By Stanford Friedman
I arrived earlier than planned tho BroadwayCon on Saturday morning,so I snuck into the end of a discussion on cosplay because, really, how could one not? On the dais, a princess, a cat, and a Phantom of the Opera held forth. The audience was full of assorted Schuyler sisters, and various characters from Wicked. The conversation was a rather fascinating mix of gender politics and tips on buying fabric; surely it was the only outlet at BroadwayCon where Goodwill shops and transgenderism were simultaneously getting proper recognition for their merits.
Thus fortified, I next got down to business at a panel on social media marketing for Broadway, featuring five experts on all things Twitter and Facebook. The session itself was interactive with questions and real time polls taking place on Twitter under the hashtag #BwayConSocial. Steven Tartick of SpotNYC led things off with an amusing anecdote about marketing the revival of Cats. At first, his PR firm thought they were in for a social media disaster since Twitter is constantly saturated with tweets about actual cats. But, embracing the dilemma, they found that through the use of animated cat graphics and the creation of fun cat memes, their problem was actually a godsend.
Mark Seeley, of Situation Interactive, offered an example of how personalized Twitter can be. To help market Dear Evan Hansen they offered free access to one of the show’s songs. But the link to that song was sent only to fans who had, at one time or another, tweeted at the Dear Evan Hansen account. The bottom line for Broadway social media, they all agreed, was to do whatever was possible to decrease the distance between potential future audience members and their favorite shows. Right now, this also includes the live streaming of some opening nights and intermissions, and in the near future fans will be taken even closer. Social media phenom Snap has recently released Spectacles, eyeglasses which, with the press of a button, records 10 seconds of video and streams it to Snapchat. There are plans afoot for actors to occasionally don a pair and click off a quick recording during a performance. And once virtual and augmented reality becomes widespread and affordable, the sky’s the limit.
For something completely different, the next session offered three Broadway casting directors (out of a total population of about 20) who work with long-running shows. Eric Woodall divulged that Hal Prince and Andrew Lloyd Webber still get involved whenever one of the leads in Phantom is being re-cast, even after 29 years. Benton Whitley offered advice on auditioning for Chicago. He observed that there are Bob Fosse proteges out there teaching dance, and it wouldn’t hurt to take lessons from one. And, whatever you do, do not emulate the movie version of the show, its arrangements are not the same. He also pointed out that celebrities are often cast as Roxie, but never as Velma, the more difficult role. Auditioning celebs who have never sang or danced before is perilous enough without the high notes and high kicks. Meanwhile, Mark Brandon, who casts The Lion King, has had to put up with auditioners rolling on the ground like animals, and an inordinate number of actors, for reasons unknown, fainting during their auditions.
In the afternoon I attended two writerly sessions. First up was a massive ten person panel sponsored by the Drama Desk; five critics, four playwrights and a press agent, discussing the state of criticism. Not to be critical, but it was too large an assembly to allow for much in-depth analysis. Mostly, it was good-natured ribbing, but the occasional gem did surface. Helen Shaw, critic for Time Out New York and a teacher of criticism, had perhaps the most pertinent observation when it came to the merits of a written review: “The action of writing is the action of slow thinking.” Amen. Also of interest were comments by the playwrights on what type of critics they prefer. Best answer: Critics who review what they saw at the performance, not what they would have liked to see.
A panel of playwrights ended my afternoon. Joe DiPietro (Memphis, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), Jenny Racel Weiner (resident playwright at the Roundabout) and Lindsey Ferrentino (Ugly Lies the Bone) provided some great tips for the aspiring scribe. All three are firm believers in establishing deadlines. Mr. DiPietro makes up imaginary deadlines to keep him on schedule. Ms. Weiner does one better by promising to send out a finished play by a specific date. And Ms. Ferrentino tops them all by scheduling a date for a public reading long before she has finished a script. When it comes to receiving feedback on a work in progress, Mr. DiPietro only wants to hear three things: what didn’t you understand, where did you get ahead of the play, and where were you bored. Excellent words of wisdom with which to head home.