How to promote a play in 10,000 easy steps

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How to promote a play in 10,000 easy steps


Jang Gyeong-cheol, 25, opened his sling bag and squeezed in another wad of brochures for the play his company was promoting. Heaving up the bulging bag over his shoulder and carrying a paper shopping bag also full of flyers, he walked briskly out the door. All the weight would be gone by the end of the day.
His job title is “theatrical stage manager” for To Be Company, a theater promoter; his job is to pass out as many brochures and hang as many posters on as many walls as possible, knowing full well that it will all wind up in garbage bins a few hours later. People sometimes ask him what stage managers do, he says, and all he can do is smile.
“If I knew what this job was really like, I would never have even dreamed of becoming one,” said Mr. Jang, who applied for the job two years ago, thinking he would be coordinating sets and actors.
Mr. Jang remembers that a stage manager’s work had not always been so “inelegant,” however. Sure, the Daehangno theater crowd sneered at the public who “obviously did not know how to appreciate the world of art,” but it also relied on passing out free tickets in exchange for favorable reviews.
These days, however, the number of theater troupes in Daehangno has boomed, and competition for viewers is intense. Moreover, a group of young theater companies recently announced that they would stop handing out free tickets for reporters and reviewers.
That meant the start of the new work for theater rookies like Mr. Jang. Stage managers have to do whatever they can to fill seats, visiting schools and public places, knocking on doors ― whatever it takes to persuade a complete stranger to come see a play.


Stage managers say they eventually learn to develop their own strategies for turning strangers into audience members. Cho Haeng-deok, a stage manager and the head of Aga Entertainment and Contents Group, says his specialty is approaching lecturers in universities with strong theater departments. He boasts that he’s “probably the best” at persuading theater teachers to come to shows.
Instructors usually don’t have their own offices and it’s difficult to set up an appointment, Mr. Cho said, so he checks their class schedules and sit in on the lectures. That gives him the chance to find out what the teacher is like and enough time and ideas to approach the teacher. Once the class is over, he walks up to the instructor and says, “That was a wonderful lecture, and I have just the right performance that will help your students understand your theories better.”
According to Mr. Cho, he hasn’t met a teacher yet who wasn’t interested in hearing him out.
Sonagi, the promoter for the musical “Scissor’s Family,” took a less personal approach with its “charge now, pay later” system: The first 200 people who watch the performance don’t have to pay for their tickets until after the show, and they don’t have to pay anything if they don’t like it. The ticket prices range from 20,000 won ($21) to 60,000 won.
The stage managers at Papa Production ask for business cards from audience members. They then call random audience members the day after the performance and ask for feedback.
Promoters such as Sadari Theater Company, MoA Entertainment Inc. and Eda Entertainment have also set up an arrangment in which a person who sees one of their shows can get a discount for another show promoted by one of the three.
Yet many stage managers still depend on illegal tactics ― mainly hanging up posters on everything they can. A theater promotion company in the vicinity of the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-dong has its promoters start work at eight in the evening. Within two hours, the promoters will plaster posters over every telephone pole and empty space they can find around the center.
Yes, the posters will be taken down the next day, and yes, the promoters will put them back up again. They say they don’t mind; people will show up if they’re reminded to do so enough times, they say.


Despite its fancy title, Mr. Jang’s job is essentially just that: to remind people, over and over again, to show up.
It was pouring rain, but he seemed relaxed. “This is the kind of day that works well for me,” he said. “No one is so harsh they’ll kick you out when they see you standing all wet.”
At 10 a.m., he was waiting for a bus to Sinchon, where he could walk to Hongik and Yonsei universities. In one hand was an umbrella, in the other hand a shopping bag with 50 posters for the play “Kiss Me Tiger” and a children’s musical performance, “Mom Won’t Tell Me.” But the shopping bag was already drenchedr, and it finally ripped open, dumping the posters into a pool of water. As he leaned forward to pick them up, a car drove by and sprayed him with water.
“Okay, so the day is not starting out so well,” he murmured.
First up on his schedule was a meeting with a professor at Hongik University who teaches a course titled “Understanding Theater Works.” He had confirmed the appointment the day before, but when he opened the door to her room, no one was there. He hurriedly called her mobile phone.
She said she had “completely forgotten” about the meeting and was out of town on business.
Nonplussed, he decided to wander around campus and meet students. He hung posters on the walls of the student union, in locker rooms and in lecture halls. He found two students slurping instant noodles inside a student theater. He approached them.
“This sure is a fine day for a hot cup of ramen,” he said, trying to start up a friendly conversation. But the two ignored him, so he dropped his bag with a loud thud on the table they were sitting at.
“Are you in the theater business or something?” one of the students asked.
Yes, he said, yes he is. “Korean musicals are very hip and cool these days.” In a hurry, he handed them the brochures, hung a few posters on the wall and stepped out of the room. By 1:30 p.m., he had worked his way through Yonsei and Sogang universities.
He skipped lunch. “College campuses are empty by four, so I have to hurry,” he said.
On his way from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies to Kyung Hee University, he spotted two kindergartens. He entered the first one. The teacher there was nice enough to give him a few minutes. But at the second one, he was stopped by a security guard, who suddenly appeared and yanked his shirt. No luck, but no hard feelings, either. He left some pamphlets at the security desk instead.
By 5 p.m., he had visited over 10 places. But his bag was still half full. He hopped in a taxi to go to his next stop.
By 6 p.m., he had finished walking through Korea University. His bag was much lighter. “On the days I pass out all my brochures, I feel proud, as if they had all been tickets I sold,” he said. “I’ll do better tomorrow. I’m going to be quicker and smarter.”

by Choi Min-woo, Lee Min-a

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