Some vicissitudes of following Richard Armitage, and the Berlin Station “live” events
Last Wednesday, I was out running errands in town and had just turned my car toward the library when I looked at the clock in my car, saw it was 2 p.m., and thought, “One hour till Armitage is on stage, he’s probably warming up.”
It’s weird, this thinking about the daily cycle of someone who’s not actually in my life, but I found it happening in 2014, as well: “Now he’s on stage, now will be stage door, now it’s time for the Armitage hour,” the term I used to refer to the spate of tweets and messages fans posted after The Crucible concluded each evening. We’ve seen less of that this time around; the theater is half the size and in both absolute and proportional numbers, the quota of fans at the stage door has been smaller. I think this is good for Armitage (read: earning the respect of a regular New York theater audience who will turn out to see him reliably), but less good for fans, especially those who will not see the play themselves.
But being a fan is fun; it definitely gives me something to think about besides the quotidian, which takes up a lot more of my life than it used to. On the whole, three premieres in three weeks has been good for us, or so I think. It’s true that most fans have not seen Brain on Fire (yet), and while many more will see Love, Love, Love, it won’t be a significant piece of the fandom. And there’s the ongoing turmoil from the non-U.S. fan segment about the timing of Berlin Station in their national media markets. It triggers even my own low-level APM to see stuff like this, insofar as Armitage has no influence on EPIX marketing; he’s probably contractually obligated to promote via his social media but unlike EPIX, he can’t geoblock his fandom; he has equally no influence on international sales or where a particular project will be broadcast first; and most fans who are tweeting about this seem to have no idea about how or why international television programs appear on their screens. EPIX doesn’t have any direct broadcasting venue outside the U.S. and while I’m sympathetic to the plight of Australian fans (for example), I don’t think it’s his fault that everything appears last, at least legally, in Australia. None of this is personal, even if we might be inclined to take it personally. But I also know that by this point, fans aren’t actually asking for information anymore. The repeated questioning comes from a different need that Armitage will never satisfy, although good on him (I suppose) for trying.
But the premiere of Berlin Station also gave us this unforgettable picture:
Along with other stuff. We’re getting regular video snippets from Berlin Station now, regular pictures (if not scads) from the Love, Love, Love stage door, and since the Roundabout Theater Company needs images with which to supply reviewers, pictures from the play appeared as I was drafting this. The release of the Romeo & Juliet audiobook is now only two months away, too, so it won’t be all that long before there is probably additional publicity for that (interview? fan Q&A?). And I’m hoping after that for an announcement of the next project(s). In short, Armitage’s career goes on and the fandom with it, and all things considered, we’re not all that bad off just now. Even if a lot of what we are seeing is pictures, the multiplication of images reflects the greater intensity of Armitage’s work.
On the whole, too, I tend to be okay with what fans are being offered in terms of publicity by all of these varied organizations, even if to my mind, no one has yet equaled Peter Jackson in this regard. I don’t feel obligated to be grateful for it (mostly because I don’t think my gratitude changes anything about what gets offered) and I have no desire to be “closer” to the principle players, but I also assume that the marketers know most about their general market, and I want them to be focusing on that group — as opposed to on the niche market of Richard Armitage’s fans. If any of these projects are to succeed, they can’t rely totally on us. The efforts and insistence of some fans notwithstanding, our numbers are not significant enough to move a market. I get frustrated when self-appointed publicists armchair quarterback every single marketing move made by the experts. Maybe because I’m always aware that as fans standing outside, we are never privy to the entire picture.
Most of the time, I feel okay about the publicity offering and if I feel manipulated, I accept that as a consequence of marketing — a side-effect of what it is supposed to do to and for us. I know that I’m on the outside and I am absolutely, absolutely okay with that. If I had wanted to be a marketer, I’d have been a marketer, and fandom is for fun.
Which is why I am wrestling a lot with my reaction to the Berlin Station “live” facebook events from last week Thursday, because boy, was I suddenly forcefully placed on the outside. I am no tech novice, but the problem was clearly that I hadn’t planned to watch the events on a mobile device. I’m still asking myself if that would have made me ramp up my minimalist smartphone (which I’ve had for nine months and used primarily for texts, phone calls and the occasional photograph — I’ve used its Internet capability exactly twice).
I was set up for the kind of live streaming experience we’ve had now repeatedly: with Captain America, with the Hobbit films and events, and so on. That was not what we got. On some levels that makes sense. The resources for live streaming on Youtube, if you’re going to do a good job, are significant; anyone, even someone in extremis, can do a FB live video. I think this was an honest effort on their part — they knew that there would be little audience for the premiere event of a TV show that most people have not heard of, let alone seen, so there was no point in making a huge expenditure or committing additional resources; they wanted to allow fans to be there; and probably they’ve gotten the most indices of a potential audience from Richard Armitage’s fans. So perhaps it was not so weird as it appeared initially that apparently they didn’t do a dry run; they didn’t realize that you need a solid, reliable high-data transmission broadband connection to make FB live work (all of the advice about doing one stresses this point); and that their social media announcements were both late and self-contradictory, so that many of us spent an hour staring into space, waiting for an event that was apparently replaced by one announced later but without canceling the first.
This was a favor to us, in short. Ill thought out and last minute, but intended as a favor. The problems weren’t to be taken personally.
At the time, I said (sarcastically) “that night when we were hanging on our empty screens like Pavlov’s dogs.” But it’s been a few days. So why am I still feeling disgruntled about it?
I think it’s sort of like I feel about deleted political tweets. I feel disappointed, and then I think, why are you disappointed? In that case, it’s because something is being trivialized that I care about. In this case, it’s that I’m made to demonstrate that I care about something trivial. In the end, I cared more about what Armitage was going to say about Berlin Station than it was worth to Berlin Station to share it with me in the advertised way. Had I been told — we will be taping this and it will be available right afterwards — there would have been no problem. There was something about the way that I made this event into appointment entertainment that made it especially bad for me when it didn’t materialize as planned.
In short — the failure of this event to materialize as planned — it sort of exposed to me all of my vulnerabilities as a fan. I was hungry for it, it wasn’t there, and I was left with my tongue hanging out.