At the beginning of December, I breached countless confidences, both personal and professional, in order to bring you “Decoder,” a post which revealed the true meaning of timeworn words and phrases seen so often in entertainment marketing and public relations. I crossed that ethical boundary with great trepidation, believing that I might be forever drummed out of the corps of professional arts promoters. That threat still lurks.
But, since it proved so popular, I’m throwing caution to the wind with this newest post (tangentially and privately subtitled “Electric Boogaloo”) which explores not only words and phrases left opaque previously, but marketing and PR actions that may have heretofore seemed utterly benign.
1. Life-affirming = someone dies.
2. Triumph of the human spirit = protagonist survives torture, tragedy and/or the deaths of loved ones, but survives.
3. Edgy = contains language and sexual situations easily found on the grounds of your average high school (see also: adult content).
4. Speaks to today’s youth = set on the grounds of your average high school.
5. Important = addresses topic that has been featured in the first hour of The Today Show.
6. Frothy = addresses topic that has been featured in the fourth hour of The Today Show.
7. Timely = addresses topic that is in the news a lot right now and boy, did we get lucky on the timing.
8. Relevant = we know it’s decades old, but if you strain, you can connect it to something that is in the news a lot right now.
9. Vivid realism = 1) portrays physical violence, 2) portrays gore, or 3) portrays vomiting, or seeks to induce same in audience.
10. Bold = addresses topic satirized by South Park two seasons ago.
11. Imaginative = has a tenuous connection to reality or logic.
12. Rarely performed = it’s not that good, but if we work hard enough, you’ll think it’s relevant.
13. Renowned = we know it, but doubt you do.
14. Epic = butt-burner; use the bathroom at intermission(s) even if you don’t think you have to.
15. Intimate = we needed another two-actor show.
16. Post-modern = the scenes aren’t in chronological order.
17. Impressionistic = 1) impossible to tell where scenes start or end and/or 2) no walls.
18. “If you only see one show this year” = 1) We accept that most people don’t like theatre, but we’d like this to be your annual outing, or 2) this is our only show this year, so other than seeing it, we don’t really care what you do with your spare time and disposable income.
19. “Critics rave” (no supporting quotes) = rave from critics and/or outlets you’ve never heard of.
20. “Critics rave” (with supporting quotes) = 1) we’re concerned you’re too lazy to read what’s below, and 2) with raves like these, why aren’t you buying tickets anyway?
21. Have purchased a full page ad in The New York Times pre-opening = 1) we couldn’t make a promotional deal with a credit card company, or 2) our 42 producers want to see their names in an ad in the Times.
22. Have purchased a full page ad in the Times after good reviews = isn’t this what everyone did in the ‘70s, when we were 12 and we lived for the Sunday “Arts & Leisure” section?
23. Have purchased a full page ad in the Times after bad reviews = we think we can fool you into thinking that critics rave.
24. A non-tri-state regional theatre has purchased an ad in the Sunday Times = won’t you please send a critic out to see our show?
25. New York Times “ABC” ad uses color logo = everyone else is, so I guess we have to, no matter how ugly this now looks and how impossible it is to find actual information, but it’s cheaper than a display ad.
26. Ads promote celebrities who’ve seen it = we just can’t think of any other way to sell this show and thank god our cast has famous friends.
27. Mails an advance postcard advertising discounted previews = Hugh Jackman isn’t in it.
28. Mails a post card just as previews begin = boy, that credit card pre-sale ad really didn’t work, did it?
29. Mails a post card advertising discounts after opening (not so good reviews) = why do you people care what the critics had to say?
30. Mails a post card advertising discounts after opening (good reviews) = don’t you people even care what the critics had to say?
31. From the producers of = you don’t know these people, but there are no recognizable names in the production either, so this way we can at least mention shows you may have heard of.
32. Introducing = this young talent is really the lead in the show, but veteran actors with more credits and recognition snagged top billing.
33. All-star cast (no names listed) = 1) we haven’t finished casting or 2) you’ve never heard of them.
34. Ground-breaking = the author/creators are rather full of themselves or the ad copy writer hasn’t read many plays, as there are no new stories.
35. Seats as low as $59 = however, there are only 20 of these at each performance, and they’re in the last row of the rear mezzanine.
36. Special guest appearance, this week only = “Hey, there’s a reporter with a few lines in the play. Let’s get a real reporter to play the part for some press attention. How much damage can they do?”
37. Successful Off-Broadway run = when used by a regional theatre, it means the show played Off-Broadway (or possibly Off-Off).
38. Hit Off-Broadway run = it extended its original run by two weeks.
39. Long running Off-Broadway hit = it has actually played at least six months. Off-Broadway, but possibly gave only two performances a week (on the set of another show).
40. Winner of [number of] Tony Awards, without noting specific awards = didn’t win best play, musical or revival, awards were in less prominent categories, and/or awards were won by actors no longer in the show.
41. Classic tunes from the American songbook = signals jukebox musical or revue using numbers your grandparents or even great-grandparents used to sing.
42. Shattering box office records week after week = because we keep raising the prices.
43. Join us for post-show discussion every week = 1) commercial production – apparently the show itself just isn’t enough of a draw for you; 2) not-for-profit production – we have a grant for this; in both cases – the show is really short.
44. Devised by [name of theatre group] = we don’t need no stinking 1) playwright and/or 2) director.
45. Devised by [name of individual & name of theatre group] = the first person named gets a bigger cut of the royalties.
46. [Playwright’s name]’s [Title of Famous Play that everyone knows they wrote] = I am fed up with seeing my name reduced to nothing in some “billing box” on the posters.
47. QR code in ads/on poster = 1) we know you’re clever enough to master a smart phone, but worry you can’t retain a URL as simple as [name of theatre/show].com, or 2) Someone is squatting on the obvious URL and we think you’re too lazy to Google for the right one.
48. Facility charge = the theatre owner/operator wants more than just the rent and this is how to do it without sharing it with anyone involved in the production.
49. Service/handling charge = 1) via independent ticketing service = this is how we make our money, even if you are doing all of the work on our automated website, and if you don’t like it you can just haul yourself down to the box office, or 2) via institution’s own box office = we want to generate more revenue without sharing it with royalty participants.
50. Work-in-progress = we know it’s not really finished and we’re hoping you’ll cut us some slack (especially critics) even though we’re charging our regular prices.
If I suddenly disappear, have the detectives begin the search by questioning members of The Broadway League, LORT Managing Directors, ad agency executives, marketing directors and members of ATPAM. It can’t hurt – they’re probably up to something fishy anyway.