From Self-care to Self-promotion: Making your Social Media Marketing Work Better For You - PART I


As part of a series, this column highlights communication strategies for handling unpredictable circumstances and a variety of essential online tools and suggestions for you and your teams to implement in the coming days.

As many productions are currently being put on hiatus, so are the kind of life activities outside of our homes that, now paused by social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, have brought us here to this new and challenging place.

This place, if it does not include addressing health issues exacerbated or caused by the coronavirus, is one that can be filled with opportunities that may not have been otherwise afforded to you before that invaluable and most priceless gift - newly found time - became available.

BUT FIRST, SELF CARE

Not much else is above the care for ourselves, for our families, and for all of whom concern us, during times of crisis. But outside of where health and all other urgent cares are met, as artists, found time also provides the new opportunity to re-evaluate and re-assess. The LA Stage Alliance recently published a guide to recommended assessments and self-care to help provide affirming perspectives and advice during these times.

When you once again can breathe, it might then be time to re-visit that other invaluable and unique gift that is only afforded to you, which can be also best be served by this newfound time - the ongoing maintenance of your own self-promotion.

ARMCHAIR SELF-PROMOTION - A CUP OF COMFORT AND A SMART DEVICE

Self-promotion is not just a tool for self-marketing and networking. As artists in the entertainment fields, it is also sought for and expected by those who seek to promote on your behalf. Having a website to that effect is key, for sure. Having reviews to share are as well. But entertainment marketers who are considering “you” as that star power–the one who is going to make their project shine and bring in audiences - will want more tangible results from your self-marketing which come in the form of numbers.

And the numbers I am talking about are in followers.

A larger number of followers, depending on when an account was opened—and where viewable—shows marketers that you are not just active in your own self-marketing, but active in the engagement of your audience—which they see as their soon-to-be-audience as well. This is tangible. This is sometimes seen as bankable. It is an asset.

QUANTITY, BUT ALSO QUALITY

Follower numbers and social media activity tells marketers several things, both good and bad. Lack of social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all where analytic information is most easily tracked and gained, can tell a marketer that you might not care enough to self-market. With regard to follower numbers on Twitter and Facebook, especially when low in older or abandoned-looking accounts, can signal that as well. In newer accounts, it can look like an after-thought, especially if close to a project's inception date.

A larger number of followers, depending on when an account was opened—and where viewable - shows marketers that you are not just active in your own self-marketing, but active in the engagement of your audience - which they see as their soon-to-be-audience as well.

This is tangible. This is sometimes seen as bankable. It is an asset.

But outside the actual “numbers” of followers, the number of posts, the quality of the posts, the type of content within, and the active, on-going, and regular engagement and conversation, both with and within your audience, is also seen as a tangibly marketable and well-branded tool that someone else can use to promote who is in the business of promoting.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

"Hashtag" in "Comic-Con, the Musical," Sacred Fools {now The Broadwater], Hollywood Fringe Festival, June 2, 2017. ~ Photo by Monique A. LeBleu

If you are completely new to the use of social media as a promotional tool, and not just for casual social and family engagement and communication, here's a handy checklist to review first before you get started.

Because social media self-marketing does take time and maintenance, it is often the thing that gets pushed aside when the plates of creativity are spinning so fast that it might be perceived as just a plastic plate that won't break should it fall. But with time as a new friend these days, along with the additional benefit of just such similarly captive audiences as of late, a unique opportunity is now provided for all creatives and self-promoters to look toward beefing up their social media marketing and making it a priority.

Which and how many platforms you wish to choose and how much time now, and in the future, you wish to spend, is key. Choosing them and determining which are to be in your portfolio and in future up-keep should be based on the benefits they provide, the benefits you want, and the perceived value they have to those who market you best. Consult those people, where you can, to learn where they personally see the highest value to you (and to them) and where you can and should best place your focus.

Then, assess your current social media and marketing strategies that are already in place, begin the work - alone and/or in teams where you can -, pick the platforms that will work best for all, and go forth to create any new accounts. If you have more than three you may eventually need to use a social media management platform that can share between accounts. But as many of these often only link back between platforms, but simultaneously ignore media-rich content in their wake, I suggest sticking with just a few initially and keep things simple. In time, you will see those numbers increase, as well as your brand visibility.

In my next column, I will talk of the TOP SIX PLATFORMS and how, when, and why to use them for self-promotion.


 


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Too Many Hats...

So many of us in this industry wear a lot of hats. Most of us have multiple descriptors after our names in our email signatures, social media bios, and website home page descriptions. “Steven Sabel, producer, director, designer, actor, writer, podcaster, and publicist.” Sheesh! Pick one already!

The truth is, many of us wear many hats in order to keep our options open and appear more desirable to potential employers. We say, “I can do that too!” with each of our descriptors. We are all trying to make it in the industry, and many of us do not really care which of our many talents gets us in the door: actor, singer, dancer, writer, director, stage manager, whatever it takes. The other side of that is we have to make a living. Many of us wear multiple hats because that is the only way we can pay the bills – picking up whatever gigs we can to add to the proverbial piggy bank however we are able.

There is also a risk to this. If your focus is spread too thin, you cannot apply yourself and talents fully to succeeding at any one thing. You’re an actor. You want to make big block buster movies someday. But you’re also a comedian. You love improv, you take your improv classes, you work on your stand-up routine, because you want to be on a popular sitcom someday. You’re also a writer. You love sketch comedy, and you write your own comic material because you want to be on “Saturday Night Live” someday. You’re also a burlesque dancer. You take your pole dancing classes, perfect your music choices, rehearse your routines, and spend your late nights titillating people into humorous desire. You’re busy! You’re doing all you can to make it. You’re wearing every hat you can think of – including that restaurant server hat you have to wear 20 hours a week to add to that piggy bank.

Here are the hats you are not wearing: business manager, publicist, webmaster, social media marketer, and overall executive director of your potential career. If you aren’t spending that 20 hours per week on these facets of your success, the only thing you will succeed at is being a good hat rack for your many choices of head wear.

As a producing artistic director, I know this far too well. My fellow producers, producing artistic directors, executive directors, managing artistic directors, artistic managing producer directors, and the like, will raise their voices in a silent cheer here as I write this self-aggrandizing truth: Nobody wears more hats than we do. While you are studying your lines, we are studying the bottom line, serving as accountants to our respective theatre organizations. While you are at improv class, we are improvising with available materials to design a set that will work for the show. While you are writing your sketch comedy, we are writing press releases to send to media outlets. While you are rehearsing your next dance routine, we are dancing around questions of financial viability, potential liability, and actors’ reliability.

Man of Many Hats

In addition to being an artistic leader, the producer/director must also often times just be a boss. On our minds at any given time are not just the artistic aspects of the project we are working on, but the business semantics of every decision involved. Our brains are constantly crowded with issues of finances, venue constraints, insurance policies, website updates, social media content, publicity, ticket sales, missing props, washing costumes, developing patrons, juggling schedules, coordinating designers, and a plethora of other responsibilities, including selecting the next project to do it all, all over again.

The producer/director/actor is an absolute crazy person. If you still have your wits about you, adding the actor hat to the mix will definitely drive you over the edge of sanity. It is also a risk that wearing the actor hat on top of the multitudinous head wear of the producer/director will foster a deep seeded resentment toward those who only have to learn their lines, show up to rehearsal, and “play” their parts. Producer/director/actor types would welcome the luxury of delving into their creative process as only an actor, without the weighty heaviness of their positions of leadership. Most of us can’t even remember what it is like to be at a rehearsal with only one task ahead of us – act your part.

Producing/directing isn’t for everyone. I have tremendous respect for those who have tried it and walked away (in some cases run away…screaming), and never looked back at the prospect of ever doing it again. I secretly chuckle at those who say they want to try it – many of them with what business leaders call the “field of dreams” model in their minds, or what marketers refer to (ironically) as the “black box” of their consumerism – but I always encourage them to go forward with their plans. One more producer/director, no matter how short-lived, is one more person who understands how difficult it is to do the job, let alone to do it successfully.

Nonetheless, each and every artist must learn to wear some of these hats concurrently for the advancement of their own careers. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: You have to do the work to get the work! If you find that you just cannot juggle your actor/comedian/writer/burlesque interests while also fulfilling the aspects of business manager and promoter for all four pursuits, then you have to pick and choose which hats you can successfully wear.

tam o'shanter

The truth of the matter is that most people just don’t have heads large enough to wear that many hats. A recent stint on stage in a production of “Henry IV,” served as a great reminder to me that even my head is a poor hat rack for too many chapeaus, and I suffered to find the level of concentration I needed to focus on the hat (crown) worn by my character. It was profoundly frustrating. Thankfully I had a director for the project who understood my plight, and did his best to take some of my hats off of my head so I could play my part.

Even still, you learn you can put the hats on. It is difficult to take them off when you want to. You can’t help but worry about how actors are handling their props, keeping actors from eating in costume, making sure ticket sales are up to par, facilitating house management, negotiating details with the venue, promoting the show, and a myriad of other producer duties that just don’t go away because you got the itch to get back on stage and want to be just an actor for a while. It’s tough.

So to all of those out there who are juggling their millinery, especially my fellow producer/director/actor friends: My hat’s off to you! To the rest: time to choose the correct tam o'shanter for your noggin…


Female Fusion - The Intersection of Art and Activism

Reena Dutt is exactly the artist that this column is named for. She creates art; theater, film, web, and video, that moves the conversation forward. The subject of the conversation changes, the message is sometimes obvious, sometimes more obtuse, but the medium stays constant. Art speaks and Dutt knows the language intimately.

There are so many stereotypes of what an ardent feminist, an activist, a person of color fighting for representation is; strong, powerful, angry. Dutt is quite disarming and funny. She laughs easily and often. She is petite, pretty and slightly self effacing.

She mocks herself at times. Do not let that fool you. This is a powerful, confident and driven person. Dutt was born in New Jersey but her family soon
moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she spent her first nine years. “It was this crazy white picket fences kind of childhood where we were this United Colors of Benetton neighborhood.....it was an idyllic childhood where you just playing.....all of the kids are together and all of the parents would just call each other to see where the kids were and nobody worried.” During this time they also had strong ties to the Indian community and a large extended friends and family network. The next few years involved some additional travel: Huntsville, AL then Dutt moved to India with her mother and brother for school before they finally all settled in Arizona, where they stayed. The South Asian community in Arizona was stronger than in the other cities that they had lived in, and it was here that her lack of belonging became a bit more pronounced. Her parents were not from the same areas, indeed they met in graduate school in Connecticut. Her father was Bengali and spoke Bengali while her mother is
Maharashtrian and speaks Marathi. Dutt doesn't speak either language fluently. They spoke English at home and Dutt enjoyed a very liberal upbringing with Christmas trees, Thanksgiving dinners, foreign students as guests and family outings to the local steakhouse. So, she didn't really fit in with the more traditional South Asian community. Her high school was mostly Catholic and Mormon, with a much smaller population of color. To find a place to belong, Dutt started ice skating, then dancing and eventually found her way to theater, where she stayed. “I was never the other, but I always was different.” She was never discriminated against nor held back due to race and she found her own community in what she did, rather than in her home culture. In fact, race didn't affect or define her until she came to Los Angeles to be an actor, when a casting director, in 1998, “asked me how I speak English so well, that blew my mind, I had never been asked that before...that's literally the first time I felt different.”

Dutt's philosophy and ethic evolved from the juxtaposition of her rather inclusive childhood banging up against the expectations of the rest of the world.

“I grew up feeling supported by everybody around me, which is so lucky, and maybe that's why I get so confused about why people can't or don't understand how to embrace diversity. I have had so many people, from my theater community [in LA] specifically, say ‘well, being from a culture is so different and unique, you should embrace that' when all I want is normalized
diversity like it was when I was a kid.”

As a producer and director, diversity is absolutely at the forefront of Dutt's work. She explains that “representation isn't a THING, it just is.” and that “What you see is what you believe.”

Dutt asks a lot of questions. Every determination is well thought through and important.

“What is the social responsibility of an artist or entertainer? In my mind, that is the big question. We are in one of the most visual mediums ever. How do we use that? Even if it changes one child's mind--oh I saw that one dancer, that dancer looks like me, so I can go be a dancer. So when we start talking about dialogue driven stories where you are hearing someone speak in medical terminology or talk about a business that they started and they look like you, how much does that empower anybody who has a dream that they don't know if they can do because nobody in their family does it and they've never seen it before. SO I do think that art and media...is a social responsibility whether we want it or not and I know that there are a lot of artists who hate calling themselves activists but if you are putting anything in front of someone
else, you are an activist by nature so what is your choice of what you want to present? What do you want to show? You are responsible for that.”

Dutt takes the responsibility of diversity very seriously, both in front of and behind the camera. Production staff, writers, story lines, actors and audiences are all part of the mix and decision making process. Her body of work offers evidence of a well thought out and active agenda.

For example, she associate produced (and appeared in) the web series The Real Girls Guide To Everything Else, which could be tagged as a thinking brown girls' version of Sex and The City. It's fun, lighthearted and tackles much more important issues than shoes (though those are occasionally featured as well).

Parvesh Cheena in Squad 85

Squad 85, which Dutt produced, was an insane time traveling detective mashup starring Parvesh Cheena, now of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The casting was incredibly diverse, but nothing is made of it. It is simply a group of people who don't happen to all look alike and it is hilarious.

In honor of Asian Awareness Week, Dutt directed a series of PSAs called You Should Know This By Now featuring Asian actors saying pretty basic information that somehow gets overlooked. The short clips are funny and uncomfortable and make a point. The first one stars Vincent Rodriguez, who also stars in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Dutt may be a lucky charm!

Vincent Rodriguez in You Should Know This By Now

Snapshot plays with stereotypes and perception in a short film format. It was a finalist for the New Filmmakers LA series.

Check out Dutt's website for a much more extensive look at her prolific career.

Dutt's current project, which she is both producing and directing is Bodies: Place Called Us, A Music Video For Gun Control. She is reuniting with her first love, dance, putting her love of activism and diversity front and center, once again both in front of and behind the camera, and moving an important conversation into a realm where people might not ordinarily have access to the information. “I've put together an incredible team headed by female key crew. Our cast will be representative of all targeted communities in the States.” The video will launch in June, with an accompanying website that will guide viewers to concrete actions, such as voter registration, contact with legislators, and local events, that they can take to fight for gun control reform in their states. The video is being produced in collaboration with CineFemme and SeedandSpark and features Los Angeles singer/songwriter Alex Mackey. (Disclosure: I am the choreographer and a co-producer on this project)

Reena Dutt has a lot to say and a lot to do. She wants to make the entertainment world, and by extension the world at large, a place where a person of color doesn't have to be explained in any given circumstance, they are just there, being. It's both a shockingly simple premise and a huge undertaking. This woman is well on her way to making it happen.


Director/Writer Michael Leoni on Loving Going Up in His ELEVATOR Ride

After a critically acclaimed run in 2010, Michael Leoni returns to Los Angeles bringing his creation ELEVATOR to The Coast Playhouse. I had the extremely incredible opportunity to experience his opening night March 25. This is one ELEVATOR you never want to get off of - but they will get you off!!! It's a totally involving, fast-paced, ninety-minutes stuck in an elevator with seven of the most disparate characters one could put together - always surprising, chocked full with sight-gags and great visual effects; and powered by a very talented cast of actors (with some great voices and some intentionally hysterically bad dancing).

During his final week of rehearsals, Better Lemons and I had the chance to have Michael break away to answer some of our probing questions.

Thank you, Michael for agreeing to this interview with Better Lemons and myself.

Your ELEVATOR had a critically acclaimed ten-month run in Los Angeles back in 2010-2011. What prompted you to bring ELEVATOR back to LA?

It just seemed like the right time. This play brings a lot of love, heart, and humor; and I think that's incredibly important right now. The world is changing so much. It just seems that now more than ever we all need to connect with each other, more than anything else.

Have you made any tweaks to your 2010 version of ELEVATOR?

Yes. After we first mounted the show back in 2010, I spent a lot of time talking to audience members. I wanted to see what parts they connected to and which characters they related to. The heart of this show is about who we really are behind closed doors—it's about shedding our masks and showing who we really are as people. I feel like I've grown a lot since we first opened the play, and naturally, have shed more of my own mask. So, it compelled me to look at the characters to see how I could make them more authentic, make the show more poignant, and really take the audience through a deeper journey of discovery.

What would your short pitch of ELEVATOR be to potential producers?

I think we can all relate to at least one person in the elevator and what they are going through. ELEVATOR really is a show for everyone; it's about life and who we are deep down as humans. It's a comedy with a ton of heart. The show previously ran for ten months during 2010-2011 and we found that people were coming with their families (grandkids with their grandparents; parents with their kids) and with their friends. We felt like it really did cross the boundaries of generations.

ELEVATOR is based on your 2008 short film Someplace in Between. What initially inspired you to write Someplace in Between?

I got stuck in an elevator—which is one of my biggest fears. Sitting there with all those different people, I found myself looking at them and thinking I could die with these people. It struck me that this could be a funny short, if we could actually hear the thoughts in their head. When I would walk down the street, I'd look at the people around me, and wonder what each person could be thinking, what is the voice-over in their head, and what do we all think about. So, I combined both ideas into the film. Then once it was in festivals, I just had the idea that it might work well on stage, too. I re-wrote it over the course of a weekend and we mounted it in the first annual Hollywood Fringe Festival. 

What was your thought process of adapting your short film into a play, instead of a feature-length film or in some other medium?

I felt that as a film, it would be fine, but as a live theater experience with an audience right there in the elevator with the actors, you could do more stylized things. It's really interesting to see the fast forward of time and all these kind of musical sequences live versus on film, which I don't think would have broke any boundaries. The stage show is very cinematic in the way that it is being stylized. I have always wanted to bring film technique into theater, and theater technique to film, crossing those mediums.

We have a New York/Off-Broadway set designer, and are really upping the production value. This is definitely going to be an experience that hasn't been done in a 99-seat world. Everyone asks, "How do you make a show in a box be entertaining for 90-minutes?" The audience response from ELEVATOR is that they feel like they are literally watching a film. It moves quickly, it's fast-paced, and at the core, has a lot of heart and is a lot of fun. And, especially with the way we are presenting it now, the audience will feel like they are going to be on the ride.

Have you worked with any of the Coast Playhouse cast or creatives before?

Yes, on the creative team, Michelle Kaufer (producer), David Goldstein (lighting and scenic design), and Mario Marchetti (music and sound design) are returning. For the cast, Deborah Vancelette (CEO Woman), William Stanford Davis (Maintenance Man), Erica Katzin (Temp), Karsen Rigby (Hot Girl), and Tyler Tanner (Cyrus) are returning.

What advantages or challenges do you find in working in theatre, as opposed to working in film? Film's obvious plus is its ability of reaching a much larger audience.

In film, if you don't like a take; you can stop, go back, and reshoot to get it right. With theater, it's live. It's all prep. In order for me, as a director, to get that kind of raw truth from my actors, I have to break them down as people. We are telling a story about love, connection, shedding our masks, and being unafraid to let our guard down and let our truths come out. As a director, as an actor; we have to take our own masks off to bring that raw truth in, and it's live. I am asking the cast to be completely present for 90 minutes in this elevator, and once it is goes, it's going. You cannot stop it. But, the cast is prepped, trained, and ready to go. Every show is different. Every audience is different. You never know what they are going to be like. We are all trained to go with it and have fun with each other. Especially with this show, I spent a lot of time having the actors bond with each other, so they are a team up there. They support each other and have each other's backs on stage.

You wet your directing whistle in Boston with HAIR, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, and FALSETTOS. Do you find it easier or harder (or just a different animal) having musical beats connecting the plot vs. dramatic beats in a drama or comedic bits in a comedy? Which genre do you prefer to direct?

I like all of it. For me, it is important to have projects that are going to wake people up, whether through music, through song. Every play I do always has some kind of music element. I love music and think it is a crucial tool to move the story forward. You will see the technique we use in ELEVATOR. Whatever I am working on has got to be something that is going to wake a person up, something that is really going to inspire someone to change. That is what I am really all about. Getting the truth, whether it is through music or through dialogue.

What is the significance behind the name of your production company ‘An 11:11 Experience'?

The significance of the name is that it represents a moment in time when you are connected to all, connected to yourself, to everyone around; and knowing we are one, focusing on the connection and on the experience. And, the story behind it—I would regularly look at the clock and see the time at 11:11. My producing partner and I looked it up on the internet, and it basically told us that it was the universe tapping you on the shoulder and letting you know that you are in the right place at the right time.

A number of your projects deal with homeless kids - American Street Kid, THE PLAYGROUND. Tell us about the Spare Some Change organization you founded.

When I was shooting the documentary American Street Kid, I realized that what was being offered out there for the kids wasn't enough. My business partners and I decided we had to create a non-profit that helped these kids. After spending eight years on American Street Kid, we got a clearer picture of what the kids needed and what wasn't there. We did our best to set up an organization that provided what them needed. With the success of American Street Kid, things started to get moving, and we're hoping to spread Spare Some Change all around the country to help homeless youth. And, even right now, we have an ex-homeless youth that got off the streets and is working on ELEVATOR. We are always trying to provide kids job opportunities in any project we do, to keep them working, to keep them active and feeling inspired.

Would you share with our Better Lemons readers your first-hand knowledge of the benefits of an arts education or even arts awareness for our younger generation?

I think arts education is essential and that everyone should be involved or have access to some sort of art program. I can't say it enough. I had some jock friends when I was in school, and they could be so closed-minded about the arts. But then, sometimes I would cast a show and bring them in. They were jocks and bullies, but when they were together with theater people, I watched the connection grow between them.  Seeing that change, made me realize how beautiful it is, when people are open and working together on something creative. That is essential.

What piece of art inspired you as a youth?

Looking back, RENT was a big influence for me. It was new, unique, and edgy; and it spoke to that generation. I was young, but I got it. It was something that was there for a younger generation that looked at theater differently. When I thought of theater, it was musicals like GUYS AND DOLLS, and that didn't get me inspired, but RENT did. Seeing the struggling artists, the friendships, and all the stuff they were dealing with. Jonathan Larson is a hero of mine. I think he is incredible, how he woke up a generation.

What would you like to see Spare Some Change achieving in ten years?

An important part of Spare Some Change is building and funding The Change House, a two-year program to help change the lives of kids who've lived on the streets. I also want a national mentoring program in every major city that inspires kids to get off the streets and help them to believe in themselves. That, in short, is our goal.

What do you see Michael Leoni achieving in ten years?

I am doing what I love right now, and I am going to continue to do what I love, which is creating art that inspires change and connects one another and audiences.

What would you like the Coast Playhouse audiences to leave with after ELEVATOR's curtain call?

We didn't know what we had when we first premiered ELEVATOR. So, to watch audience members look at one another differently, to see people hugging strangers after the show, there was so much love and support of one another. I would hope that you leave the show looking at yourself and looking at others, and opening your mind to who people really are when they take off their masks. I hope you walk out with a lot of hope and a lot of love for life. After one of the shows, a woman asked me if I was the writer. I said, "Yes!" She then told me that she was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and given a few months to live. She told me that this show inspired her to keep living and to live life to the fullest. Those are the kind of reasons we do what we do.

Any closing thoughts, Michael?

One of the things we hope for is that the community embraces us, and we connect with our WeHo neighbors, our LA audience, and we build a home here for ELEVATOR. We are hoping to stay here for a while.

Thank you again, Michael for taking the time for this interview.

To experience your own ride with the seven craziest, most interesting people you thought you would never want to meet, log onto plays411.com/elevator for available tickets. Should be a very good chance that Michael Leoni's ELEVATOR will get extended beyond their original closing date of April 30, 2017.