My Life As A Publicist (?!?!!)

December 3rd, 2015

Back in 1959, when my all-male Catholic high school in Manila staged The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial by Herman Wouk, the Christian Brother (F.S.C.) in charge of the drama club arbitrarily assigned me to take care of publicity.  I was all of fifteen years old.  What did I know about writing press releases, or how to go about getting the newspapers to publish them?

There were five metropolitan newspapers in Manila at that time, so I bought and studied them all, analyzing the many news and photo releases, little realizing this would lead to my life as a publicist.  Back then, not only did I write the press releases, I also hand-delivered them lovingly to the offices of all five metropolitan newspapers, even managing to befriend some of the editors at each paper.  I think they were amused by how determined I was to get my drivel published.  Thus, I became the go-to guy whenever any of the campus organizations at La Salle needed publicity for whatever events they were sponsoring.

Some years later, when I was a very bored and disaffected freshman at Ateneo University in the outskirts of Manila, two of my newspaper contacts started their own public relations agencies, and they both asked me to help on a part-time basis as their Man Friday.

Monching Lopez handled all the publicity for an upscale theater which showed M-G-M movies exclusively.  Through him, I got to meet some movie stars who came to the Philippines to promote the films they were in—e.g., Alain Delon for Henri Verneuil’s Any Number Can Win (he was rakishly charming), and Sue Lyon for Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (she was surprisingly shy).

Borromeo Rausa handled all the publicity for the new Araneta Coliseum, reputed to be the world’s largest domed coliseum at that time, modeled after Madison Square Garden in New York.  Besides huge sporting events, the Araneta Coliseum also brought in a wide array of popular American entertainers, among them Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Johnny Mathis, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Neil Sedaka.  I hope to write about my close encounters with the starry kind sometime in the near future.

And then I dropped out of college altogether in 1962, going to work as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson for four years, and then for Philippine Advertising Counselors for two years, the exact same period covered by the hit television series Mad Men.  Like Don Draper, I sold my soul to the devil, and when I could no longer stomach the trivia that ruled my daily existence, I quit and left for the United States in June of 1968.  Sometime in the near future, I hope also to write about my life as Don Draper.

In the United States, I went back to school at the University of Kansas, where I took writing classes from Ed Wolfe in the English Department, and Ron Willis in the Theatre Department.  Thanks to these two inspiring and encouraging professors, for the next twenty years, I wrote short stories and plays, things of more substance and permanence than press releases and advertising copy.

And then it began all over again.

When I was hired by the English Department at K.U. to teach playwriting in 1989, it became evident very quickly that the only way my playwriting students can grow as playwrights, is for them to be able to see and hear their words performed by actors who can act, in front of audiences who can react, in order to get valuable feedback for their visions and revisions.  And so I founded English Alternative Theatre (EAT), a one-man band in which I had to do practically everything—from booking rehearsal spaces, to directing, to helping with scenic and lighting designs, to gathering props and costumes, to keeping tab on all receipts and accounting for all expenditures and, last but not least, to writing press releases!

Of all these tasks, the last one now proved to be the most difficult.  What’s the point of mounting a production, rehearsing every night for four or five weeks, if you can’t get the word out to audiences?  How do you write press releases referring to yourself in the third person without seeming self-serving, full of hubris?  Ultimately, this was the last straw.  When I retired from teaching in 2010, and English Alternative Theatre was finally laid to rest, the biggest relief was that I did not have to write any more press releases, no longer had to beat my own drum.

But not for long.

After a hiatus of five years, I’ve decided to direct a couple of staged readings of plays for Card Table Theatre at the Lawrence Public Library.  Last summer, we had only 16 people in the audience for one performance of Collected Stories, a prize-winning play by Donald Margulies.  And  tonight (December 3, 2015 at 7 PM), we will have one performance of my play Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris.  There are fourteen actors playing over forty parts in this play.  Their wondrous work deserves to be seen.  What if we get less people in the audience than there are actors on stage?  And so, two weeks ago, I began to write press releases again.  To quote T.S. Eliot:  “In my end is my beginning.”

I sent the items to the only newspaper in Lawrence, but as of today, no ink has been wasted on us.  Print has not been helpful this time, but will social media come to the rescue?  Will the family and relatives of the actors, and all our Facebook friends in the area, help save the day?  Will enthusiastic hordes beat down the auditorium doors at 7 tonight at the Lawrence Public Library?

Watch this space.

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