There are a variety of media forms out there which have proven to be very beneficial for promotional purposes. Television is the obvious one, reaching the biggest audience and the widest range of people. On top of that, there are of course newspapers, radio, billboards/posters and, in the last few years, the phenomenon of social networking has been a very useful tool when it comes to connecting with a potential audience. Successful theatre relies on this promotion. There’s no doubt about how helpful these media outlets can be when it comes to generating a buzz and circulating it around to the theatre-going population; not to mention drawing in the non theatre-going population. That old egg of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is not always true however.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great for theatre: they allow for shows and those within the industry to build an online relationship with their audience/fans, sharing comments and getting news out there. Their public, interactive properties are precisely what make them so popular, but it can also be a negative factor. Rumours circulate like wildfire and critical comments seem to pop up every day. It also means that some things which should probably stay private are aired out in the public domain for all to see – just like the recent Legally Blonde furore.
Following last weeks announcement that the hit musical is to close on 7th April 2012 after three years at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End, there was an eruption between cast members over one of the show’s roles. Tamara Wall, who is currently playing the role of ‘Brooke’ in the show, took to Twitter to express her views about the original ‘Brooke’, Aoife Mulholland, wanting to reclaim her role for the last eight weeks of the run. Wall, who was Mulholland’s understudy, took over the role in 2011 when Mulholland went on maternity leave. She has been playing the part for more than a year now and wanted to see out the remainder of the show’s run, which is understandable. What is not so understandable is why she posted a string of tweets about it. The online drama began when Wall broke the news on Twitter, writing, “It looks like I won’t be there for the last show. The original Brooke wants to come back from maternity! to do the last 8 weeks. Devastated does not come close to how I feel right now. I can’t believe that someone would do that to another person.” In another tweet, she added, “Played the part longer than her can’t believe she’s doing it, reiterate the producer tried their hardest to stop this.” In a tweet to a fan, which was swiftly deleted, she also referred to Mulholland as “nasty” for wanting to come back. Naturally, the news spread around Twitter and fans were quick to jump in with their own opinions – there was even a ‘twitition’ calling for Wall to be allowed to continue the role till the end. An article in The Mail didn’t help matters either, featuring a quote from Mulholland on the events:
“These outbursts and personal attacks on me are uncalled for, particularly as I have done nothing wrong. It was always my intention to return to work, so I am flabbergasted about what has happened. But I do not want to get drawn into a slanging match. I am upset that this has escalated across cyberspace, and I feel my silence in this matter is more dignified.”
I’m not here to say who is right or wrong in this – I can see why Wall would be upset, but as maternity cover, she was always going to have to give the role back to Mulholland at some point. The closure of Legally Blonde just aggravated the situation. It just seems to me that this was a private matter to be discussed and worked out behind closed doors, not through social networking sites and newspapers articles. People who don’t know the full details are involving themselves in something which is really none of their business and the whole debacle is being twisted into more than what it is. It’s not a debate on the rights of working mothers at all – it’s a contractual issue that has been blown out of proportion because of the unfortunate timing. It appears Wall realised the error of airing her views on Twitter, later thanking fans for their support but stressing to them that it wasn’t Mulholland’s fault.
The Sun newspaper provided another perfect example of the bad side of publicity yesterday, with its ‘romp’ story on Denise Welch. Gay theatre producer Tom Hopkins, who was one of the producers attached to last year’s cancelled production of Moby Dick at the Landor Theatre, claimed in the article that married Welch ‘turned him straight’ after a fumble in the back of a taxi cab. I don’t know what I found funnier, the ridiculousness of his story or the forlorn ‘victim’ photo he’d posed for. Welch may have been the one who was intended to come off looking bad in the story, but Hopkins is the one who has become a laughing stock. If this story was supposed to be publicity to raise his profile, it’s backfired spectacularly as nobody in theatre circles is going to take him seriously now.
Publicity is all part and parcel of the inner workings of having a successful show/career. It can do wonders for the theatre world – if used the right way. As with everything in life, positivity is always a better route than negativity: something to remember perhaps?
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
31st January 2012