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A 'Mother-F#*&R' Marketing Challenge

Hartford's TheaterWorks Gets Creative With Dicey Title Of Play

By FRANK RIZZO

October 14, 2011

How do you market a show with a title you cannot say in polite company?

That was the challenge for Hartford's TheaterWorks when it landed the U.S. regional theater premiere of the Broadway hit "The Mother-F#*&R With the Hat" by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Previews begin tonight at the theater. The show, staged by the Tazewell Thompson, runs Oct. 21 through Dec. 2.

"If you could solve the problem of the title which they didn't solve on Broadway you were set," says Steve Campo, artistic director of the downtown Hartford theatre, known for its local productions of recent Broadway and off-Broadway hits.

Campo did not see the New York production that earned five Tony Award nominations, including for best play, and for actors Bobby Canavale, Yul Vazquex and Elizabeth Rodriquez and director Anna D. Sapiro. It also marked the Broadway bow of comedianChris Rock.

Variety called it "a raucous comedy about a pair of battling Puerto Rican lovers and the friends who enable their self-destructiove relationship."

But Campo read the play and "had known all about the work and knew it was a perfect match for the theater."

The show was also a coup for the 26-year-old theater, which became the first theater in America to do a production since it closed on Broadway in July.

But outside of New York, "A lot of theaters wouldn't touch this one because of the title, nudity, language and a whole host of reasons," says Campo.

For the poster deisgn, Campo turned to illustrator Chris Piascik of Cromwell, whom he worked with on publicity materials for the theater's previous production, "The Understudy." Campo wanted to use the boldness of the title as the primary poster image.

Campo suggested using typewriter symbols to spell the objectionable word; Piascik's idea was to use specific typwewriter symbols that reflected the shape of the letters in that word.

"Chris also chose an overall style in the poster that is so aligned with the play: very edgy, bright and urban. I think he just got it."

But even having a playful poster "is still difficult for some to accept," says the theater's general manager Nicole Laflair Nieves. The TheaterWorks poster was only allowed in half of the windows of stores and businesses that carried posters for "The Understudy".

Some locales have opted to display a smaller "censored" poster created for mailing.

The play's title has also offered amusing and awkward challenges for staff taking calls for tickets in the box office.

"The box office guys were really censoring themselves in the beginning," says Nieves. "They 'coughed' over the word but now they're at the point of just saying it. It's funny to hear people calling us for tickets. They may say: 'The Mother-bleep with the Hat." Or The Mother-You-Know-What with the Hat.' Or, 'The Mother' and when they seem to hesitate you fill in with, "F----- with the Hat.' Or they really emphasize it. We get these really funny phone calls in the morning: 'I'm calling to buy tickets for "MotherXXXX!!! With the Hat.''"

Campo believes the title presentation is clever enough to be useful for other theaters looking for a clever and tasteful marketing campaign. Because of the cleverness of the design, Campo thinks that the way the theater has handled the marketing could be useful for others facing the titular challenge.

"We're going to have more conversations with [the licensing organization] Dramatists Play Service about potential future usage of this design," says Campo. "The concept of intellectual property would suggest that this belongs to us."

The Mother-F#*&R With the Hat plays through Dec. 2 at 233 Pearl St. Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Some Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. (Check with theater.) Tickets are $50 to $63. Student rush $15. Ages 16 and 17 free. Students and faculty on Oct. 29 at 2:30 p.m.matinee free. No one under 16 allowed. Information: 860-527-7838.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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