By Steven Froias

#NBcreative Writer-at-large

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock and totally avoiding traditional and social media, you probably already know that the New Bedford Festival Theatre is presenting the exuberant musical “The Wiz” at the Zeiterion beginning this week. 

Why would you know that? Because the promotion campaign for the production has been nothing short of brilliant, creative and meaningful. 

There’s a common perception that creative professionals and organizations struggle to adequately publicize their efforts. That’s somewhat overstated, I think. The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center and New Bedford Whaling Museum, to highlight two examples, both do an excellent job broadcasting their cultural wares. 

Others do, however, struggle. It’s one reason why New Bedford Creative runs a Peer-To-Peer series of online training sessions, and also why we invest so much in community outreach efforts ourselves. 

Much of that struggle has to do with capacity and budget, of course. Which is why I’m so impressed with the fantastic marketing of “The Wiz.” It has placed imagination and community values center stage. And therefore, offers all of us some useful tips on how to claim the spotlight. 

Over the course of the last month or so, New Bedford Festival Theatre under the direction of Executive Producer Wendy Hall has conducted a sizzling social media posting campaign introducing Wiz cast and creatives (check out their Facebook page here); engaged city youth in dance instruction and education; bestowed upon Purchase Street its very own Yellow Brick Road; and commissioned a stunning video by filmmaker Ethan de Aguiar. 

Along the way, it’s gained a ton of local media coverage, been prolifically shared on social media and quite simply captured the imagination of the city. 

Which is amazing for a non-profit professional theater company at any time, but especially one that’s just really getting back into the business of live performances with a full season after a pandemic-induced coma. 

All of that is even before the curtain rises this Thursday, April 27 for a preview performance followed by seven others through Saturday, May 6. (Full schedule and ticket purchasing can be found here.) And, there’s a trick or two more coming out from behind the curtain over the next two weeks. 

What’s been so remarkable about the promotion of “The Wiz” hasn’t just been its effectiveness, but the way it has simultaneously embraced the City of New Bedford even as it has been embraced by it. 

That’s because Wendy Hall – who took over at the Festival Theatre just before the pandemic in 2019 – sees the Zeiterion’s resident Theater company squarely in the context of the larger community. Consequently, promotion for this show (and no doubt “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” this summer) isn’t just about marketing but bringing the cultural values of the city together in common cause.

The street art of Mandy Fraser and Nicole Pupillo, which is our Yellow Brick Road, is a reflection of the public street art that has come to define New Bedford in recent years. That’s why it’s been so fervently embraced. We’re not in Kansas anymore – we’re in New Bedford! And people feel good about that.

It’s also why, as Wendy Hall explains, “Jaden Dominique wasn’t portraying Dorothy in Ethan’s video,” Hall explains. “She was Jaden singing ‘Home’ very much in New Bedford. We wanted to highlight her as a performer in New Bedford – the Home of the song.” In other words, sharing equal billing with the city. 

Also as part of bonding “New Bedford” and “Festival Theatre” together, students got to learn about choreography at a special YWCA Master Class event with Wiz Director/Choreographer Kenny Ingram hosted by city artist David Guadalupe, who is also Director of Mission Impact for the YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts. 

And, working with New Bedford Public Schools, the entire sixth grade class from all schools across the city (and peers from Fairhaven) will get to see the entire production in a special performance. (These last two benefiting from some Art is Everywhere ARPA grant funding, facilitated by New Bedford Creative.) 

Finally, the Saturday, April 28 performance will be dedicated to BuyBlackNB, and they will have some of their vendors in the lobby.

From the beginning, Wendy Hall says, “we thought about promoting ‘The Wiz’ in a community way. Mixing it all up – street artists, filmmakers, performers together having some fun.” And, working with the community. Elizabeth Bettencourt, Ed.D., Associate Artistic Director, Director of Education – New Bedford Festival Theatre writes that, “Committed collaborators on this programming are the following wonderful New Bedford organizations: YWCA Southeastern MA, The Greater New Bedford Boys & Girls Club, Stage Artistry Studios, 3rd EyE Youth Empowerment, the Cape Verdean Association, and the New Bedford Public Schools.”

Together, the New Bedford Festival Theatre team, as well as the cast and crew of “The Wiz,” has soared higher and reached deeper into New Bedford and offered some valuable lessons on the role of arts and culture in our society – and selling that to the public at large.

And proven once again that there’s no place like home when it’s New Bedford, Massachusetts. Especially, as the song from the show says, when you believe in yourself. 

Once again, you can get tickets to “The Wiz” at the Zeiterion Theatre, Thursday, April 27 through Sunday, May 6, at this link.

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