When you think of shareable online content, you’re probably not thinking about anything related to Shakespeare. You’re more likely to picture cute cat videos and clips from “Last Week Tonight.” But in preparation for their upcoming Halloween production of “Titus Andronicus,” Kentucky Shakespeare has gone viral — locally — with their two latest promo videos.
Since they were first posted in mid-September, almost 35,000 people have viewed them.
I get it, this doesn’t sound like news. But in a sea of homogeneous online theater promotional materials (which are often underwhelming — think grainy cell phone shots of posters tacked up around town), Kentucky Shakespeare has made a major splash.
And according to artistic director Matt Wallace, the hype has consequences beyond Facebook likes and shares. It’s a matter of appealing to new audiences in order to keep the arts alive.
“I’m a fan of Michael Kaiser (the former president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C) who wrote ‘The Art of the Turnaround,’ which helped me a ton with Kentucky Shakespeare,” Wallace says. “And he says the two keys are having good art that is well marketed.”
This is the first time Kentucky Shakespeare has performed “Titus Andronicus,” which was likely Shakespeare’s first tragedy, and by far his goriest work. It’s also the first time Wallace has given one of the company’s plays an “R” rating.
For that reason alone, the marketing had to be a departure from Kentucky Shakespeare’s typical — though always impeccably done — advertisements which are comprised of video cuts from dress rehearsals.
The first “Titus” promo is the more lighthearted of the two. It’s done in the style of a Buzzfeed cooking video — you know, those step-by-step tutorials that teach you how to make a pizza wreath in 90 seconds? Well, theirs was kind of like that.
Just considerably darker.
“As many people know, it’s sort of similar to ‘Sweeney Todd,’ this ‘Titus Andronicus,” Wallace says. “There are certain villains who are baked in a pie, and certain people eat it. So we thought ‘How can we make this relevant today?’ and we decided to make a little Buzzfeed-style cooking video.”
The video was filmed by Abby Sage of Visual Poet Studios. She said it took a few hours to make.
“We weren’t sure it (the pie) was going to actually bake up,” Sage says. “But it turned out really well.”
Sage also says she was a little surprised by how many people responded to the video.
“I think this is definitely the most people I’ve grossed out via social media,” she says.
The second promo video is a more straightforward representation of what audiences will see when they go to the “Titus Andronicus” performances, which begin October 13 (and are held in a warehouse behind Play Louisville in Butchertown).
Except, instead of the actors being done up in the Roman garb typically expected of a “Titus” production, leather jackets and slasher masks abound. Add in lots of blood and a little duct tape, and Kentucky Shakespeare has presented — in true B-list horror fashion — just how disturbing the play actually is.
“And just like these (videos) might get new people to visit, it’s totally fine if there are people who also see it and say, ‘You know, this just isn’t for me,’” Wallace says.
Overall, Wallace says he looks forward to creating more innovative opportunities to showcase classical theater in a new way.
“While 85,000 people that we served last year is a wonderful number, if you look at the amount of people in our region, it’s just the tip,” Wallace says. “And we want to find ways to reach the rest of those people.”
And with those new opportunities — come new viral Shakespeare videos to tweet out. What more could a modern theater lover ask for?