Friday, March 26, 2010

Theater Needs Better Rivalries

The aspect I most love about sports, be they professional or college or Olympic, is the ever present element of good old fashioned competition between rivals. A hotly contested rivalry gives each camp something to shoot for, a bar to meet and surpass, and pushes both sides to compete harder, better and smarter against all other competitors, not just the hated rival.

And for the most part, the competitive spirit between teams is usually pretty good natured as it's in the interest of both parties to keep the rivalry going. For example, the 49ers don't spend hours working diligently into the evening on the total destruction of the Cowboys organization (at least not publicly), because SF knows that when arch rival Dallas comes to town, tickets will move and beers will be sold at a quicker pace than when the Seahawks come visit.

Yes, of course, there are downsides whenever you're dealing with competition. Chloe Veltman has some thoughts on the alternative papers of the Bay Area, the Weekly and Bay Guardian, who apparently do work late into the evening desperately trying to destroy each other. Veltman argues that it's all a bit silly, considering they're both pretty excellent papers, but that the behavior is especially egregious given the gloomy economic prospects of newspapers these days. "If this continues," Veltman writes, "It won't be long before The Bay Area has no alternative papers at all."

And if you think that sounds a bit hyperbolic, just think about some of those crazy gnarly rivalries in politics, hip-hop or international soccer. Shit can get outta hand, for sure.

However, generally speaking, I think a little competition is a good thing. It's the basis for capitalism right? (Note: capitalism may or may not be a good thing, but for now it seems pretty well accepted around the world, so let's call it a solid.)

Look at the 2007 show down between Kanye West and 50 Cent - both agreed to release their latest albums at the same time and subsequently retire from hip-hop if the other sold more copies in the first week. Though generally regarded as a marketing ploy to boost sales, the face off was hyped as some super personal rivalry between two mega-star rappers. According to Forbes, it worked, "Rivalries sell records."

What's ingenious about sports rivalries, is that a) there is theoretically no end to the rivalry, and b) the start of each new season essentially wipes the slate clean as both sides retool, change line-ups, hire some heavy hitters etc, and the rivalry resets itself. Example: every year every Cal Bears fan says the following about their football team, and it basically never comes true: "This year, we're totally going to beat USC and go to the Rose Bowl."

Theater could use some this competition, or any competition for that matter. Throw down challenges, level ultimatums, ratchet up the rhetoric and have some fun while you're doing it. Developing a marketing plan around competition energizes sales in other industries, so why not theater?

So how could good ole fashioned friendly competition play out in the theater community? Well, I can think of one example off the top of my head, but here's a few more:

1) Two theaters should agree to premiere the same play at the same time. They'd each do their own, individual, and unique as a snowflake productions of the show, but they'd build an entire marketing strategy around competing to sell more tickets. The theater that sells more tickets to its version of the show wins, and the competing artistic director has to shave his beard, or the other company has to agree to be pelted with rotten veggies.

2) Impact ran this pretty dope event called Beer Theater, an experiment which asked the very scientific question, "Could medieval actors hold their liquor better than Impact actors?" Great question, and one that desperately needs to be answered right away and frequently. Now toss a little competition into the mix and you've got some uber dank entertainment. Pit two companies against each other who both perform the same scene and decree that whichever group manages to polish off more pitchers of beer over the course of their scene wins. The loser has to immediately sing a drunken karaoke version of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn".

3) Build a social networking marketing campaign around winning Best Theater Co. in all these Best of the Bay lists that the Chronicle, Weekly and Bay Guardian put out in the Spring. Fans would get more active on Facebook pages or comments sections and eventually start doing their own marketing for their chosen company. The losing company has to put out a YouTube video acknowledging the winner as the Best in the Bay ... or agree to get pelted with rotten veggies.

Point is, all of these strategies would energize fan bases, increase sales, and be generally fun for participants and audience alike. If rivalries can sell records, they should also be able to put butts in seats.

1 comment:

Devin said...

so what we're saying is....does anyone want to fight?