NEW YORK — They may be a vital part of the movies, but how often do plays show coming attractions? For now, at least, there’s one Gotham theater that’s giving auds live previews of productions to come.
This month, five perfs of the Off Broadway comedy “Belly” will be preceded by 10-minute snippets from “Help Me Help Myself,” a laffer about single gals penned by “Desperate Housewives” writer Jenna Bans.
The sneak peeks were the brainchild of producer Alicia Arinella. Since her nonprofit company, Off the Leesh, was behind both “Belly” and “Help Me Help Myself,” she decided to link the two with cinema-style marketing.
Arinella, who produces both film and theater, calls the overlap of strategies inevitable. “As a producer, I have one bag of tricks,” she laughs.
Of course, bringing those tricks to the theater did require some tweaking. Bans’ episodic script offers several choices for stand-alone scenes, but choosing the ideal 10 minutes was tricky.
“We wanted to find moments that felt complete,” says Off the Leesh artistic director Matthew Rashid. “But we didn’t want people saying, ‘Oh, you ruined the best part.’ ”
Another obstacle was that several cast members belong to Actors’ Equity, whose rules make strict divisions between performance and rehearsal time. Since the previews could be argued as both, they risked causing union woes.
Those bases are covered, though, because “Help Me Help Myself” will have only eight official perfs, while its Equity showcase contract allows for 18. Therefore, even though the previews are being dubbed rehearsals, those who might consider them short perfs cannot claim the actors are being overworked.
The major goal of the previews is to sell tickets, but their impact won’t be clear until the show opens Nov. 12. At press time, Arinella noted modest biz of “about 20 groups of pre-sold tickets.”
Another important factor is the audience reaction to the gimmick itself. Arinella says crowds have been “shocked by it because … people haven’t seen something like that before.”
Rashid, who’s also in the “Help Me” cast, has been counting on that surprise. To him, the formal innovation of a live preview signals the entire reason Off the Leesh was founded. “We wanted to take some risks,” he notes. “We wanted a place for creative experiments.”