BRIEF ENCOUNTER: a San Francisco success!!!

“Run to the box office and get your tickets . . . one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen . . . an evening full of fun.” —KGO Radio

“Every so often a theater piece comes to town that is so brilliantly conceived and executed, so entertaining on every level, that you want everyone you love or even like just a bit to see it. Kneehigh Theatre’s Brief Encounter, the opening show in American Conservatory Theater’s new season, is that kind of experience.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Positively magical” —Variety

“Wildly inventive . . . an intoxicating multimedia gem . . . you’ll want Brief Encounter to go on forever.” —San Jose Mercury News

“I didn’t want to leave my seat. They had to drag me out after everyone else left the theater. . . . It’s been dropped from celluloid heaven on the A.C.T. stage.”
Beyond Chron

“Took my breath away and I knew I was in love with Emma Rice’s play . . . a sheer masterpiece.” —StarkSilverCreek.com

Once Kneehigh Theatre arrived, once they were set up in our theater, once they worked out those kinks one would expect when importing an entire show from England (and they worked the obvious kinks out by the end of the dress rehearsal!), I don’t think any of us doubted the gem we had. This is in no small part because every member of the Kneehigh company is a gem in his/her own right: they are ridiculously talented actors, singers, musicians, and performers; kindhearted, joyous, and generous people; and genuinely thankful for the opportunity to do what they love, thankful to us for inviting them and thankful to their audience each night for feeding their energy. And we are thankful they have come to share this show with us and the Bay Area.

We knew we had a gem. But it is still nice when the critics confirm it. Because they don’t always.

People are talking about this show in Florida.

A woman I met at last night’s performance had come in from Chicago (ahem, all my Chicago brethren . . . ).

Another woman bought a Words on Plays from me because “Oh, this will make great reading for the plane ride home.” (Which it will, thank you!)

Suddenly we are the center of the world.

On Tuesday last, we started a new experiment: the TALK WoP SHOP. An idea I had over the summer, the SHOP puts the creators of Words on Plays (my supervisor and me) in the theater to personally sell our product and discuss it—as well as the play itself and the theater more generally—with our patrons. Part of our theater’s mission is to encourage conversation; we’re taking this tenant literally. Previously Words on Plays was sold at the merchandise counter, but that counter is remaining unmanned this season because of low sales. So the our timing was good.

It is off to a slow but encouraging start. But I am reexamining my initial thinking. The idea stemmed from, among other factors, a comment made by our artistic director towards the end of last season: “the development staff is in the theater more than any other department.” Of course, this is not true: the front of house department is in the theater more than any other department, but her point is valid. Our patrons are most familiar with our theater’s hospitality and fundraising staffs. Certainly not a bad thing, but what if this model was exchanged for one in which representatives from the artistic staff were always present to discuss what the patrons are really there to think about—the art?

This is how smaller theaters have to do it because everyone is doing everything. The artistic director is the ticket taker. The playwright is the one who knows where the fire extinguisher is. And its lovely. Every show you are being welcomed in by a family.

This is where my thinking started. I would stand at my booth selling my product and furthering conversation about the show. But I think I may have been thinking too small. Last night I sold five copies. commendable but negligible. But I also sold at least two couples on November, our next show, by simply telling them how funny a script it is. I spoke to another gentleman about his time in England. I made a handful of people laugh when I directed them to the new location for the hearing devices: “Why don’t you put a sign up?” “Because then I wouldn’t get to talk to you.”

Members of the publications staff don’t have to do this: anybody from the administrative offices can do this. It isn’t a matter of being knowledgeable, or about selling Words on Plays, but about putting on a smile and playing host in a way the front of house staff cannot do because they have actual responsibilities like taking your tickets, getting you to your seat, and preventing the building from catching on fire.

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