As you might expect, given that we are based in London, our drama school decided to take us more northerly. It was a wonderful few days, but the audience numbers were somewhat diminished – our matinee audience was just under 50, and our evening around 100, in a venue that held nearly 300.
I’m not suggesting we deserved sell-out performances, but it’s always nice to have full houses. It got me thinking about an article featured recently on the Guardian website which questioned the use of ‘trailers’ as a means of advertising shows. The article is still available to read online.
In a recent column Honour Bayes put forward the case that, on the whole, theatre trailers were falling short of the mark, stating “I’m still slightly unsure whether theatre trailers are really doing their job – or even what that job is.”
Presumably their job, like most marketing ideas, is to get bums-on-seats. But then people like me, who seek out trailers, would probably end up seeing a show even if there wasn’t a glossy trailer for it. So, perhaps Bayes is more confused about who the trailers are really aimed at?
Dusthouse, who produce all of the promotional video work for the RSC, came back at Bayes via their Facebook group. “We are not reaching out to regular mailing list members,” they retorted, “rather the new, visually savvy potential audience for tomorrow."
Dusthouse along with others are 'waking up' potential new audiences to discover the live theatre experience”. And, if what I read today about the new Robin Hood trailer for the RSC getting a cinema release is anything to go by, I think they are probably quite right.
Bayes also had a problem with a lot of trailers feeling vague and unrepresentative of the shows they’re supposed to be representing, citing a trailer of Wittenberg for the Gate directly: “The trendy backing track, montage of quirky angles and snappy quotes felt like a smokescreen to hide the fact that no one in the production had any idea what Wittenberg was going to be.”
I got in contact with Iona Firouzbadi of MisFit Films, who produced the trailer, and she told me, “I did work very closely with both the director and designer of Wittenberg. They had a clear vision for how they saw the show and both felt that the video we created captured that extremely well.”
I must admit, a few years ago I would’ve been inclined to agree with Bayes; trailers were very often an afterthought and were given to being both too long and too hazy to insight any real urge to buy tickets. But with Dusthouse and MisFit, amongst others, the medium is being pushed forward and developed. The majority of trailers that I see at the moment, though perhaps not as descriptive as reading the show blurb, do give a taster of the show and, on the whole, tease you into wanting more.
Dusthouse, again, explains rather well the reason for giving an essence rather than a description: “The 'Theatre Trailer' is a moving beast and one that will continue to evolve over time. Its job is to capture the essence of what an audience may expect to witness, whilst also existing as its own unique piece of art… The work is often created months before a show hits previews and often before a rehearsal takes place. It is not uncommon for a play to be in its infancy when we come on board. Were we to wait until a play was at tech week or preview stage, the window for marketing opportunities would be long gone.”
Dusthouse are right, their trailers are beautiful – even Bayes backhandedly agrees “It's not as if there isn't money washing around. Dusthouse…seem to have budgets similar to that of an HBO series.” Having spoken to them I’m confident they don’t, and that it’s their initiative and skill that gets them such a long way.
MisFit Films also told me that their “Sweeney Todd trailer, for instance, has had in excess of 18,000 hits.” That is quite remarkable, but I would be interested to know if it correlates to ticket sales.
Though Dusthouse might profess that, “It has been statistically proven time and time again that there is a significant increase in ticket sales for shows AFTER the release of theatre trailers,” I’m yet to see any statistics. Nevertheless, as long as they’re not hindering a production I see no reason why they shouldn’t stay? Especially if they are aiming, as Dusthouse do, at people who mightn’t ordinarily go and see live theatre.
I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that my drama school tries something similar next time we go ‘on tour’.