What You Can Learn About Sales from Godot

Photo by Pessega — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

You work in sales. You might not know it, but if you work in the arts, you work in sales.

So, here’s a quick professional pop quiz. Which of the two slogans would be the best choice to sell potential ticket buyers on a show?

  1. “Laugh Sensation of Two Continents” or,
  2. “I respectfully suggest that those who come to the theater for casual entertainment do not buy a ticket to this attraction.”

The first was used by Michael Myerberg to sell the US premiere of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Even with Bert Lahr’s talent for comedy, and his lack of ability to remember Beckett’s words, there were not many laughs, let alone a sensation.

For the New York production, Myerberg changed his approach. Now billed as a show that only the discerning intellectual could possibly enjoy, the snob factor worked.

(Of course, this was a time of pre-Paris, pre-Britney, pre-Bush; back then it was smart to be smart and not smart to be dumb.)

These days it is hard to sell anything, let alone a one hundred dollar ticket to watch a couple of tramps trade quips, along with their recognition of the futility of existence.

With new productions of Godot playing in London and New York, we need to collect those slogans, posters, and campaigns that help sell theatre.

For inspiration…

Charles Dickens: “It is a hopeless endeavour to attract people to a theatre unless they can be first brought to believe that they will never get in.”

Will Rogers: “The theater is a great equalizer: it is the only place where the poor can look down on the rich.”

Peter Cook: “You know, I go to the theatre to be entertained. I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction… I can get all that at home.”

Orson Welles on why theatre works better at night: “I would just like to mention Robert Houdin who in the eighteenth century invented the vanishing birdcage trick and the theater matinee — may he rot and perish. Good afternoon.”

Agnes de Mille on selling in America: “Theater people are always pining and agonizing because they’re afraid that they’ll be forgotten. And in America they’re quite right. They will be.”

For the most current, and maybe the most accurate statement on what takes place inside a theatre — Tracy Letts: “A normal person is just someone you don’t know real well.”

- Bill Reichblum

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