Creating a Trailer for a Theatre Production

The next two videos I have to write and produce are a trailer and context video, both for Little Shop of Horrors. A context video is intended to offer enhanced information regarding a play, such as what was happening historically in the world during the action of the play, or some interesting facts about the creation of the script, challenges in producing the piece, or other behind-the-scenes information that might provide a new dimension of appreciation for the play.

An example of our recent context video for Sylvia:

While the four-to-six minute context video might require more research than the 45-second trailer, it is usually the trailer that is the more challenging piece. In fact, I’ve observed that when writing, shorter is always more difficult. The shorter a piece is, the more one must identify exactly what must be said and distill it to its most essential components. Poe and Twain will tell you (if they could) that the short story form can be far more challenging than writing a novel for that very reason.

But aside from its compressed nature, the trailer offers another daunting challenge. You must tell two equally compelling stories: The story of what the play is about, and (more importantly) the story of why the viewer wants to see it.

Both are a challenge, but the latter is the most elusive, especially for a theatre production. Whereas cinematic trailers have been a staple for decades, trailers for theatre productions are a new form, still evolving. One must remember that theatrical audiences are different than movigoers – they are after an intimate person-to-person experience, the very thing that theatre can offer but film can’t. So the theatre trailer mustn’t make the mistake of trying to simply show the action of a play the way a cinematic trailer might. (this is also a practical difficulty – most shows are not rehearsed, costumed, or in some cases even cast, at the time work must begin on the trailer).

So what do we show in a theatre trailer? I’m still learning this myself. Short pieces of dialogue can work, if they are kinetic. Props, lighting, music can all tell the viewer what it might feel like to be in the theatre during the production. Here are two of my trailers that feel the most successful:

So now to my current challenge, the musical Little Shop of Horrors. What is exciting about the show? The music, the campy fun (the show originated as a shlocky black & white Roger Corman film), the choreography, the eccentric characters, the theatricality of the plant puppet.  These are all elements that will engage the audience during the live experience. So how do I hint at these with the trailer? How do I tell this story?

I guess I’ll find out soon. The deadline approacheth!

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