A quick glance in my diary and I have plans to see four world premieres of theatre in the coming months, right here in Melbourne. Whether it's a world premiere by a professional company or a local community theatre group, it does add a certain “wow factor” in the advertising to use this phrase … or does it?
World premiere's can be risky – just ask the producers of Moonshadow and An Officer and a Gentleman. When I first heard King Kong was opening in Melbourne I have to admit I wasn't overly excited, but being the regular theatre-goer I am, I made a group booking nonetheless. But then came the challenge – how do you sell a world premiere?
It may be the cast. While theatre regulars may be aware of Helpmann award winner Esther Hannaford, the average audience member is not familiar with her name. Well, at least, not yet. Similarly, Queenie Van de Zandt will be known to those in the industry but again, she's not quite a household name. Chris Ryan – despite being an experienced actor, he's not known to a musical theatre audience. And finally, the “boy from Bendigo” in his professional debut: Adam Lyon. There's a giant silverback gorilla affectionately known as King (yes – King, not Kong,) but very few people have actually seen him … partly due to the fact that when the cast were being announced and publicity being launched, King was still being put together in a large warehouse in West Melbourne.
Which raises the next attraction: Melbourne itself. Despite the obvious American accent of director Daniel Kramer, the show is predominantly being put together by Australian creative teams. Melbourne was deliberately chosen to open this world premiere and for that reason alone I feel a swelling of home town pride that makes me want to buy a ticket. But how many others would think the same way?
How do you generate interest for a show that has no cast recording, no publicity photos of the actual production, no recorded footage, no reviews … just a website and a very active Facebook page? In a city and country that is used to getting pre-loved, hand-me-down productions from Broadway and The West End, suddenly Australia is becoming a place to launch a world premiere. And this is both a daunting and exciting, new experience.
I asked the marketing manager of King Kong what she believes are the keys to selling a world premiere. Despite the extensive advertising and use of social media, she feels the biggest factor will be filling up the preview shows. She described King Kong as a theatrical event. It's a big show, with a lot of laughter and bright songs in the first half leading up to the appearance of King Kong himself. So there is the entertainment factor. But more than this, King Kong is promising to be an extraordinary work of theatre and once it opens, it is anticipated that word of mouth will be the best way to sell more tickets.
I think she's right … because I've SEEN HIM!!! The 6 metre, 1.2 tonne gorilla: King Kong. And I was impressed. I mean, really impressed. So impressed I came home, jumped on Facebook, told all my friends what I'd seen and convinced some of them to buy a ticket and join me in seeing this new show. And that is exactly why they allowed me to have a sneak peak at a rehearsal.
There is a significant wow factor once you see this impressive beast. His facial expressions are extraordinary and when he swings from one side of the stage to the other … wow! I was given this incredibly rare privilege simply because I'm an audience member who organises groups to attend theatre. The producer knew that we would be blown away by what we saw. The producer also knew that we wouldn't be quiet about this experience, but instead we'd talk about it. And more importantly, we'd tell other people to join us and see the show. Now, when people ask what King Kong will be like I reply, “It will be amazing!” I'm getting just a tad excited about this musical now!
The take home message is simple and can apply to any theatre company, large or small: If you believe in your show, fill up the early performances … preferably with enthusiastic theatre-loving people with lots of friends!