Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sex Sells

In my ramble about marketing a few weeks ago, I left out one of the more infamous -- but no less tried and true -- tenets of marketing, that is, sex sells. And yet, I think this is another thing that theater tends to shy away from. Why do I think this? Because there have been two shows (both coincidentally at the Firehouse) in the past year or so that I'm pretty sure involved nudity (I didn't see either of them) but this didn't figure into the marketing at all -- even as a warning. For one of the shows ("The Late Henry Moss"), I had no idea nudity was involved (for "The Secret of Mme Bonnard's Bath," I wasn't so surprised).

OK, so theater is "art" and respectable and so no one would want a company to say "Hey, come look at the naked people!" (Well, RTP sometimes strongly implies that you should come look at the naked or near-naked people.) But I know when I see a warning that say "Adult language" or "nudity" or "adult themes," I think "grown-up play" which, beyond the dirty old man reaction, raises the possibility that it might be more interesting.

I go into all of this because of the recent review of Sarah Ruhl's new play called "In the Next Room," which is about a lot of things but clearly is a lot about sex. Which is an indication to me (given Ms. Ruhl's other awesome shows) that a show about sex has the possibility for being thoughtful and insightful and not just salacious and all T & A. You might think (and maybe justifiably) that there's a touch of desperation in going down the "sex sells" route. But I'm hopeful someone like Sarah Ruhl can demonstrate that sex is a nice juicy grown-up subject that can bring people into the theater. Musicals like "Spring Awakening" and even "Avenue Q" used sex very effectively; why not straight plays as well?


Hans said...

Dave- Don't forget "The Little Dog Laughed" at Barksdale Last Spring it involved dual male nudity.

Dave T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave T said...

And from what I remember, Barksdale had copious warnings. On one hand, the warnings make it clear: "not for prudes." On the other, they say: "want something a little chalenging and possibly in your face, come see!"
Thanks, Hans!

Anonymous said...

In an arena where subscriptions are the backbone it's a bit risky to use a small component of a show to sell the show. There are great pieces that happen to have a scene that has a naked person (HENRY MOSS) and there are those that are not very good plays that have nudity (LITTLE DOG) and those naked people will likely bring in a number (likely small) of people but are perhaps more likely to offend a greater number of people, so the balance of that in this market of trying to present pieces with artistic integrity and broaden the minds of the audiences is a great challenge. And perhaps Richmond isn't really the place to push the envelope quite that far.