Are Theatre Trailers Honest?

INFO: 21 Oct 2015 Insight

A recent video post from the BBC questioned the suitability of cinematic style trailers for theatre, like the one below produced for To Kill A Mockingbird. Critics think theatre trailers using cinematic techniques to entice audiences are misrepresenting the stage shows they’re promoting.

Creating trailers for the stage began in around 2007 following the advent of YouTube with the National Theatre among the first to start producing regularly. Lyn Gardner wrote an article at the time about the exciting potential of the theatre trailer, calling the concept “genius”. Now in 2014 the theatre trailer is a staple of marketing campaigns.

Now that theatres are able to produce trailers with good production values there’s a concern that audiences can’t distinguish between movie and theatre trailers, and so the unique traits of a theatrical experience are left by the wayside. The argument goes that by employing uniquely cinematic tools – such as camera movement reveals and so on – the story is being told in a way that won’t translate on stage.

These claims ignore the fact that cinematic storytelling has been used in advertising for decades, to market such narratively rich and dramatic products as perfume and telephones. It would seem film is far more suited to communicating the atmosphere of a play than the attributes of a perfume you can’t smell.

Apprehension of ‘cinematic’ or ‘concept’ trailers may stem from a deeper doubt held by some theatre creatives: that art shouldn’t require marketing at all. The collaboration required on a trailer is greater than other marketing functions and there will be questions over the communication of core ideas. This is a valid point of contention because it is, of course, paramount that a trailer reflects the director’s vision of the play, and the marketing team’s vision of the theatre brand. The stakes are pretty high.

But if the filmmakers are working closely with the creative and marketing teams on the conception of the trailer it can emulate the atmosphere of the play like no other marketing tool. A theatre trailer can give audiences a flavour of the writing, the performances, and the mood of the piece. What we are trying to do as advertisers and filmmakers is sell the strengths of a show, not recreate the live experience as accurately as possible.

The plethora of shows on offer, particularly in London, means that giving audiences concise, digestible decision-making material is key. A trailer can communicate so much more than other mediums and in such a short space of time. The question most theatres are asking themselves is no longer should we be doing it, but how. 


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