Thursday, April 3, 2008

Episode 8: Murdering Patsy Cline, Part 1

Horror Show and Her Developers decided they wanted to produce their own show at the Ivory Theatre.

Of course Horror Show knows literally nothing about theatre, less than my dog really, so she had to ask some actual theatre people what shows would be appropriate for the Ivory. Too bad they hadn't talked to actual theatre people when they were designing and planning the theatre. That would have prevented a whole lot of problems.

They eventually settled on a show called A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, and they hired a director and actor team who had toured the show and performed it in many cities, to recreate the show here in St. Louis in January and February 2008. (Originally, they scheduled it to overlap the dates New Line was supposed to be in the theatre, and New Line had to fight to keep their promised dates.)

It would turn out to be a genuine disaster in most respects. Horror Show abused and pissed off everyone involved in the show, both local people and non-local, several of whom were more than happy to share their stories, complied here in abbreviated form. They ran this show 32 performances over four weeks, and for the first three of those four weeks, they had pitiful crowds. They spent a fortune on this show, big ad buys, lots of union people, a full union band, the whole shebang. But because Horror Show knew nothing about producing, she totally screwed it up. There were performances with only 8 people in the audience, 15 people, 13 people. One performance had 16, and 10 of them were comps. During the first three weeks, they only broke 30 four times.

Maybe the problem was that Horror Show just forgot that she doesn't know anything about theatre. Or she thought she could just bullshit her way through it, which is how she had gotten this far. Earlier in 2007, New Line had given her their press list, some sample press releases, a detailed list of deadlines, and a list of specific names to pitch feature stories to, but she didn't do any of that. As far as anyone can tell, she just lost all that information.

In fact, no information at all about the show got to the press until well after the show opened. Press releases never went out at all. A week before opening, members of the press were calling New Line asking for information, which New Line didn't have. Later, one of the owners would defend Horror Show by claiming that they had hired a professional marketing manager, but she got sick two weeks before the show. Perhaps Horror Show didn't know that marketing and PR are different things, but she should have. Perhaps she didn't know that two weeks before the show is already way too late to send out a press release, but she should have.

Because there were never any press releases sent to the press, they totally missed out on reviews. They did get one short review after opening, from the RFT, because they had bought ads with them. (Not exactly the right target audience for Patsy Cline, the RFT readers, but who's counting...?) Halfway through the run, they finally begged the Post for a review and got one, as a pesonal favor from Judy Newmark to the developer. So with a nice review, the last week of the run, ticket sales picked up, and they ended up selling out twice -- not that great for a 32-show run in a 230-seat house with a show that sells out most performances in other theatres.

They also bought ad time on KMOX (again, not the best target marketing, but KMOX does have a big audience). But the radio ads did not mention a phone number for tickets! That's a pretty big oversight. And the ads focused mostly on the theatre and its "two bar areas" rather than on the show. I guess no one told Horror Show that people don't buy tickets to see a bar, they buy them to see a show. She also neglected to get approval of the ads from the actor/director team, as their contract stipulated, which delayed the ads and cost extra money.

A week before opening someone discovered that there were 53 unanswered messages on the theatre phone's voice mail. Horror Show didn't know how to access the messages, so she just ignored them. Even after the show opened, they apparently didn't know how to erase messages either, because the theatre voice mail was full and wouldn't accept any more calls for the entire run of the show... which of course made patrons irate.

And then they opened on a matinee, a really bad idea. They did this because Horror Show had screwed up and did not have the technical aspects of the theatre ready in time for the cast and band to rehease on stage before the originally scheduled opening (reportedly because of bouncing checks to venders in the past). Later, Horror Show would blame the actors for this. Of course.

One performance during the run, in early Feburary, had to be canceled due to illness. But to this day, no one has yet received a refund for their tickets for that night. By the time New Line left the Ivory after Assassins in late March, they were still getting irate, screaming phone calls from angry patrons wanting their money back...

But these screw-ups would pale in comparison to the hell visited directly upon the poor actors, musicians, and tech people during the run the show. There was more drama to come...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor