Talk to me about marketing Shakespeare

Andrew Shuttleworth at The Armory

Oh gosh: let’s see if I even remember how do to do this.

Back in the day, when I didn’t have clients playing everything Ravel wrote for the piano etc., I did interviews with Industry Professionals. The reasons were two-fold: first, I’m a curious soul, and second, I’m sure you all get tired of me. The interviews are all archived on a right side column. Scroll down a bit and they’re there.

So here is Andrew Shuttleworth, Marketing Communications Manager at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. I was curious about his Shakespeare shenanigans when I saw him Tweeting as both himself and @shuttlespeare. Below, he talks about the job of marketing The Royal Shakespeare Company at The Park Avenue Armory in New York through August 14. More information here.

 

 

AS: First things first: I do this interview, you give me Hilary Hahn’s phone number, yes?

AA: Yes. Just one number off, creepy-dude-you-meet-at-a-bar-style.

 

Royal Shakespeare Company at the oh-so-trendy Park Avenue Armory in the summer: seems like a marketing no-brainer, right? Were there any concerns about selling tickets? 

I should start by explaining I’m but a bitty cog in the very clever machine that is Lincoln Center. What I say is for the most part from the perspective of someone who is privy to little beyond copywriting and social media. Smarter people than me make this place run.

That said: Sure, you have to work to sell every ticket. We had tens of thousands of seats to fill. That’s a big number even if the tickets are free. But to bring the entire Royal Shakespeare Company and their theater over from Stratford-upon-Avon? That should be thrilling to any American who cares about theater, and if ticket sales are any indication, people have responded to it every bit as enthusiastically as we’d hoped.

 

New Yorkers are lucky enough to have The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park every summer, for free if you wait on line or enter an online lottery. Why did Lincoln Center think we needed more Shakespeare?

Who doesn’t want more Shakespeare? Can you have enough of the greatest things ever written in English?

The Public’s Shakespeare is always terrific and it’s a part of theater history in New York. We all went to Measure as a staff this year and loved it. And the city’s full of other great Shakespeare, too, like the very cute Henry V that’s up now in Castle Clinton and Governors Island, and Theatre for a New Audience, and the magnificent Lear that was just at BAM, and Hudson Valley, and a number of others.

But even with all that Shakespeare around, the RSC is an experience unto itself. It’s a repertory company, which means they hire actors rather than merely casting roles, and this ensemble has been working together for three years before this final stint in New York. Three years! Here we don’t see actors who’ve been living and working and growing together for three years unless they’re doing Cats.

The RSC does Shakespeare in a way that’s unlike anything else you can get in New York. I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a place for them here.

 

Do you think you’ll attract some of Shakespeare in the Park’s young crowd, or do you think, because of the high ticket prices for the Armory performances, that your crowd will be older? Less inclined to wait on line, enter online, and sit outside in the heat? Are younger patrons even a concern/goal? 

I’ve seen a lot of young people at these shows so far, including young couples and even families with children who seemed to love As You Like It. Young audiences are a big part of what we do.

Since you mention young audiences: 800 young people aged 8–14 from underserved communities from New York will get the opportunity to experience Shakespeare with productions of Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors. It’s part of the education program created by the RSC and Park Avenue Armory’s education department, along with workshops for teachers and teaching artists.

The program was inspired by the RSC’s very cool Stand up for Shakespeare program in the UK—“do Shakespeare on your feet, see it live and start it earlier,” they say. There’s more on http://www.rsc.org.uk/education.

 

Speaking of the price, two pairs of nosebleed tickets for As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet for my sister’s birthday in August (don’t worry—it wasn’t a surprise) set me back $192. Ticket prices include a 20% tax-deductible contribution to Lincoln Center, which is, of course, Highly Annoying. Why are tickets priced so high, and have you gotten any complaints? Are there student rush tickets or lottery tickets available, like a lot of the Broadway shows offer? 

There’s a big range in prices, from those in line with hit Broadway shows down to $25 rush seats. This residency is a major undertaking. We’ve had some very generous supporters who’ve helped make it possible, and one of the largest blocks of support has come from the tax-deductible contributions you mention that are embedded into the ticket prices. This is how we’re able to bring these people here.

We’re doing everything we can to make the RSC available to as many people who want it as we possibly can. Like the Public and the Met Opera, we’ve got an online rush-ticket lottery (http://bit.ly/RSCrush) for $25 seats. No donation, no queuing up; and we’ve held back tickets for every single performance, even the sold-out ones, so we could offer this service throughout the run.

 

There are so many aspects of this. You’ve rebuilt the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre here in NY, for example. I saw you were covered in the New York Magazine Home Design section. Have you gotten any other interesting non-theater press for this? 

Our Public Relations department got us a ton of publicity for this. My personal favorite of the non-theater pieces was in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week—they ran an article in their society pages (http://on.wsj.com/rfysCB) about the actors’ nightlife, which included this delightful quote: “‘Last night we started with one drink and then suddenly it went to unlimited drinks,’ Mr. O’Neill recalled. ‘It’s actually quite useful for the character of Mercutio.’”

 

What’s happening with all the supplies when the performances are done: the seats, the structure? Did you buy them? Rent them? Can we expect to see this theater recreated every summer? C’mon, give Life’s a Pitch the EXCLUSIVE.

The theater’s a fascinating story. The RSC’s architects and crew built it in Stratford-upon-Avon—it’s a portable recreation of their new Royal Shakespeare Theatre there. They built it in pieces, flat-packed it in 46 shipping containers, brought it to New York on two ships, and called in an army of several dozen engineers in RSC T-shirts to unpack it and assemble it here like so much IKEA furniture. It was like ballet. There’s a time-lapse video of the assembly, from an empty Armory to Romeo and Juliet, here: http://on.fb.me/nSuiH4

After this, the theater’s going to be shipped back to the UK, where it will be stored in Wales until the company has a chance to use it again. No word yet on when or where. But it is a spectacular space for Shakespeare.

 

You work in Lincoln Center’s marketing department, yet you seem to have taken a special interest in this project, running a Facebook page and Twitter feed! Did you volunteer yourself for these duties, or was greatness thrust upon you, as it were?

Ah, social-media greatness, the most lasting kind! I really think I was hired only for my last name—“Shuttleworth on Shakespeare” has a good ring to it.

It wasn’t my idea, but I never turn down an opportunity to put my name on something. The idea came from my boss Peter Duffin, who had this vision that I could start what we initially imagined as an “email club” where I’d share behind-the-scenes information about the RSC residency with the most interested fans, who, we hoped, would become our ambassadors, spreading the excitement to their friends. We tossed it around for a while last year, and the original idea turned into the Facebook/Twitter thing you’ve seen and evolved from there.

It’s interesting. On the one hand, it’s an official Lincoln Center communications channel, and when I write, I am speaking as and for Lincoln Center. But on the other, it really is just me, talking to people I’ve come to think of as friends. There’s no approval process, no filtering except for my own judgment. I think it’s been a success, and we’re trying to figure out how to adapt what we’ve learned from it to our other programs.

One of the most fun parts of it was a Facebook game we hosted in March and April called “Bard Madness” (http://bit.ly/bardmadness). The idea was to have people predict the “best” Shakespeare play with a basketball-style bracket, then vote on each of the matchups. We wound up having more than 3,000 people play the game. The ten daily roundups, which I tried to write a little like sports columns, are still up at that link—people posted fantastic commentary.

 

It’s always best to market/publicize/promote something you care about, but how do you get that opportunity when you work for a large organization like Lincoln Center? Are you doing some of this on your own time, or are they happy to just let you go to town? Do you have to make your own opportunities? Answer this one for all the bored marketing assistants; we’ve all been there!

My “own time”? What’s that? I’ve never been one to draw much distinction between my personal and professional lives, for better or for worse. Unless I am in a canoe in Maine I feel I am on duty.

When I’m not doing this Shakespeare thing, I’m Lincoln Center’s copywriter (officially “Marketing Communications Manager”), which means I get to write about music, theater, dance, and opera for the world’s biggest performing arts center. This job is a dream come true. The fact that I know and passionately love Shakespeare was just happy serendipity when this RSC thing came around, and I was lucky to be allowed to work on it. That it would one day result in my dancing to Queen at 2:00 am with the RSC actors was an undreamed-of shore, and yet here we are. I’m a happy boy.

 

As someone who works in a marketing department, and, I assume, doesn’t usually get to “talk” directly to concert/play-goers, are you enjoying your interactions on Facebook and Twitter? For example, this reads better, more casual, on Facebook than it would in a press release:

If you haven’t heard, a bit of unpleasant news today: Sam Troughton, a Shakespearean by birth and our excellent Romeo, injured his knee during this afternoon’s performance. The show was stopped briefly; but, as it must go on, it continued with Dyfan Dwyfor (ordinarily Peter) as Romeo.

I hear from RSC colleagues that Dyfan is an excellent understudy—did anybody see either of today’s performances with him as Romeo?

Thanks. I do work events dealing with patrons sometimes, which I enjoy, but I love these Facebook/Twitter interactions. I find that a love of Shakespeare is an excellent sign that someone’s worth knowing.

Things like the post you quote are probably what makes my bosses more nervous than anything else. It reads friendlier than a press release can, and it also invites conversation, which is great, but who knows what comments people might post? Concern for Sam? Outrage about seeing an understudy?

And yet almost all the comments have been very positive. I think that even though I “am” Lincoln Center, because this page is written in the first person singular, anyone with a complaint feels less like they have to scream to be heard. When someone does post a complaint, I respond to it as quickly as I can, whether I’m at my desk or on the Manhattan Bridge—and I’m using my real name. That’s kind of a novel concept for an institution the size of Lincoln Center.

 

Do you know, by any chance, know the Shakespeare Raccoon?

We’ve chatted a bit. He seems like a debonair little guy, doesn’t he? I understand he trekked over to our R&J the other night.

 

Oh wait also, my sister wants me to tell you that she likes the banners. “They’re so Shakespeare and make the Armory look great!” —Aliza 

I’ll tell our designers. Shakespeare sure does dress a place up!

 

Sure does:

Andrew as Shakespeare en route to a Lincoln Center board meeting (no joke)

Related
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on Facebook

Comments

  1. Lissa Schiff says

    As of last night, the only orchestra or front circle seats available for two of the plays, including the add-on “compulsory contribution” were $500 a pair. Really, this is simply too high. Anything more that $150 per ticket is gouging, plain and simple.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>