Trailer trash

Tell me you wouldn't love this. You're settling into your seat at the theatre. The curtain is about to rise on The Jersey Boys , say, or Act Without Words II. But before the show begins, the stars of three or four other shows rush in and hurtle through capsule versions of their productions: all tease and shiver, crackle and charm. Yes, my friends, the monkey would love to see trailers, live on stage.

You can't quite see Dame Judi Dench hurtling round a dozen theatres in London's West End to plug Madame de Sade? Me neither, alas, but wouldn't it be amazing if she did? The closest we get on the London stage is smart dance house Sadler's Wells, which each year offers snatches of its shows in programmes called Sampled. They're a bit like galas - one of the curses of ballet, to my mind, with their glutinous miscellany of crowd-pleasers - except that the tickets are cheap and the evening's function is unashamed come-on. There's a good atmosphere, but a whole evening of trail becomes wearing, so I ducked this weekend's selection, which included ABT and Matthew Bourne's Swan Lakes, plus circus, flamenco and hip-hop.

I love trailers: during a stint as a movie critic, and mostly attending press screenings, I began missing them, and would have to lean into the laptop at home to scratch that itch. Theatre companies still seem pretty shy about trailing their productions. The National Theatre goes for arty black and white, but what's fantastic about a trailer is the minidrama. In two minutes you get a narrative arc, principal characters, a couple of the second-best jokes or less jaw-dropping action sequences- everything bar the don't-spoil-it highlights and the ending.

The monkey is still hazy about the details of how this would work, though you'd surely need some boom-throated actor to stand beside the stage and intone, 'She thought she could have it all. The man. The glory. The gun', or maybe 'When times are hard, something's for the chop.' And, yes, ten scene changes in 90 seconds might be taxing. But think of the joy, people.

A recent New Yorker profile of Tim Palen, Lionsgate's promotional general, shone some light on the trailer's dark arts - how you work with what you've got, unless you haven't got it. In which case, you pretend that you have. Savage recutting makes snoozy films seem snappy and whiny ones romantic. We're used to seeing foreign-language movies trailed without a line of yer actual Hungarian, and I only realised quite how box-office-poisonous Woody Allen has become when watching the trailer for Vicky Cristina Barcelona earlier this evening. In his pomp, his name would have sold the movie, bannering across the screen in big caps. Now it's strictly small print, and the trailer is all about Javier Bardem's tomcat moves plus some smoochy girl-on-girl action.

Even so: I don't care if they tell little white lies, or even big nasty fibs. I don't care if they run over dramaturgical integrity in the hobnailed boots of immediate gratification. I just want trailers on stage, live and lively. Someone, please, make this work.

January 27, 2009 12:31 AM | | Comments (5) |


It's a slippery slope, Sanjoy. The trailers end, there's a general murmur of approval; then half the audience ups and leaves, leaving a sticky trail of maltesers and gatorade up the aisle, while the cast of Waiting for Godot glares at their departing backs...

Given that theatre, on the whole, involves a lot of talking, for quite a long time, I'd have thought that trailers would be brilliant for people (like me) who aren't really theatregoers. You'd get a set-up, some choice moments, maybe some voiceover - *then* you can decide if you get a good enough feeling to commit to the rest of it.

I foresee a problem though (for the theatres, not for me). I can quite imagine the form growing into a little artistic genre in itself. In which case, I might end up going to the theatre just for the trailers. Do you think they'd start selling popcorn?

Harsh words, Hugh. Clearly you're not someone who thrills to a bass voice announcing "In a world without pity, only one man is prepared to take a stand," over a picture of, I dunno, Shrek (it's possible some of the details need work).

But, more seriously, I do realise I may have got carried away. Waiting for "Mrs Affleck", the National Theatre's painstakingly grim take on late Ibsen, to begin last night, I did wonder what effect a chirpy live trailer for Spamalot might have on the subsequent production...

Simply silly man, silly.

Trailers live on stage would simply be a distraction from the mood and anticipation
of the drama to be seen. If presented on film they would introduce another media alien to the stage and an even bigger distraction.

Trailers belong with film where I've always found them to be hyped-up exaggerations of the forthcoming film.

We've had a fine response to this idea from Jim McCarthy. But he clicked another of the site's buttons and *sigh*, the monkey can't really transfer things. But his own post comes up with a couple of fine suggestions for making my dream a reality. One of them involves sending out lesser-known actors to rush around theatres trailering away. Oh oh oh, even better, how about a troupe which only performs trailers? They could be witty madcaps, or exist in a perpetual state of throbbing high emotion. Either way, I'm ridiculously over-excited. Mr Jim, the monkey salutes you.

By Jim McCarthy on January 27, 2009 10:43 PM
Hi, David:

My name is Jim McCarthy. I'm the CEO of Goldstar ( which you might have heard of and the Editor of a new project called Live 2.0.

Anyway, I'm about a week from launching Live 2.0 at the TED conference (, though I'm adding content in the run-up to launch, and it so happens I wrote about your post on movie trailers in the theatre.

Here's the link:

I love the idea and offer some alternative ways of pulling it off!

Best wishes,

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This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on January 27, 2009 12:31 AM.

Practical criticism: speak the speech was the previous entry in this blog.

Once more - with feeling? is the next entry in this blog.

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