Do a search for "Best of Louisville" and you’ll get dozens of results. There are lists from TV stations, magazines, weeklies, tourist bureaus and radio, to name just a few. When someone(?) came out with these popularity contests a decade or so ago, they were a big deal. Organizations, including theatre groups, scrambled to amass votes for them. Now they hardly get a nod, as they've become just another vehicle for the media to rake in advertising. And are the winners really the Best of Louisville? Take a look at the wide range of results, and judge for yourself.
So what does all this mean for our independent theatre groups? Generally, it means that the Big Guys win and the little guys lose, if they're even mentioned at all. That's because the general public isn’t aware of most of the little guys. Be honest ... how many local theatre companies can you name?
You looked, didn't you? That's okay, because now you're probably amazed. And what's amazing (albeit not surprising) about these groups is the wealth of talent they contain. I can't remember the last time I saw a Big Guys production without being able to name half a dozen local actors who could've played the lead roles better. Yet the general public pays huge ticket prices to see the Big Guys, thinking that they're seeing homegrown productions with local actors (negative, on both counts) while our talented theatre people play mostly to other theatre people. The Best of Louisville? Quite possibly ... but too few know about it.
This isn't what you want to hear, but change starts with us. Recognition begins at home, in the green room and rehearsal hall. Show your cast and crew that you appreciate them. Praise them, and show that you respect their talent and their time. Don't work them to death with schedules that turn their lives upside down; and at the end of a run, hand them a beer, not a hammer and nail cup. Find someone else to do your grunt work. Your people will sing your praises to the outside world much more convincingly without splintered hands and bruised egos.
And yes, promote yourselves. Instead qof spending money on a fancy set piece, spend it on a poster, an ad or a brochure. If you can't afford one on your own, make it a joint promotion with another theatre group. Have a press night and invite the big names. Do the local TV interviews. Above all, work together. All will benefit, and people will take notice.
It's time to stop doing things the way you've always done them just because that's the way you've always done them. You are the Best of Louisville.
Now prove it.
- A.S. Waterman
Published Nov. 1, 2016