Monthly Archives: July 2010

Facebook Polls: A Social Media Experiment (or the art of democratic marketing in the digital age)

A couple of weeks ago I posted a status on our Facebook Page that asked our Fans to help position In the Next Room or the vibrator play in the marketplace by choosing which of three positioning statements made them want to come see the play. The idea came out of a meeting I had with our Marketing Director and our Managing Director in which we came up with three strong positioning statements, and had trouble choosing just one because, frankly, each could work. That’s when the decision was made to ask our Facebook Fans their opinion. Or, rather, I believe the exact statement was, “let’s put it on Facebook! See what happens!” Very Woolly.

These were the three positioning statements that were posted on Facebook:

  1. Sarah Ruhl’s Pulitzer Prize-finalist In the Next Room or the vibrator play comes to Woolly…
  2. From the author of The Clean House and Dead Man’s Cell Phone comes In the Next Room or the vibrator play
  3. Fresh off a Broadway run comes Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play

And, these are the apprehensions I had about conducting this experiment:

  1. Not all Woolly theatregoers are on Facebook. Therefore, whoever responded to this post would be self-selecting in two ways: first, they are on Facebook to begin with, and second, they are moved to comment and vote.
  2. Often, when asked to “survey” or express an opinion in public, people lie. (Seriously! It’s true!) How would we know if the “winning” statement would actually turn out to be a winner?
  3. I had very strong opinions about option three. Having recently moved to DC from NYC where I spent the last several years in the commercial theatre world, I have very strong opinions about using the word “Broadway” when it comes to positioning a play. I am very much of the mindset that just because a show was on Broadway, or is going to Broadway, doesn’t mean that it is a good show. (I mean, often it’s not very good. Let’s just be honest about that.) Unfortunately most fairly novice theatregoers do not know this, or at least do not agree with me. I said in the meeting with the Marketing Director and the Managing Director that I just did not know what I would do if option three won. There might have been a war. Me vs. DC audiences, and that’s no way to start a new job.
  4. Who cares. Let’s be honest. Who cares how you position a play? Most people don’t think marketing is sexy so why on earth would they be willing to care enough to comment back on our post?
  5. Would anyone comment at all? Our Facebook Page was still very green. That’s one reason I was hired, to beef it up. Would anyone comment? Engage with us? Start a dialogue…? Was this the right way to accomplish my basic goals – to be more transparent and be more engaging – or should I post a photo of a cast member instead?

And this is what happened:

  1. Option one, the Pulitzer Prize-finalist won. Option three (Broadway) came in a very close second. If you look at our ads today, our press releases, our website, you will see the use of “Pulitzer Prize-finalist.” (Full disclosure: That was my favorite option! But, does it really matter what I think…?)
  2. 29 people commented on the status, the most comments we had ever received on a single Facebook post.
  3. In addition to the options we laid out we also got other suggestions, anything from a conservative, “You could also call it Tony-nominated,” to a more radical, “In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl. If you don’t come see our play, we’ll just have to play with ourselves,” which showed not only that our audiences are smart and witty but that the question sparked a little dialogue… which is the point of social media, and the purpose behind so many of the connectivity initiatives we do here.

In retrospect I think this experiment was a success and validated two theories that are often tossed about when discussing social media in this industry:

  1. Ask a question in your status! People will respond.
  2. Though not proven, it has been hypothesized that the theatres’ social media users have a stronger response to posts that involve the business side of things instead of the artistic side of things. This is a very new theory but I’m thinking it might be true.

But, most importantly, I consider the experiment a success because it leaves me asking questions. Do our Facebook fans like to talk more about the art or the business? What would have happened if the Broadway option had won? Is it the right choice for those of us in marketing and communications to relinquish a bit of control and let the audience decide?

What do you think?

~Alli Houseworth, Communications and New Media Manager


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In the Next Room or the vibrator play: Today, Through the Lens of Yesterday?

One of the things theatre does really well is to help us gain perspective on our own lives by asking us to look through the eyes of people in distant times and places. Even in the most ancient or exotic of plays, the actors themselves exist in the here and now, in the same room with us. And so the theatre is always, implicitly, pointing us toward the present.

In Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play we are asked to think about the challenge of creating and sustaining intimacy in any relationship, especially marriage. The play transports us to a prosperous town in upstate New York in the 1880s, a time when the barriers to intimacy appear much greater than today. It’s the dawn of the electrical age, and hot on the heels of Mr. Edison’s invention comes a medical device known as the vibrator. From the point of view of the male doctors and scientists, this is just the thing for curing a range of feminine ills, including the ubiquitous malady known as “hysteria.” But the women in the play gradually come to view (and to use!) the device in ways the men hadn’t anticipated—which accounts for the play’s utter charm and sense of surprise.

In the Next Room builds on Sarah’s fascination with the double-edged nature of technology explored in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, which premiered at Woolly in 2007. Technology simultaneously gives us tools to connect with one another (via cell phones, e-mail, etc.) and increases our isolation by reducing face-to-face contact. In Dead Man’s Cell Phone, you may recall, a lonely woman discovers the cell phone of a man who has just died, and through the device she enters into a relationship with the people who were part of his life. Along the way, she develops a strange romantic obsession with the dead man. But finally she must face the dark truth about his past – that he was a callous international trafficker in body parts!

When Dead Man’s Cell Phone opened, Sarah Ruhl had just become a mother for the first time. Perhaps that’s why, for her next play, she left behind the obsession with death and focused on the hard challenge of connecting with the living. The central character of In the Next Room, Mrs. Givings, must cope with both a new baby and a distracted husband. The time period, with its quaint Victorian notions about the roles of men and women, is a brilliant stroke – because it places huge barriers in the way of Mrs. Givings’ attempts to deal with her own physical longings.

But have those barriers really changed today? Obviously, sexuality is more overtly present in our age, considering the content of television advertising, the proliferation of sexual self-help books and magazines, the availability of sexual aids in the form of both drugs and props, and the omnipresence of porn on the internet. But does all this make intimacy between sexual partners any easier, or is it a new kind of barrier, perhaps in the form of an unspoken pressure or just a babble of confusion? Like technology itself, which simultaneously draws us together and divides us, does the supposed sexual openness of our own society create its own kind of barrier in the bedroom?

This is a question I hope you will consider after seeing the play. Sarah Ruhl is brilliant enough – and kind enough – to tell her story at a safe distance; but this being Woolly Mammoth, we take full responsibility for asking: what does it mean for you in your life?

~Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director

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An Introduction: Sarah Ruhl, Social Media and Season 31

I’m thrilled to be getting down to work on Woolly’s 31st Season which opens in late August with our third work by Sarah Ruhl – In the Next Room or the vibrator play. This will be the first production of the play following its premiere at Berkeley Rep and extended run on Broadway. Sarah was already working on it when she was in residence at Woolly three years ago for the premiere of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, though she couldn’t have predicted at the time the turns her life would take—winning a MacArthur “genius” award, productions of Cell Phone and The Clean House all across the country, lauded productions in Chicago and New York of her magnum opus, Passion Play, and the birth of her second and third children all at once, twins who arrived just a few months ago. In a future posting, I’ll talk more about how the birth of Sarah’s children influenced the vibrator play—but for now, a detour on the season as a whole.

Woolly’s last season, our 30th anniversary, had a special emphasis on civic dialogue—plays that connected with large questions of war and peace, economics, and social justice. We used these works, including Eclipsed, Full Circle, The Last Cargo Cult, and Clybourne Park, as platforms for extended conversations with our audience in a variety of formats that included fortune cookie questions, special film screenings, expert panels, post-show conversations, etc. This coming season, we plan to go even further with this approach, but there’s a catch:  it’s not a season concerned with civic issues so much as intensely personal ones. And when I say personal, I mean personal: orgasms, gender roles, voyeurism, sex education, personal boundaries and transgression—in short, a season of very private acts shared in public. Are we ready to talk about this stuff? I’ve learned never to underestimate Woolly’s audience or its appetite for provocation, but this year I’m especially curious. It’s a season of great comic surprises, some intense drama, and overall, highly stimulating writing with great entertainment value—so I’m optimistic that, with these hooks to draw you in (and out!), we’ll have some lively conversations.

We’re going much farther this season with our online blogging and other virtual communications, so here’s a quick overview of what’s coming up: Beginning next week we will update this blog twice a week, all season-long, once on Tuesdays and once on Fridays. On Tuesdays we’ll be discussing the artistic process behind the show in production, and on Fridays we’ll talk about how we’re reaching out to our audiences for the show. Furthermore, Radio Woolly will re-launch next week. You will be able to tune in every Wednesday to hear from us. We’ll rotate that content as well, with one week focusing on the people behind Woolly, and the next week’s content will focus on the show in production.

The first rehearsal for In the Next Room or the vibrator play begins next week, with an amazing team including Director Aaron Posner making his Woolly debut, and a cast anchored by company members Sarah Marshall, Kimberly Gilbert, and Jessica Frances Dukes, along with Cody Nickell returning from the cast of Clybourne Park. We’ll all gather to read the play for the first time, see the brilliant set and costume designs in progress—and we’ll be off and running. My goal is to present stimulating new challenges for our artists and audiences each season, to keep pushing Woolly’s work to new places.  I’ll look forward to talking to as many of our audience members as I can in the lobby, after the performances, and online. Please be in touch.

~Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director

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