As soon as he heard news of the deadly earthquake that hit the Bay Area on Oct. 17, theater director and producer Dave Judy had what seemed like a great idea to raise money for relief efforts: benefit performances of "Aftershock," the quake drama that premiered in August at Santa Ana's Way Off Broadway Playhouse.
But despite Judy's best intentions, the play grossed just $700 after drawing only 40 to 50 people in a five-performance run that ended Sunday at Hollywood's McCadden Place Theatre. Judy, who spent about $1,000 on rent for the theater and publicity costs, said he will donate about $200 to a Red Cross quake emergency fund and absorb the $500 deficit as a personal loss. He had hoped to cover his costs and raise $2,000 more.
Way Off Broadway did not have a financial commitment to the production, but the original cast and crew donated their time. Two benefit performances of "Aftershock" raised $400 during the premiere run for the Red Cross. Judy, who is directing the playhouse's upcoming production of "Eat Your Heart Out," saw "Aftershock" in its August run.
A Garden Grove resident who has produced and directed equity waiver and community productions, Judy said Monday that the experience with "Aftershock" has been a sobering one: "It was very, very difficult. It will discourage me from financing these kinds of things in the future."
He tied the paltry attendance--mostly family and friends of cast and crew--to difficulties in publicizing the performances, despite a huge effort. "We sent out hundreds of press releases to everybody," including newspapers, TV and radio stations, Judy said. In addition, thousands of flyers were distributed; Judy even paid for ads. The county chapter of the Red Cross also sent out releases.
Despite the limited time to publicize the performances--less than two weeks--Judy thought that the news value of the effort would give it an edge in gaining media coverage. But response to the publicity blitz was less than overwhelming: There was no TV coverage, just a few isolated radio public service announcements and scattered newspaper listings. "I think that we made a real, real effort here," Judy said. "We hoped and anticipated the press would give us some play. . . . That may have been our big mistake."
Playhouse artistic director Tony Reverditto, however, tied the lack of publicity to a combination of the short notice and his group's inexperience in dealing with Los Angeles media. Sylvia Stewart, director of public relations for the Red Cross in Orange County, agreed that there may not have been enough time to adequately publicize the performances.
"You really need two weeks to get to the magazines in Los Angeles," Reverditto said. L.A. Weekly, for instance, did not have time to run an announcement.
Reverditto said the experience with "Aftershock"--Way Off Broadway's first venture into Los Angeles--was an educational one.
"I came out of it with a lot of growth," he said. "It was by no means a bomb as far as production quality."
"Aftershock," by playwright Allison Gappa of Orange, focuses on a Southern California family trapped in a basement shelter after an 8.0-intensity earthquake. Gappa consulted with Red Cross disaster experts in writing the play.
"Not only was it for a good cause, but it gave some very valuable preparedness information," Judy said. "I think it's a shame more people didn't come and see it."
But Reverditto said he hopes to resurrect the play--next time with more preparation.