Signature play aimed at youth aud earns wider interest

WASHINGTON — It’s tough to get younger crowds into regional theaters. But Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., is having luck with “Really Really,” a new play benefitting from edgy subject matter and a focused marketing campaign that has managed to pull in auds of all ages.

Written by 26-year-old playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo, the seven-character dramedy is a blunt examination of the consequences — both positive and negative — of the self-absorbed mindsets often exhibited by the twentysomething members of “Generation Me.” It is the first of a trilogy of Colaizzo’s works focused on the lifestyle of his contemporaries.

The show, which opened Feb. 12, centers on a group of college students at an unnamed school recuperating the day after a typical beer-binging party. The atmosphere quickly sours when one participant claims she was raped that night. Whether she was or wasn’t is a key question posed by the quirky whodunit.

The unexpected, cross-demographic success of the production could serve as an example to other theaters that might otherwise shy away from plays with a youthful edge for fear of scaring off older audiences. As “Really Really” suggests, such work doesn’t always do so.

While college students are taking advantage of a discount program to account for 15% of overall single ticket sales — an unusually high ratio for the Signature, especially for a world preem in the company’s smaller venue — the theater reports healthy sales to under-30 buyers who aren’t students or couldn’t get in on the limited discount. Overall, the show is selling at 90% to 100% capacity.

The play has earned strong reviews, generating buzz among legiters in Gotham and beyond, with a number of theater types heading to D.C. to check it out for future stagings.

Part of the appeal is the subject matter. Signature a.d. Eric Schaeffer admits he booked “Really Really” with an eye toward younger auds, but he’s since discovered the play’s appeal to older generations, who maybe recall similar situations from their own college days. “As a result, we are able to market it traditionally while also attracting a younger audience that we wouldn’t otherwise reach,” he says. “We sold 150 tickets from a single e-mail blast targeted to people under age 30,” said Schaeffer. “That never happens, unfortunately.”

Young-skewing marketing tactics include $20 tickets for people under 30 available the week of a performance, as well as the theater’s promotional activities on area campuses and social networks. The most satisfying boost, though, comes from word-of-mouth circulated via Facebook and Twitter, Schaeffer adds.

Keeping the creative vibe young, Schaeffer tapped Signature’s 27-year-old associate a.d., Matt Gardiner, to direct the show after Gardiner approached Schaeffer about the script.

The play is first of Colaizzo’s to be produced, although he previously was the associate writer for Broadway’s “Sister Act” and also was behind the Cubby Bernstein Web series that was part of a 2008 Tony campaign for tuner “Xanadu.” An October 2011 Gotham reading of his play “Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill” was directed by David Schwimmer and produced by Jeffrey Richards (“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”).

The success of “Really Really” has been a learning experience for all involved, beginning with unexpected accolades from Signature’s inner circle at a private preview. “People of all ages are gravitating to this,” Gardiner says.

The unexpected, cross-demographic success of the show could serve as notice to other theaters that might otherwise shy away from plays with a youthful edge for fear of scaring off older audiences. As “Really Really” shows, such work doesn’t always do so.

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