here or there, but if you listen to the video, keep track of what percentages of the sentences are unverifiable statements of value. Okay, so Mr. Eustis thinks Gatz is "amazing" and it will make you think that The Great Gatsby is the "greatest American book." Unless I have different tastes from Mr. Eustis. It has happened before.

Instead, the video should have focused us on the facts that might appeal to us about the plays. For instance, take Gatz. I have been praying that someone would stage Gatz in New York (it was shut out for several years because of a straight production of The Great Gatsby. Why? Because Gatz is not a straight production of The Great Gatsby.

Don't tell us that Elevator Repair Service is one of New York's premier downtown company -- tell us about the strange work that they do, and then talk about how their production of Gatz has been on tour all over the world.

So, for instance, here's the Boston Globe on Gatz:
Five years ago, the New York experimental theater group Elevator Repair Service staged an audacious workshop production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby.’’ Not a word of the original text was excised. Every descriptive passage, every evocative detail, every “he said’’ and “she thought’’ was uttered verbatim. The piece, called “Gatz,’’ ran an epic 6 1/2 hours.

In the show, a man in a dreary, dilapidated office begins reading a paperback version of “Gatsby’’ aloud and doesn’t stop until the lives of Daisy and Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, and Nick Carraway reach their tragic culmination.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’’

The unpublicized workshop became an underground phenomenon, attracting industry luminaries to the Wooster Group’s Performing Garage in SoHo. But before Elevator Repair Service could capitalize on its blazing-hot word of mouth to stage a full-scale production, the Fitz gerald estate put a stop to the workshop and told the company it could not perform the show in New York. The estate was concerned about the impact of “Gatz’’ on a more traditional stage adaptation of the novel that was aiming for Broadway.

Since then, “Gatz’’ has become something of a cult legend, with an aura that oddly echoes the mythology surrounding the enigmatic millionaire at the center of “The Great Gatsby.’’ Elevator Repair Service has mounted the show around the world, including Brussels, Amsterdam, Dublin, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Chicago. But it’s mostly been seen in short, weeklong engagements, for a total of only about 50 performances.
Now, there are some subjective value judgments snuck in there ("underground phenomenon," "blazing-hot word of mouth," or "cult legend"), but predominantly, it is a history of the production that tells you A) why it is not just a straight production of The Great Gatsby, and therefore more interesting (or repellent), and B) why Elevator Repair Service is considered a hot commodity.

I kind of stopped watching the video a little bit into it, because I wasn't getting any particularly interesting vibes off any of the pieces that Mr. Eustis was describing. I focus here on Elevator Repair Service because it was a play I was already excited about, so I knew it could be sold in better terms.

And that's the takeaway, people who need to market their own shows: don't you bother wasting your breath telling me that you think it's going to be an amazing show, or a transformational one, or yadda yadda. Of course you think that. At this point, I largely screen out that sort of information.

Anyways, there you go, Matthew Freeman. One gut-reaction, courtesy of the theaterosphere.

(Note: Aaron Landsman, one of the members of Elevator Repair Service, was a professor of mine and was very helpful in the very early days of me founding my own company. I post this as a disclaimer, but also to tell you to check out what he's up to too -- his project City Council Meeting looks awesome.)