Steal This Idea: The Story That Refreshes


I think I had Twitter open for all of ten seconds today when this story popped up: Chipotle cups will now feature stories by Jonathan Safran Foer, Toni Morrison, and other authors. I didn’t even have to click on the link, because I’ve been waiting for them to try this for years.

When Chipotle started filling the sides of their cups and bags and wrappers and more with text, all of the stories focused on the food, as they should.* But it wasn’t the typical fast food or “fast casual” chain descriptions of the food or upcoming contests, etc. Even now, if you pick up a bag from McDonald’s, it has a slightly more evolved design aesthetic, words and shapes in eye-catching patterns, but it does little more than say, “Hey, the Big Mac has two all-beef patties…” Chipotle’s packaging has been telling clever little stories from the beginning–the story of a farmer explaining how and why he works with Chipotle, or a garden asking why the vegetables that leave never call and never write before remembering that vegetables can’t call or write.

*Note: in the Vanity Fair story, Foer notes that “[t]hey had nothing on their bags.” Clearly, he didn’t look on the sides of the bag. There have been stories there for years. Cups and wrappers, too.

But now, Chipotle is doing more than cultivating good food practices, they’re cultivating good writing and making it available & accessible to everyone.

Where is the theatre world’s equivalent? How hard would it be to adapt such an idea for your company? I still wear my Actors Theatre of Louisville T-Shirt Play by Wendy Wasserstein. (Yes, a complete, short, self-contained play whose text is on the back of a t-shirt.) Why aren’t we all doing such things?

Why not reach out to a few of the playwrights you work with regularly–preferably local ones–and develop some postcard plays. Good quality postcards are remarkably affordable to print–if you think they’re not, get in touch, I know a guy. (If my tiny theatre company can produce full color 4×6 or 5×7 cards on heavy 16 point cardstock that patrons collect and save, then so can yours.)

Have your playwrights write scenes for the cards. Maybe they’re linked, maybe they’re thematic to your season, maybe they’re just fun on their own. Distribute them wherever you can–cafes, libraries, farmers markets, bookstores. Hand them out when you go to events. Maybe put on an event where you produce the scenes in a barebones staging, maybe debut a second set of cards there and then. Or reach out to a farmers market and produce them there one Saturday morning. Be accessible, share your work, see what happens.

It’s not unlike how we promoted the 3rd Louisville Playwrights Festival several years ago. Every run of cards and posters had unique text, but all focused on the festival, similar to the way Chipotle’s packaging focused on the food. Still, patrons collected them, shared them, told friends about them. I ran into someone just the other week who had a full set of the cards. That festival was nearly ten years ago, but the approach stuck.

This would also be a fun way to advertise a One Minute Play Festival if your company is hosting one. Get these out to the people weeks ahead of time, get them used to the concept, build the audience that way. And heck, have another round of cards ready for the night of the performance.

And if you’ve got a Chipotle nearby, I bet you could leave some cards there, too…

  • May 15, 2014