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Penny Penniston
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I don't think I expressed myself well re: The Broadway in Chicago point. "Tragic" is too strong and dramatic a word, yes. And it's not my intent to sound like I'm complaining. I actually think Broadway in Chicago is a tremendous asset to the city and the local theater community. My only point is, that from a branding perspective, the name "Broadway in Chicago" advertises Chicago as a great place to see a New York Play. And because Broadway in Chicago is the biggest clearest marketing voice, an unfortunate side effect of their success is that their branding message bleeds into the branding of Chicago Theater in general. Yes, Chicago is a great place to see a New York play. And anyone who is looking for the Broadway experience should definitely go to Broadway in Chicago. I just think that the Chicago Theater community also has other experiences to offer. And we don't have a marketing vehicle to communicate that fact. Eric, you make the point that "New York/Broadway (i.e. "Broadway") has a mystique Chicago can't begin to match." That is true. But it's partially true because, as John Pinckard mentioned in his post, Broadway spent "gazillions of dollars" supporting that mystique. Those were marketing dollars. In marketing, mystique can be bought. It's freaking expensive, but it can be bought. If we had that same kind of marketing money to spend here, we could create Chicago mystique- a mystique that's unique to us and to our community. It would never rival Broadway and New York. (I don't think it should be our community's goal to rival or imitate Broadway and New York). But it could communicate the depth, breadth and uniqueness of theater in Chicago. And it would encourage even more people to see theater- both local residents and tourists. And Monica, you are correct. The money for such an organization couldn't come solely from theaters. Frankly, we can't even begin to afford it. (The League of Chicago Theaters does do advertising on behalf of our community, but they don't have the marketing budget to make it truly effective). It would take an alliance of business, theater, and city funds to do it right. However, if it could ever be organized, I think it would be an excellent civic investment. Look at the economic benefits NYC has received as a result of them investing in the branding of Broadway. On a positive note: even though we don't have a marketing vehicle to communicate the depth and breadth of Chicago theater, we do have other vehicles. The most obvious is press. Whenever a particular production, actor, writer or director provokes passion and excitement among local and national arts journalists, the whole community benefits. And if each member of our community, whenever he/she has one of those successes, can take it upon themselves to mention their Chicago connection in interviews or appearances, that also helps build the Chicago brand. If we don't have gazillions of marketing dollars, the only way to sustain ourselves is to be really really good at what we do- so good that other people want to talk about our work for us. For free. So the simple solution to our problem is for everyone to be brilliant. All the time. No pressure...
What you are describing is a marketing problem. Marketing problems can be solved, but they require 1) money and 2) a unified voice. I've often dreamed of a Chicago theater marketing association- one that would market Chicago theater in the same way that the MLB markets baseball or the NFL markets football. There three different audiences that we need to market to: 1) Local residents. We need to make local residents aware of the depth and breath of the Chicago theater scene and to define theater-going as an essential part of the Chicago lifestyle. If you live here and you are not going to theater, you are missing out on what it means to be a Chicagoan. 2) Tourists: I want tourists to associate theater with Chicago in the same way that they associate blues clubs and Wrigley Field- it's one of the things you've got to see while you're here. It's an essential part of the Chicago experience. 3) Entertainment/Theater Industry People: Chicago is on the map, but it's amazing to me how it still stays off the radar. Regional Theaters select their seasons based on what's popular in New York. Films & commercials primarily cast out of New York and LA. Agents check NY Times reviews to scope out actors and writers. Why isn't more of that attention directed here? If more industry people tapped into this talent pool, then more writers, directors and actors would be able to make a living here. As a side note: Broadway in Chicago has an excellent marketing organization. They're by far the most powerful Chicago Theater marketing force and the strongest national voice. It's tragic that they have a name which so undermines Chicago ability to claim its own theatrical identity. BROADWAY in Chicago? Is that what we want this city's theater scene to be known for? I have great respect for their work and the people they employ, but the name is terrible for us as a theatrical community. We need our own marketing voice. Which requires money. And organization. As always...
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Jun 25, 2010