That the New York indie theater scene is drawing forced breaths and the gap between Broadway and off is more pronounced than ever is no news to arts-inclined locals. Sure, performers and writers are still everywhere, but Manhattan’s astronomical rents are quickly molding its culture from gritty bohemia to hipster chic. Actors continue to flock to the city that historically belongs to them, and collective frustration builds. Besides an endless audition circuit and off-hours unpaid readings, a performer’s most viable option is to partake in a theater festival or find a self-made audience online.
Title of Show, a meta-musical that will open on Broadway on July 17, found a fan base through both avenues. And it couldn’t be more fitting that the show, written by its cast members Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, is about the thing itself: Writing a musical, against the pervasive forces of self-doubt, and submitting it to a theater festival.
After a successful run at the New York Musical Theater Fest in 2004 and Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theater in 2006, Title of Show has recently connected with a fresh following through eight ‘webisodes’ on its home page. In the spirit of the musical, these YouTube videos document its cast’s efforts to get a Broadway contract. To date, the viewership of each episode ranges from 6,000 to over 17,000.
The idea for this method of self-promotion, writer/cast member Jeff Bowen says, sparked from the cast’s shared antsiness about the future of their creation. A move from Off-Broadway to on was in the talks, but very much up on the air. “We were at a place where we didn’t really know what was going on with the show,” Bowen says, ” and we thought, is there a way that we can set this ball in motion without having to wait for anybody to make a decision for us? So we just came up with the idea to go on Youtube, for the fans who had been asking what was going on.”
The first episode sparked a multitude of fan emails, in which viewers wondered if a Broadway stint was truly a reality.
“We didn’t know; we knew as much as we were telling our viewers,” Bowen says.
As the cast added episodes, its fan base began to include viewers who didn’t know of the musical but had caught on to the web series. Fan letters continued to drop in larger and larger volumes, and the show’s soundtrack sales peaked. The large-scale interest, Bowen says, woke producers up to the show’s marketability.
“[The web series] had everything to do with us going to Broadway,” he says. “It definitely worked, it got the producers much more fired up about this new demographic who were coming in and didn’t know anything about the show.”
During the musical’s 2006 run, some critics appreciated its earnestness and sass but found it too much of a theater geek’s inside joke to resonate with the average patron.
What the creators would have said to the critics requires little guessing, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing,” Title of Show‘s autobiographical characters sing near the end of the musical.
As another self-made success story of the internet age comes true, the cast may have just done what even their most inspired lyrics didn’t count on: Their creation, in a matter of months, has become a hundred people’s favorite thing.