December 6th, 2011 § 9 comments

I have opined in the past about the dark arts of theatrical billing, marketing and publicity in such posts as This Blog is Prior to Broadway and Blurb. Now, as the holidays approach, I have decided to give you a special gift.

You no longer need to try to parse that brochure, that post card, that press item as just another member of the uninformed masses. No, you can read between the lines by converting shopworn phrases that fill ads, direct mail and online solicitations by using this handy-dandy list, which will surely have me drummed out of the American Academy of Arts Euphemists, a secret society of which you will find no other evidence (we’re that good). Read and learn.

1. Comedy = it’s funny, or intends to be.

2.  Drama = it’s not funny, or doesn’t intend to be.

3. Comedy-drama = there are laughs, but it’s serious minded.

4.  Dark comedy = there are laughs, but it’s really sort of creepy.

5. Black comedy = a) it’s funny, but you wouldn’t bring your mother, or b) it’s really not funny, but we don’t want to admit that and call it a drama.

6.  It’s about the human condition = a) we don’t understand it at all, or b) if we told you what it’s actually about, you wouldn’t come.

7.  Play with music = there may be a few songs, but don’t get too excited or expect a cast album.

8.  Musical = it has a bunch of songs and dance.

9.  Musical drama = it has songs, but it’s serious and there’s probably not much dancing.

10.  Music theatre = it’s serious, likely has no hummable tunes, and has movement.

11.  Movement = there’s sort of some dance-like stuff, but don’t expect a production number. (See also, “subliminal choreography,” coined by Ben Brantley in New York Times review of Once.)

12.  Annual tradition = it pays the bills.

13. New version of our annual tradition, A Christmas Carol = a) the royalties on this script are lower than the old one or, b) our artistic director didn’t see why the theatre has to pay someone else royalties for an edit of a public domain novel.

14.  New holiday favorite = a) we’re tired of doing A Christmas Carol but we have to pay the bills so you’re getting this instead, or b) why did Dickens have to use so many characters? This has just one elf. (See also, “One-man Christmas Carol.”)(See also “One-man Christmas Carol adapted and directed by our artistic director.”) (See also, “One-man Christmas Carol adapted by, directed by and featuring our artistic director.”

15.  Crowd-pleasing = the critics won’t or don’t like it. (See also, “281 shows. 281 standing ovations.”)

16.  Heart-warming = tear-jerking.

17.  Brechtian = not heart-warming.

18.  Classic of world literature = a) you should like this because smarter people than you say it’s good, and/or b) didn’t you read this in school?

19.  Rediscovered gem = no one has produced this in decades, maybe centuries, and you never read it in school.

20.  “In the tradition of…” = it’s reminiscent of these other plays that were hits, but isn’t as good as them.

21.  Updated = standard script of a well-known classic lightly sprinkled with jarring references to the Geico gecko, Twitter, and current political candidates, with no one credited for said emendations.

22.  Hip = we dare you to say you don’t understand and/or like it.

23.  Current = people swear.

24. Daring = people swear a lot.

25.  In the tradition of David Mamet = people swear constantly.

26.  Family friendly = no one swears.

27.  Family drama = everyone harbors resentments which emerge during birthday/holiday/vacation.

28.  Regional premiere = it’s been done in many other theatres, just not in the immediate area, which may only be a 60 mile radius of the theatre.

29.  Broadway premiere = it’s been done almost everywhere, possibly for years, just not in a Broadway-designated theatre.

30.  New York hit = it was produced somewhere in Manhattan.

31.  New York actor = they live in New York, but aren’t very well-known there.

32.  Broadway actor = they were once in a Broadway show.

33.  Newcomer = just graduated.

34.  Broadway star = terrific actor, but not necessarily a household name or guaranteed box office draw.

35.  Film and/or TV star = may or may not have stage skills or even experience, but everyone knows who they are and wants to see them in the flesh.

36.  Produced in association with [commercial producer] = they gave us a lot of money.

37.  Suggested by Shakespeare’s _____________ = this ain’t Shakespeare. Purists likely to be miserable.

38.  Translated by = this person actually speaks the language used in the original script.

39.  Adapted by = a) this person doesn’t speak the original language in which the play was written or b) this person had made some tweaks to original play, but it’s still pretty much the play you remember.

40.  Freely adapted = you may have trouble recognizing the original play, often because it is now hip or daring.

41.  With a new book = we’ve kept the score, but a) have made significant changes to the story, including removing all of the casual racism that was common in musicals from the 20s and 30s, and b) convinced the family of the original bookwriter that their parent’s work really wasn’t any good and stood in the way of the score ever being heard on stage again.

42.  Two-piano orchestration = You think we can afford all of these actors and an orchestra? Just be happy you’re getting a musical you’ve heard of.

43.  Chamber musical = One piano, maybe a violin, and you’ve never heard of the show. Might be music theater.

44.  Concert-style presentation of a play = scripts on music stands and no one has memorized it, but you’re still paying full price. Cast may be dressed formally, despite actual setting of the piece.

45.  Originally conceived by = if not named in any other credit, this person had an idea but didn’t actually create any part of what’s on stage, is no longer speaking to anyone with billing and may be bringing, or has already brought, legal action (see also: “based on an idea by”).

46.  $30 under 30 = a discount predicated upon our average audience member’s age being at least twice this number.

47.  “ raves” = no print, TV or radio critic liked it.

48.  Limited seating available = we’re selling pretty well, but not so well that we can afford to stop advertising.

49.  Final weeks = a) non-profit meaning: it was always a limited run, but we’ve got lots of tickets left to sell so please buy them, or b) commercial meaning: if you don’t start buying tickets soon, these will be our final weeks.

50.  Extended by popular demand = a) we left extra space in the production schedule because we thought you’d like this one, and b) this is going to help us close our projected deficit for the season.

Have you been bamboozled by, or guilty of obfuscating through, promotional euphemisms? I hope you’ll share other examples below, for the sake of theatergoing humanity.

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  • Anonymous

    You forgot ‘limited engagement’, where everyone is signed to a six-month contract, but we want to sell out the first twelve weeks through a false sense of exclusivity before we ‘now extend til June.’

  • Codydaigle

    “devised by the members of…” If we haven’t ever heard of the company, chances are no one’s a playwright, but a whole room of actors and a director presume playwrights aren’t really necessary.

  • To borrow from ads for the new NBC series, “Smash,” Introducing = yes, you may have heard the name, you may even know she sings, but did you know she can act as well?  How about that?  (Or maybe more likely, that we as a network are in deep denial that anyone actually watches that American Idol thing.)

  • Adult themes = this could be serious
    Adult situations = this could have nudity
    Adult themes & situations = serious nudity, but no fun

  • I must admit I’ve used them in the past, but luckily not on my current work. Good primer of how to be unique but not using any of these!

  • What I love is the way regional theatres use “Broadway” in their marketing in a way that is sometimes a bit of a stretch. These are two examples I’ve noticed: “Our production of X play is moving to Broadway!” Uh no, the director is moving with the play to Broadway with a completely different cast. So it’s not really “your” production. Or, “The play includes an actress who was part of the Broadway cast of Y.” Technically true but in reality, she was an understudy who likely never went on.

  • Bill Simpson

    Mr. Sherman, this is lovely. I suggest a couple of additions.

    Zany = performed at breakneck pace in the hope that no-one notices it is totally pointless.

    Revival = this sounds classier than “yet another production”

  • Don’t forget the hyperbolic, Barnum & Bailey-ism “World Premiere.”  Dance companies especially (across the nation) have started using this one to advertise new works to be presented in their upcoming concerts and shows; even concerts that run only locally (somewhere in small town/bigger town America) for one or two weekends and never tour.  I always assumed “World Premiere” referred to the opening for a new work/film/play/concert season that was scheduled for an international tour and therefore its premiere presentation was recognized as an especially “important” or “exclusive” event.  Using that term in any other context is silly. Actually, it’s just a silly, redundant term. “Premiere” says it just fine without the “World.”  I suggest that when we see “World Premiere” advertising a production, we should assume it’s being presented by self-aggrandizing folks with a desperate need for recognition; that alone might be all we need to factor in when deciding whether or not to attend.  (This is from someone who loves the Publicity Arts and has nothing but respect and admiration for good/convincing publicity when it’s well done.)   

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