Red Stitch

I have had a long involvement with Red Stitch Actor's Theatre and was instrumental in the development of its audience and its brand from its beginnings. In the latter part of 2019 I was invited back to the company to assist with a new marketing drive.

Project background

As an Artistic Director and ensemble member I have conceived and written copy for Red Stitch season brochures, website content and social media over many years, and continue to provide a regular consultancy role.

We recently commenced work on a new program to build our audience with organic search optimisation, new promotion initiatives and a digital advertising campaign for the company's 20th anniversary.

Red Stitch has a strong presence in the theatre community with regular, high profile publicity articles and reviews. The company also features rich text snippets in Google search results.

However, we rank as low as page 10 for terms like ‘Theatre in Melbourne’, 'What's on in Melbourne' and ‘Melbourne Theatre Venues’.

This presents a great opportunity to build on engagement and search ranking.

Creative process

The first stage involved re-assessing our existing database, identifying our most engaged audience, and preparing a brief series of open-ended survey questions to create customer personas.

We engaged marketing consultants, A Good Brand Group, to build a style guide for messaging (EDM’s, Socials) and a street poster branding campaign.

Keyword research yielded strong potential for several terms, principally:

- Melbourne Theatre Venues

- What’s On in Melbourne

- Ensemble Theatre Company

- Melbourne Theatre Guide

- Theatre Bookings Online

Next Steps

We are currently optimising Google Business Pages and setting up Analytics to measure progress.

The next stage is to optimise the Red Stitch website with updated metatags to improve our page ranking for relevant keywords.

A content strategy will be drafted from the research we gather about our current audience. 

Caroline Lee: Coming in From the Cold (Blog)

Caroline Lee, now appearing in her second Red Stitch production as an official ensemble member, is no stranger to emotionally demanding roles. In Colder by Lachlan Philpott she plays Robin, the mother of a young man who disappears… Twice.

Philpott’s new play deals with the theme of absence – and it’s raw and brutal territory.

The first half of the play interweaves scenes from the disappearance of Robin’s young child, David, at Disneyland some 26 years before with scenes from the ‘present day'.

Now, they are nursing the recent departure of David’s beloved stepfather, Ed, following a relationship breakdown with his mother.

David appears to be acting out in some bizarre way. His outlook on life has been compromised at an early age, and his experience seems to have been characterised by loss.

In the scenes from the past, Robin's traumatic experience of losing her son is, thankfully, over by the end of the day when he is found by park's attendants. But she is so torn apart by what has happened that she may be forever scarred by it.

And when David returns he’s not crying, shaking, or distressed. He won’t even look at his mother. For both of them it represents a kind of early separation.

“Lachlan was much more interested in this syndrome, and it’s a real thing, it’s called ‘ambiguous loss’. It’s the name for a loss that can’t be resolved because you never find the person, you never find the body, you never know what’s happened to them.”

When David disappears again – as an adult – Robin must relive her trauma again. But Philpott’s decision to deny us closure in this instance recreates for us the sense of frustration and absence felt by his characters.

And this is why you might call Colder thematically challenging. Normally we expect some kind of resolution, some sort of understanding of the character’s motives – but we’re not given anything like that here.

Missing Persons

What’s it like getting up on stage every night and committing to such an emotionally draining performance?

Caroline is sanguine. She’s grateful for the chance to represent the people who suffer a kind of grief rarely spoken about.

She stumbled on a documentary, whilst researching her role, that there is something like 20,000 people missing in Australia at any given time. This, she says, gave her the clearest insight into her character’s dilemma; a mother whose son is ‘permanently missing’.

“She was talking about this issue of unresolved grief. It was heartbreaking seeing her. You could see the toll in her body...in her face...in her psyche, how chronically tired she was. She never felt like she had moved on. There have been people who have come up to me and said things like this after the show...we can hear people crying in the audience..."

Kindred Spirit

When Red Stitch Artistic Director, Ella Caldwell, invited Caroline to join Red Stitch as an ensemble member Caroline had a heap of work lined up for the year ahead. She had to work her way into the fold gently, as is her way.

Her very first ensemble experience, she says, was in her early 20’s – in a young Melbourne University ensemble called Edge theatre.

“Then, when I went to NY I looked at the Wooster Group ensemble and, whilst in Italy, I trained with some people who inherited Grotowski’s work in Tuscany. I’ve always believed in it as a structure for the actor. I just thought...wow...the only ensemble company in Australia is in my own home town and I’ve been invited to join!”

Caroline also feels she is able to show some leadership with the experience she’s acquired over the years, both as a mentor to younger actors and as someone who's acquired the people skills necessary to help ensemble members make decisions about the company’s future.

A small theatre company’s production budget sometimes limits the ability to provide an adequate support network and Lee feels that this is an area she’s naturally drawn to.

“We are able to make really exciting theatre here in Melbourne and its partly because the cost of living is such that people can still juggle paid work and working for low wages. So artists can offer an incredible amount of themselves in terms of time and resources to a project. I also think that that has allowed a culture to grow in Melbourne where there is a lot of sophisticated alternative work and thinking that happens around theatre.”

Sometimes, she acknowledges, that approach leads to a perception artists don’t need funding – and Caroline has certainly worked on her fair share of ‘love projects’ - where you're effectively subsidising the work yourself. Meanwhile, paid professionals, like the publicist, “could take home about 2000 times what I received!”

At the same time she does feel lucky to be in a city where artists are able to create opportunities for themselves and find audiences interested to seek out new work.

For a company that has raised artist compensation by about 40–50% from the amount it was paying just a few years ago thanks to support from its Kindred donor Programme, Lee feels it is making a massive difference to the actors and creatives Red Stitch can retain.

COLDER by Lachlan Philpott, directed by Alyson Campbell is playing at Red Stitch until April 8th. Bookings www.redstitch.net

More information is available at The Missing Persons Advocacy Network.

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