Symbolism. If there is one word that sums up my entire schooling it is symbolism. English, History, Art, Music, none of my teachers could stop talking about it. Sure, Shakespeare used symbolism to convey subtle messages. Satirical newspaper cartoons use it all the time to draw comparisons. But despite this topic being largely talked about in the more artistic subjects, it can also have some powerful uses in entertainment marketing as the new production of Spring Awakening is illustrating.
Symbolism can be incredibly obvious. We have all seen these types of symbolism in television shows. There will be subtle clues that the audience picks up on in the music, props, actions which lead them to correctly predict a character’s future (or demise). But it can also be used to add another layer to advertising. A layer which will only get picked up by a select group of the audience and make your production jump to number one of the ‘Must See’ list.
The Deaf West production of Spring Awakening is about to open on Broadway. After a ridiculously popular production of this new musical back in 2006 which catapulted stars Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff onto television screens, the production was reimagined as a vehicle for deaf actors and audience members. Rather than having to rely on the small LED screens on the side of the stage at deaf-friendly productions of shows, any deaf audience members can simply watch the actors who are signing the entire show as they speak their lines. For any other audience members it simply adds another level of beautiful hand choreography on top.
But what does this have to do with symbolism?
What if you could convey a secret message to all the potential deaf audience members around New York or visiting? Doing this would instantly convey a sense of importance for these audiences and, if not make them buy tickets there and then to a show they normally could not see, at least make them find out more information. That sounds pretty great. And that is exactly what this production of Spring Awakening has done.
Despite challenges with sign language being better suited to a moving screen, Spring Awakening has found a way to hide a special message in the show’s poster and advertising collateral. You can see it above.
People who speak sign language will instantly recognise that the two lead embracing characters are making the sign with their crossing forearms. This is the sign language symbol for love. It is even more special because the two people are uniting to make the single sign which reflects their state of emotion.
Obviously the general public doesn’t see this hidden message. And it doesn’t really matter because missing this secret won’t make the poster any less effective. But it does provide a select group in their audience with the opportunity to get more out of the show than the rest of the theatregoing audience. A position which they wouldn’t usually be in unless they went to a Deaf West production.
Check out the video of DJ Kurs, Artistic Director for Deaf West Theatre, explaining the significance of this poster and then go out and share the love yourself!
I guess my teachers were right about symbolism being incredibly important . . .