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In the months of July and August 2019, KuLT Production staged The Working Dead at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac).
The musical which was directed by Nicole-Ann Thomas with lyrics and dialogues penned by Terence Toh was not only well received but obtained positive reviews from local theatre practitioners.
While many enjoyed the show for depicting actual corporate zombies, there was also a closer to home message: Overwork and stress at the workplace. What’s more, at the end of the show there were discussions pertaining to mental health for working professionals.
In fact, one of the strengths of the show was that it succeeded in getting many to talk about the need for a healthy workplace environment. From good colleagues, to superiors to having proper work-life balance, many who came out of the theatre spoke of how they were able to relate with the characters.
Nearly everyone – including myself – have experienced The Working Dead in our own ways.
But what blew my mind even further was the publicity campaign for the show. I got in touch with the producer of The Working Dead, Tan Cher Kian, to pick his brains on how the cast and crew managed this feat.
If you’re someone who deals with the business aspect of the performing arts, this post would be highly insightful for you.
Hey Cher Kian, I enjoyed The Working Dead immensely! What I felt was unique about the show compared with other stagings so far was the publicity campaign. I used to work as a publicist with a theatre organization so I know what you guys pulled off was no easy feat. Could you share how you guys devised this campaign from start to end?
We know from the start that it was going to be a huge task, almost impossible. But having the hindsight now, it’s pure newcomer gungho-ness. The very first thing we did was to get the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) endorsement for the tax relief scheme to try to get corporate sponsorship.
We managed to get the endorsement and approached some corporate bodies, unfortunately to no avail. We felt that they weren’t interested due to these factors:
We were very lucky to get some non-monetary sponsors. Our venue was sponsored by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat (TASSTR). The rehearsal venue was provided by Sunway University‘s Department of Performance & Media and SYLK Music Development.
These helped a lot with our production cost.
Fortunately, Co-Labs Coworking and Paramount Property came along to support us tremendously by buying out approximately our one and a half of the shows. They also loaned us some office furniture which we utilized for our stage design. A huge shout-out to the supportive souls from both organizations!
Marketing and publicity-wise, we basically tried everything under sun! As mentioned, we were very aware being a new local musical. These three words don’t scream easy-peasy especially when it comes to the limited performing arts patrons in Malaysia.
Apart from approaching the conventional mainstream media organizations such as television, radio, newspapers, online magazines, portals and blogs (shout-out to Bernama TV, TV3, TV9, AFOradio, NST, The Star, The Sun Daily, Eksentrika, Mashable SEA, Free Malaysia Today, ExpatGo, The Rakyat Post, World of Buzz, Sensasi Selebriti, Femagonline), we also heavily marketed the show via social media.
Was it difficult procuring sponsors for the show? What are some tips you can share for local productions to have a foot in the door when it comes to sponsorship deals?
Yes, definitely difficult. For The Working Dead, I felt that we did not have sufficient time. For such a full-scale production, procuring sponsor should start a year before the show, especially for the main monetary sponsor.
We were blessed with lots of in-kind sponsorship for stuff such as F&B, services, consultations and collaborations which are often neglected. Special shout-out to RaffleThazzle Photography, ThinkInt, biJOEx Cafe, Jantzen, Rawsome, Mighty White, Ddapur Global, theatrethreesixty, KOLME Management, TripleEight Production, and Flatlined Photography!
Speaking of sponsorships for theater shows, in your opinion, how many types of sponsorship opportunities are there for local production companies?
From what I understand, getting monetary sponsors is still extremely difficult. Grants and fundings normally won’t go to commercial projects so my hope is that MOTAC will promote the tax relief for corporate sponsorship aggressively. They need to bring awareness on the benefits of the scheme so that corporate bodies are more confident and comfortable in funding the arts.
How long did it take just to prepare marketing and publicity wise?
The intense publicity activities started around two and a half months before the show began. Personally, it’s a short time frame especially for a new local musical. Our run started just a week after Phantom of the Opera‘s three-week run and it also clashed with Next To Normal‘s run too!
Talk about musical fatigue…
We managed to pull off the feat despite our lean team: 10 casts, 5 musicians, 5 creatives and 10 production members. Everyone lent a helping hand out with the marketing and publicity of the show.
Nice work there! How many shows were sold out finally, Cher Kian?
We ran for 3 weeks with 18 shows. Thanks to word of mouth, most of our shows towards the end of the run were sold-out — about 9 shows! We were really happy with this because we had exceeded our expectations.
In your opinion, what are some important tips or guide you can give to local productions in order to ensure their show is a success?
Our intense publicity activities only began two months and a half before the show which is short for a new local musical. That said, it’s important to know your audience and how to reach out and grow as this greatly affects the marketing and publicity activities of the show. At the moment we don’t know our audience enough because not much effort was put into collecting data on them.
However, as we observe and study more and more shows being staged, developing our audiences becomes important.
Do you see arts as an investment? Why do you feel businesses should invest in the arts and what are the returns on investments (ROI) that they can generate?
We can’t run away with performance measurements can we? ROI is a numerical measure so unfortunately most of the returns we are involved in are intangible. Yes, there are the tangible art investments such as paintings, sculptures etc.
But the theatre, especially The Working Dead, deals with behavioural changes, corporate culture etc. Intangible stuff. I am still struggling to deal with potential sponsors on this ROI discussion. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure this out.
KuLT Production is currently on the look out for partners and sponsors for the restaging of their highly successful musical, The Working Dead. If you fit the bill, drop Cher Kian and his team an email.
Oh, by the way, remember the awesome songs performed during the show? They’re being sold in CD format. Get in touch with KuLT Productions through the email provided.
*** All images by KuLT Production.