‘M33’ utilizes social media to attract audience

Written By Nicole Chynoweth

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When Chris Hays faced creating a marketing plan for the Pittsburgh Playhouse world premiere of “Marathon 33,” she had several factors working against the play’s success. “It’s a tough time of year,” Hays said. “We’re worried about the weather, the fact that it’s a new show, and we don’t have a huge marketing budget for any show. This show really needed something different.”  Hays turned to social media for an innovative approach. Throughout the month of February, the production of “M33” will be chronicled on a website through videos, photographs and other media showcasing the rehearsals and cast and crew’s experiences. As opening night, Feb. 24, approaches, more and more content will be added each week. “What I really wanted to do was give people an inside view of rehearsal and the development of the show,” Hays, marketing director for the Conservatory of Performing Arts, said in an interview at the Playhouse last Wednesday. “And [“M33″] was the perfect show to do it because it had a really interesting back story and evolutionary life.” “M33,” written by Tome’ Cousin and Peter Gregus, tells the story of June Havoc, a multi-talented ex-vaudeville performer who found work in the dance marathon industry of the 1920s and 1930s just as the Great Depression was leaving her destitute, according to Hays. Havoc was also the younger sister of Gypsy Rose Lee, the burlesque dancer whose memoir inspired the musical “Gypsy.” “June [Havoc] had a really interesting life,” Hays said. “There were a lot of misconceptions about her being raised in Vaudeville, and she was wanting to break out of that. She wound up stumbling upon the world of dance marathons. [The play] is about that journey.” While working on “M33,” Cousin and Gregus met with Havoc several times before she died March 28, 2010 at the age of 97. During those meetings, Havoc gave them photographs and memorabilia from the days of her dance marathon career.  Having access to those pieces of history, Hays knew an interactive website would be a great way to share the back story of “M33.” “We have June’s original application to the dance marathon that will be showcased [on the website],” Hays said. “We have June’s original essay that she wrote about the marathon that we will be publishing on the site and putting an excerpt in the program. It is this really cool integration of history and storytelling.” The website, which launched Jan. 26 and exists as a tab on the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Facebook page, includes an “about” tab describing the show, a “cast” tab that enables users to learn more about the characters and the students playing them, tabs for photographs and videos, a “news” tab and a tab that explains how to buy tickets. Several cast and crew members were given Flip video cameras to document their creative processes. “I think having the behind the scenes look will help people have a further appreciation of what it takes, like how much work does, in fact, go on behind the scenes … how much thought goes into every decision like the look of the show and how a line is delivered,” Hays said. “It is amazing how all of that can come together and transport you into this time and place.” Hays gives credit to Andrew Weier, manager of social media ad digital student outreach at Point Park University, for the creation of the website, who made it using the www.Wix.com website builder. “Andy did most of that work and it was terrific to use his skill set because he was able to master all of the technology,” Hays said. “He is helping to shoot the video, coordinate the Flip cameras [and] edit the videos together. He has taken pictures. He really has created the site.” Hays views the website as a way to get the public invested in the production. “It will be updated multiple times a week with videos, sketches of costumes and interviews with people,” Hays said. “We’ll be able to, through messages that we push out through Facebook, Twitter and email, let people know when there is new content. It is a really easy way for us to communicate with a lot of people quickly and essentially for free.” Weier feels that providing the public with a variety of insight on the play will not only help draw a crowd to the premiere, but also benefit students. “We’re just trying to do something different that a lot of theaters and universities around here aren’t doing, which is giving [current and potential students] an inside look at what it’s like to be in a show and in a production here, the development of that show, what goes on and the professional caliber of theater we have here at the Playhouse,” Weier said.

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