Let’s reflect on the responses to my Open Letter
Stop the clock: It has been an interesting seven days since I posted an Open Letter calling on thirteen of London’s theatre PRs who regularly extend The Daily Mai’s Baz Bamigboye preferential treatment. The blog was addressed to the major players in the world of west end and commercial PR following columnist Richard Littlejohn telling readers to not consider same-sex parents as “the new normal”.
One instantly responded to my blog via direct message stating that they will no longer do deals with the Daily Mail or Baz when it comes to cast announcements, which is amazing.
I asked PRs and/or Head of Press if they wished to comment. Most of them didn’t reply, which is a shame. Rather more curtly, one replied: “No thanks.”
I had two very interesting ‘off-the-record’ conversations that basically passed the buck to producers – especially for the commercial west end productions. However, there was some ray of light with one of the organisations that said that they had reviewed their internal policies and decided they would not be giving scoops to the Daily Mail for in-house casting. Nevertheless, they were at the mercy of external producers when it came to transfers.
One Off West-End publicist got in touch independently, though, saying: “We’ve attempted to ban Baz exclusives before but it’s a bit tricky as we work with so many different PR’s and they just report to producers. But it’s on the list of things to do!”
However, one PR did take the time to respond in depth.
“We live in an increasingly siloed world. Everyone feels happier and safer in their own ideological echo chambers than they feel engaging with others across those boundaries and having their entrenched theories of the world challenged. This is a well-documented phenomenon. It is hardly new, but it has certainly become more pronounced and more dangerous in recent years.
Do we personally agree with Richard Littlejohn that the press shouldn’t report on a gay male couple having a baby as ‘normal’? No. Did we personally agree with him when he said, back in October, ’Every dopey bird who has ever been on the end of a bungled fumble has reinvented herself as a victim of attempted rape’? No. Do we personally agree with the Telegraph’s stance on Brexit, or the Times’ and the Sunday Times’ coverage of Trump? No. Do we personally agree, even, with every single word published in the Guardian? No
Theatre itself may be ideological, in motivation, in content, in form. But the process of bringing an audience to theatre shouldn’t be. We would be doing our clients a disservice by restricting our activities to newspapers whose political stances more or less match up with our own. But more importantly, we would be doing a great disservice to theatre and to its audiences.
Theatre shouldn’t be about preaching to the converted. What playwright or director worth her salt wants to use her work to simply mirror the opinions of a homogenous audience back at them? Is the hallmark of a good play once that sends everyone off into the night nodding silently in agreement? We all talk a good game about attracting more diverse audiences, but that cuts both ways.
Our response to the problem of the filter bubble cannot be to simply refuse to engage with people with whom we disagree. How can we possibly hope to puncture the ever-thickening membranes of our Twitter timelines and Facebook feeds if we don’t even want to share the space of an auditorium for two or three hours with someone who might feel differently to us about immigration
If we believe that theatre can be a socially important medium, that art can raise questions and change people’s minds – beliefs we all probably have to hold to a greater or lesser extent in order to do the jobs we do – then we would be foolish to attempt to exclude the readers of the Daily Mail from the conversation. Without them, we are all just sitting in the dark, applauding each other, until the house lights go up and we find that all of our mutual congratulation and consensus has accomplished nothing in the world outside.”
In business terms, it makes sense. The Mail is a million-selling newspaper, with a big online presence. But it has also become the UK’s most fanatical anti-liberal voice.
But while it might make good commercial sense, the PRs unspoken policy is already a guaranteed turnoff for many audiences. In this shockaholic era, we crave transparency and truth.
We as theatre-goers understand the pressure modern marketeers face. We understand that everyone has to do deals for ‘coverage’. Considering the media narrative on the Mail, though, with Mail advertisers moving away left, right and centre, it doesn’t add up. One also wonders if these Baz ‘exclusives’ actually lead to any noteworthy tickets sales. Is it out of tradition that these exclusives occur?
It’s hard to imagine how, why or when this cultural way of announcing theatre news might end, but end it one day will.
In times like these I look at the snatch of dialogue that hangs over my desk from Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love. “Only to shed some light,” Stoppard writes. “It doesn’t matter where on what. It’s the light itself against the darkness. It’s what’s left of God’s purpose when you take away God.”
Check out the latest episode of COMMIT NO NUISANCE a podcast by Carl Woodward and Mark Shenton