A Small Suggestion for U.S. Theatre Publicists

June 10th, 2014 § 0 comments

I realize I’m writing this blog post for a very specific subset of readers, but after nine months of writing my “American Stages” column for London’s The Stage newspaper, I have a request of those cited in the title.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 1.50.26 PMNow mind you, I’m prepared to stipulate that many of you still may not be aware of the column, despite my own efforts and the efforts of the folks at The Stage to promote it. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “What ‘American Stages’ column?,” allow me to direct you to the index of the columns thus far. I’ll also agree that the column is somewhat New York-centric and probably east coast-centric. But there’s a reason for that.

None of you are sending me press releases. Not even theatres I’ve called in the past and asked for material for use in this very column.

Perhaps I should have been more explicit in asking for releases. So I’m writing this instead. Now before you all deluge me with material on every single thing you do, including grants you receive, ‘best of’ lists you appear on, one night only readings and the like, let me take a page from Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout, who is quite clear about what he’s likely to be interested in and when you’re barking up the wrong tree.

So here are my rough guidelines:

1. I’m not a critic. “American Stages” is meant to highlight work that might be of interest to readers in the British theatre community, but I don’t review shows. I do like to see as much as I can, but there’s no correlation between my seeing a production and my featuring it in the column.

2. I am committed to representing interesting work around the country. Because of the curation of arts stories that is a significant part of my Twitter feed, I often surface interesting productions worth writing about on my own. But Twitter is a rush of information, and there’s no guarantee that I’ll be seeing your tweets when you happen to send them.

3. I’m looking to highlight new work or major productions that might prove interesting to UK readers. The fourteenth production of one of the most produced plays in the country isn’t likely to get in. Neither is your Christmas Carol. But even with new work, it needs a hook beyond “a new play,” so think about tipping me to something that might cause theatre pros across the pond to take an interest.

4. If there’s an English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh hook, make sure I know it – whether it’s a playwright, actor, director and so on. It is a London publication after all.

5. Because the column is online, even though I’m writing with a certain focus in mind, remember that it can be shared as widely as you and I both like. There’s no paywall and no geographic limitation to who can read it.

6. Photos are helpful (if they’re good photos) and videos are sometimes even better. While there’s typically only one main photo a week, I can embed several videos with my copy, and I’ll use everything from trailers to interviews to musical numbers to humor.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 1.51.36 PMSo far as I’m aware (and by all means, feel free to correct me), there’s no other UK outlet with a regular column dedicated solely to US theatre news. Sure, big stories like Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth get covered in international media as they happen, as do the Tony Awards. But new musicals in San Diego? Not so much. So use me, because I want to showcase the entirety of US theatre, within my word limit and my fortnightly schedule.

As an aside, I write a second, monthly column for The Stage’s print edition, which unfortunately I can’t share online effectively. I’m writing specifically about aspects of the business of theatre in those pieces, and I eventually post that material to my website (though I’m far from up to date). But new initiatives and thematic stories are my bailiwick there, and can showcase trends and innovations wherever I may learn of them.

As some of you may know, I used to be a publicist in not-for-profit theatre. I’m all too aware of the challenges posed by the explosion of online outlets in how you do your jobs and you can’t give one-on-one service to every writer out there. So add me to your national list using howard AT hesherman DOT com. I’ll let you know if it’s too much (or too little). Frankly, if I was still a publicist, I’d be all over me about “American Stages.”


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