After a 14-year hiatus, my mom went back to teaching at Pacelli Catholic Schools in Austin, Minn. While most of her contemporaries have either long since retired or are dead, my mom, now in the second year of a two-year contract at the ripe young age of 75, teaches music everyday to kids from first grade through seniors in high school. This past Fall she added another duty at the school: the music director for the school’s production of the musical “Oliver.”
For months prior to the play in November, on more than one occasion she expressed concern to me the play could be a financial sinkhole for the school. There are a couple factors I was unaware of that contributed to her anxiety. Number one, it costs several thousand dollars upfront to secure the rights from a publishing house just to get the scores and scripts in order to do a play. Number two, attendance for Pacelli’s plays for the past several years had been lousy. According to the director, a young attorney with a Thespian bent named Cameron Davis, there were times when there were more people on stage than sitting in the audience. To pay for “Oliver,” they were going to need a successful box office, i.e., lots of paying customers.
Like many private schools, Pacelli is a small school with a dedicated faculty who work long and hard but don’t get paid a lot of money. Given my experience and expertise, I offered my help to the administrators at Pacelli with the PR and marketing for the play. I told them I’ll do anything they want me to do and I’ll keep them 100% in the loop as to what I was doing. I submitted a plan for their approval. They were all in. In fact, I took it over.
My strategy combined some old school PR with some “new school” media, including social media.
First, we utilized te most obvious audience for a Catholic school — the three Catholic parishes in Austin. We made sure the church bulletins on Sundays had information on the play. Moreover, I gave the parish priests two talking points to recite during their “announcements” at the end of mass. The second line read, “Check out the Pacelli Facebook page for some cool video.”
That’s where new media came into play. I shot video not just of the dress rehearsals but produced interviews with the directors and actors. Armed with extra video, I approached the editor of the town’s newspaper, the Austin Daily Herald, with an offer: If I put a Herald slate on a video piece, would they run it on their web site accompanying the story on the play? “Consider it B-roll for newspaper,” I said, which, although it’s done ALL the time on TV newscasts, is kind of a new concept for newspapers. The editor thought that was a great idea. Not only did they post the video, they ran their feature on the play right on the top-of-fold front page!
Combined with a great show done by the Pacelli students, our efforts produced results. They did four performances (Nov. 20-23). Two were sell outs (Friday and Saturday) and the other two were well attended. The bottom line wasn’t frightening at all. They made enough money to pay for the entire production of the play — the rights, the set, the musicians, etc. And my mom was pleased!
“I’d been doing plays at Pacelli since I was in seventh grade,” Sarah Kahle, a senior who played Widow Corney, told me. “I’d never seen such a turnout. It was absolutly amazing. I’m really glad I got that opportunity to perform in front of such a group.”