Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Promise of... What?

I was in conversation with a good friend who happens to run a prestigious student group on campus. We got to talking about publicity measures for our mutual groups (I run the theater board of Brown). His group deals with political activism, debate, and conversation and it often hosts important speakers in a packed Solomon.

I find his work in publicity and branding boffo, to say the least. The aesthetic is instantly recognizable and with that comes a certain aura of legitimacy. It got me thinking about how I contribute to a "promise" to my clients like the feeling I get when I see his posters.

Recently, I helped produce (with fellow MCM participant, Jamie) a video promoting a theater production, entitled "Doris to Darlene". My roommate, the director, was also responsible for crafting the show's poster (above). In what ways did we "promise" something and either deliver it, fail to produce, actively dissuade guests or fully confused others?

There is intention in sublimation. For example, the video promotes a silly, girl-group, lovey-dovey story. In fact, the play was very much the opposite. The story was full of abject heart break. The girl-group do-wop sound was also only 1/3rd of the piece. We intentionally dumbed-down the product. We even ironically added the tagline "Fall in love" when the characters slowly fall out of love with each other. Not that there was not an angle of selling the heartbreak but the "spectacle" (Tsing, 57) of the expected was too overpowering to ignore. By this I mean, by staging the incorrect, clients see what they want to see--a sappy story with singing, dancing, and love-making. There is spectacle in the cliche. We know what we want and we know what it looks like.

With regards to the poster, the pink record promises something different. The director commits to a sense of sincerity (the imposing needle has a seriousness about it). It also portends to twist expectations. Who has ever seen a pink record, before? "Who ever saw a black girl turn pink?" asks the script.

The "promise" has implicit lies to it. But aren't the lies expected to "perform" themselves? The act of a promise has the threat of falsity. At the same time, the promise has to be legitimate enough to distract from second guessing. I disagreed in section but now I see that "dramatic performance" as a prerequisite to economic performance (57) is necessary.

Is theater a product that utilizes tricky publicity tactics? Is there more implied subversion because of the art form? Why is it harder to just evaluate a work instead of spending hours abstracting it for consumption? In fact, my friend's group is moving away from abstraction in images. Their product does not entice more by obfuscating while mine obviously does.

Here's a more flagrant plug than this blog post. For more theater news click here.

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