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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

After Dark, March 20, 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of PR
Why are there still some theatre companies who hire ultra-maroons?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
What are the lessons we have learned from the death of Vancouver Playhouse (and, in passing, I do not think it is going to rise again)?

For me the chief question is, "Why didn't I, as a concerned Canadian theatre person, know that this was coming?" I have since heard from many Vancouverites that the writing was on the wall. I have also heard that the atmosphere in Vancouver is not conducive (if not downright hostile) to theatre production. But I have learned these things after the fact. Somewhere along the line someone was not communicating to the rest of us. And I do mean "us", as the whole country should be mortified by what has happened in Vancouver.

The primary objective of The Charlebois Post is to get the word out.

But this lack of communication - of exchange of information - is not new to me. Since I have been working this side of the theatre curtain - some two decades (25 years if you count my work at Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia) I have seen that when it comes to communicating, theatres, broadly speaking, are lacking. In short: PR sucks.

Too often (and Vancouver is an excellent place to start) theatres don't get the message out - not about their house, their productions, their people. I can ask and ask and ask for people to tell me what's going on and emails go unanswered. (The exception in Vancouver is Arts Club, God bless 'em, an object lesson in how to do PR.)

The primary objective of The Charlebois Post is to get the word out. Day after day we run into people who are so good about sharing that message. Then, however, we meet, as Bugs Bunny would call them, the ultra-maroons. Many are clueless. Some are settling scores.

First: the job of a good publicist is to run interference between a company and the press - it is not to nurture grudges about previous negative reviews. I am assuming this grudge business is happening in a lot of cases because there is no other explanation why people who dare to call themselves publicists don't send out production photos when asked (when any boob with amphone-cam can take decent shows), don't use pull quotes from positive reviews, don't retweet links to raves, fuck up opening night tickets, ignore email requests for interviews (or if they are forthcoming with an interview subject, it is the prompter). We get email press releases that are abortions - a wasteland of fucked up html coding, graphic touches, fonts-gone-berserk, half-assed photos. Some of the kits become running gags around press people; like the photo of a show that included nudity where all the actors in the photos had red-eyes (making one feel like you were looking at cheap porn). One young publicist, who learned a hard lesson about my temper this month, actually asked us to remove names from a negative review and threw around the word "slander" in his email. There are about a dozen companies from sea to sea, we have emailed, phoned, actively courted to GIVE THEM ADVANCE COVERAGE, who never bothered.

Theatre journalists and publicists are married

Don't get me wrong. Bad PR is not only the purview of small companies - in fact it mostly is NOT. CharPo volunteers have been mistreated by huge companies, second tier companies, amateurs and hacks. Nothing surprises us anymore. The slogan among CharPo editors is: no more chasing - we have no time for that. We know that for every dink, there is a publicist - like at Arts Club, Canadian Stage, Vile Passéist, ATP, COC, Edmonton Opera, Nightwood, Against The Grain, Shaw, Straford and so many more - who does the job with a sense of humour, grace and a short memory (ie: they forget the negative review which last appeared on this site).

Theatre journalists and publicists are married - our baby is Canadian theatre itself. Sometimes that baby is gorgeous and we want to share lots of pictures...sometimes the baby will "grow into its looks". But it's our baby. Our concern. We work together to advance it. We bring it to the attention of the country (even when it's a child only a mother could love).

Or we don't.

When the marriage breaks up it is, as in the case of so many divorces, a question of lack of communication and sometimes - look to the West - something quite valuable dies.


  1. So then it's MY job to chase YOU, right?

  2. it's defo PART of the job. The real job is to do theatre and because theatre requirea an audience to be theatre, to use PR to get them there.


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