THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY THEATRE POSTER
THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY THEATRE POSTER
Chromotype Poster by David Allen & Sons Limited, London - for Martin Harvey as Richard III, Lyceum Theatre, London - opened 28th May 1910. Colour posters began in the 1890s. Late Victorian and Edwardian posters for blockbuster productions would measure 20 feet by 4 feet and use five colours for a 28-part printing process. David Allen was forerunner to Dewynters, the London West End theatre advertising specialists.
NOW TO EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY ARTS MARKETING!
POSTER, DRUM AND TRUMPET: ATTRACTING THEATREGOERS ON TOUR, 1763.
Tate Wilkinson (1739-1803), actor and manager of the Yorkshire circuit theatres for 37 years – at York, Leeds, Hull, Pontefract, Doncaster and Wakefield – described the importance of posters and their distribution, as an effective marketing tool for targeting audiences:
It was at that time not only the custom there [Norwich] (and a horrid custom it certainly was), but also at York, Hull, etc. for the performer, whether man or woman, to attend the playbill man round the town, knock humbly at every door honoured with or without a rapper, and supinely and obediently stop at every shop and stall to leave a playbill and request the favour of Mr and Mrs Griskin’s company at the benefit. The heroine (if unmarried) was equally responsible for steering her steps, no matter whether the Juliet, the Cleopatra, the Lady Townly or the Queen Elizabeth. No dignity of any kind allowed for such an omission without being construed a violation of duty. That severe law of custom then in force must be complied with or looked on as an infringement of rules and respect and would incur censure, with the appellation of pride, impudence, insolence and want of reverence. No matter how severe the weather, if frost, snow, rain, or hail, Jane Shore and the proud Lady Macbeth were expected equally to pay the same homage. If the Lady Turtle Dove was blessed with a loving mate, her attendance was dispensed with, but not otherwise on any pretext whatever; in that case the honour devolved on the husband. These laws (thank God) I had not been accustomed to: and having a plentiful well-supplied pocket had no need to comply or trouble myself to use such a practice. Which I dare say superior minds to my own have, from the dictates of prudence and necessity, against their will too often complied with.
Another custom was, after the play the performer was to return thanks and, if married, both husband and wife to appear. Mr Frodsham, once at York, spoke a comic epilogue on his benefit night and actually carried his wife (now living) on and off the stage on his back, to comply with the expected homage. On particular occasions, four or five children to make up weight, curtseying and bowing in frocks, had a wonderful effect, as the audience in general and the ladies in particular prided themselves upon bestowing their bounty on such a painstaking man, or such a painstaking couple as they proved themselves to be.
Another strange custom they had at Norwich and, if abolished, it has not been many years, which was for a drummer and a trumpeter (not the King's) in every street to proclaim in an audible voice, having been assisted by his shrill notes to summons each garreteer, without which ceremony the gods would not submit to descend from their heights into the streets to enquire what play was to be acted, nor ascend into the gallery.
A custom of this kind prevailed so far with a Mr Herbert’s Lincolnshire company in the time of our revered, well-remembered and beloved Marquis of Granby, that when at Grantham the players determined to omit the usual ceremony of the drum, wishing to grow more polite; and by obstinate perseverance, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots, King Henry the Eighth, the King of France, nay even Cardinal Wolsey had no command, attraction or power over the populace when they lost their accustomed and so much loved sound of the drum and trumpet. The ladies were obstinate, though they could not by all their arts or by all their charms obtain a livelihood: and their heroism was so great that they preferred death, honourable death, rather than submit to slavish terms. The Marquis of Granby sent for the manager of the troupe and said to him, ‘Mr Manager, I like a play, I like a player, and shall be glad to serve you. But, my good friend, why are you all so suddenly offended at and averse to the noble sound of a drum? I like it’, said the Marquis, ‘and all the inhabitants like it. Put my name on your playbill, provided you drum, but not otherwise. Try the effect on tomorrow night. If then you are as thinly attended as you have lately been, shut up your house at once, but if it succeeds, drum away.’ The manager communicated this edict to the princes, princesses, peers and peeresses. And not only they, but I the ambitious stepmother gave up all self-consideration for the public weal, and it was after some debate voted nem con in favour of the drum. They deigned to try Lord Granby's suggestion, and to their pleasing astonishment their little theatre was brim-full on the sound of the drum and Lord Granby’s name. After which night, they row-didi-dowed away, had a very successful season, and drank flowing bowls to the health of the noble Marquis. They left Grantham in great credit, without being drummed out of town, though accompanied by their friend the drummer; and I am told the custom is continued at Grantham to this day.
from Tate Wilkinson, Memoirs of his own life by Tate Wilkinson, patentee of the Theatres Royal, York and Hull, York, For the Author, 1790, Volume Two, pp. 248-252.
The Laughing Audience can assist companies and theatres by preparing marketing plans, surveys into audience attitudes and other qualitative research to monitor and improve your marketing effectiveness. We work with associate Jane Hogg, an Edinburgh-based certified management consultant specialising in audience development planning and campaigns.
Download Lecture Notes for theatre and production marketing campaigns, (for twenty-first century use) by Paul Iles, 2009.
For other recent theatre marketing commentary, see Philip Kotler and Joanne Scheff, Standing Room Only: Strategies for Marketing the Performing Arts, Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 1997, and Joanne Scheff Bernstein, Arts Marketing Insights: the dynamics of building and retaining performing arts audiences, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2007. See also the Arts Marketing Association, UK.
For the best arts and theatre ecommerce and website design in the 2000s, we recommend Paul Blundell at RBA Design.
For more on playbills, see samples from The Theatre, Beverley here.