When I joined the New York Neo-Futurists (NYNF) in 2006, one of the most joyful aspects of the experience was being able to recommend the show (Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind) without hesitation. Up 'till then, I'd done a bunch of plays here and there in NYC, but they often suffered one way or another from being off-off-Broadway productions (lack of time, lack of money, etc.)*. But the Neo's were different. They had figured out how to make those limitations work for them and it felt so good to be so proud of something I was a part of.
I feel the same way about Gemma & The Bear. Like Too Much Light . . . , Gemma & The Bear (GATB) is actually for something of a niche audience and I don't actually think that either is for everyone; certainly neither is perfect. I do think both are, in turns, innovative, delightful and well-made and I am uniquely unabashed in my promotion of GATB as I was with Too Much Light . . . .
So, it has been a bit of a frustrating surprise to grapple, these last couple of months, with just how difficult marketing a (micro-budget) web series can be. I recently watched a popular vlog that argues that the internet creates a meritocracy in which "if the video you're making is interesting to anyone . . . all you have to be concerned with is making something that someone else wants to watch." This was more or less my assumption going in to Gemma & The Bear, but here in the episode-release-and-marketing phase, where the measure of marketing success - views on YouTube - seems to have been equated with the quality of the content (at least as far as generating press, industry attention, etc.) and where spending money to boost posts seems like the only way to be seen at all, that argument about meritocracy feels a bit false . . . or at least naive.
I've been naive all my life. Also: impatient.
The other night, at a birthday gathering for a neighbor, I had a conversation with some people I'd just met about the social norms of meeting new people (how meta). I was expressing my frustration with the apparent taboo of asking people what they do. They countered that "what are you up to?" or "what's new?" or "how do you spend your time?" are completely acceptable alternatives. I'm not sure I agree but, in any case, those alternatives don't address my real want which is to grab these new acquaintances by the lapels (maybe just figuratively) and say something like "who are you?! what's your story?! tell me everything!!" I don't want to be coy, making small talk and teasing out the information slowly; I want the story up front! (Looking back, my entire first date with my husband was just me interrogating him the entire night including important questions like "what are your three favorite sounds?" I guess his tolerance was an early good sign?)
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind wasn't an overnight success; the company has gone through tremendous growing pains and, while they've come incredibly far, they're still working hard to grow and improve. And, of course, that's the story almost everywhere.
So maybe it isn't that the meritocracy of the internet is false (although marketing dollars certainly play a role, albeit a complicated one), maybe it's about staying the course so we can find our audience . . . or they can find us.
I really wish they'd hurry up about it, though.
*To be very clear: I think off-off-Broadway is great and of tremendous value. All artists need a place to practice, experiment and grow and for theater artists in NYC, OOB is often it. Furthermore, over the past decade, I've seen the OOB community as a whole grow and improve the quality of its work. So, no dig at OOB. I love it, in fact.