Jeremy O. Harris and his thought-provoking new work, Slave Play, has caused quite a stir since it premiered last November during the New York Theatre Workshop’s 2018-19 Season. That hasn’t stopped since the play moved to Broadway’s John Golden Theatre this month. Reactions to the play’s subject matter – slavery, identity and sexual taboos – have described the play as “controversial,” “dangerous” and “bracing.” But no matter how explosive the play might be, it is the production’s approach to audience etiquette and marketing that I think are far more revolutionary.
Although more attention has been given to Harris holding a sold-out Saturday night performance for 15 minutes because his “goddess,” singer Rihanna, was running late and didn’t want to miss one minute of the show, the truly innovative choice has been Harris’s encouraging the play’s producing team to make show accessible to Black audiences in a variety of ways. Audience members have been encouraged to MAKE verbal comments in reaction to the show, as well as use cellphones to post their reactions DURING the performance. Ushers have been told not to react to those or other non-violent or disruptive actions by patrons.
Another of those ideas is to sale tickets at a high of only $69 (a price so low that no Broadway show has used it in several decades). In spite of that, the show is playing to an average of 97% capacity across all performances. Advance ticket sales are strong. But even more unique was the production’s marketing effort to promote one of the preview performances where all 804 tickets would be sold to African Americans exclusively. Advertising promised:
On September 18, 2019, the 804 seats of Broadway’s Golden Theatre Will Be Occupied by An Audience of Black Identified Artists, Writers and Students.
Nothing like this has ever been attempted by a Broadway production. Nicknamed “The Blackout,” video of the audience prior to the performance was posted on Twitter by Broadway Black. You can see that video by clicking here.
You can read more about these marketing initiatives in Diep Tran’s article in American Theatre Magazine.