SIX the Musical has recently opened in the Arts Theatre in London following a sold-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe. It has also announced that it is now extending its run in London to 14th October, after its outstanding reception from audiences. SIX will then be going on a small tour of the UK: visiting Kingston, Salford, Southampton and Glasgow. And if you ask me, it won’t be long before SIX announces further venues in its tour. I sure hope so because I’m in Cardiff and don’t have the chance to catch it unless it does extend the tour!!
But what is it about SIX that’s making it so successful? Sure the singing is fantastic, the soundtrack quite revolutionary, and the atmosphere is electric, but shows open and close very regularly in off-West End theatres, so why is this one making such a big impact? It’s been a long time since I’ve noticed a reception for an off-West End show as big as this; the last show I can recall receiving similar hype was In the Heights when it played at the King’s Cross Theatre back in 2015/16 and had an extended booking period of over two months. It originally planned to close in November 2015 but was extended to January 2016.
It could potentially be argued that the reason SIX is gaining much attention is because of its modern way of telling a historical story and its diverse casting. Sound familiar? This is what people have said attracted audiences to Hamilton when it first opened, and following similar themes, I’m not surprised at SIX‘s success.
However, I don’t think this is the only thing that’s giving SIX its edge. I argue this because there are/were two other shows in off-West End theatres recently that are/were similar to SIX in style and delivery, but these shows simply didn’t receive the same attention. Wasted, playing at the Southwark Playhouse, is a rock musical about the Brontё sisters, and Sylvia, which just ended its run at the Old Vic Theatre, was a hip-hop and R&B style musical about Sylvia Pankhurst – related to Emmeline Pankhurst – and told the story of her fight for women’s rights and the falling out with her family. All three of Wasted, Sylvia, and SIX present different histories in modern ways, feature strong female characters – appealing to feminist audiences, and are/were in off-West End theatres. So what is it about SIX that is different and is catching everyone’s attention?
Let me tell you about the first way I heard about SIX: it wasn’t via their official Twitter or Instagram page, it wasn’t a review on WhatsOnStage and it wasn’t word-of-mouth. Instead, the first I’d heard of or saw SIX was from a friend’s Instagram story where she had FILMED it, yes FILMED in the theatre?! From memory, this person was not a regular theatre-goer by my knowledge and I was appalled that she had so confidently filmed the show and the stage. However, she did then announce on her next post that this WASN’T against the rules and the show ALLOWS and even ENCOURAGES filming during the finale. Hold up.
Since then, I’ve noticed more and more content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram of the finale of the show. From these fan-made videos, people all over the internet are able to catch the electric atmosphere that SIX creates at every performance. SIX has often also “retweeted”, “favourited” or replied to tweets of fans sending footage in, sharing these videos with their 4k Twitter and 5k Instagram followers.
So why are people filming the finale of the show? First of all, people love to be noticed. If people know that their recorded and shared footage of the show has the chance of being noticed by SIX on social media, many people would jump at the chance of this recognition. For example, Twitter user @RukayaC_ recently shared her footage of her view of the finale from the front row. In the video, cast member Maiya Quansah-Breed (who plays Catherine Parr) takes the phone off her, films the rest of her castmates and her view from the stage before giving the phone back to @RukayaC_. This video was then shared by SIX‘s official Twitter page and if people are aware that they can get this kind of attention from the cast online, they are likely to participate in filming and sharing footage on social media.
Secondly, with social media being so prominent in our everyday lives, people love to share what they’re up to and show that they’re having a good time. This is generally the idea behind Snapchat and Instagram stories – it lets your followers know what you’re up to in real-time and shows that you’re living your best life. Being able to film the show and upload it straight onto your social media, or using Facebook or Instagram Live, tells people that you’re having a good time.
I would also argue from my own perspective that I get really caught up in things and don’t want to be left out. If the people around me were filming the finale, I would feel I would want to as well. Would I ever watch the video again? Probably not, but I wouldn’t want to feel I’d missed out on something that everyone else was getting involved in.
Finally, we love to do things we can’t usually do or aren’t usually allowed to do. Whether that’s a mufti day at school, dress-down-Friday at work, or a woman eating a Yorkie chocolate bar which is marketed as NOT FOR WOMEN, we love to feel we can break the rules and do something that’s usually prohibited. Filming and recording in the theatre is usually prohibited so much that if you are caught you can be kicked out, so being allowed to film is something that audiences of all kinds are eating up and loving.
So, why is all of this good for SIX and why is it a great marketing technique? Let’s not forget that if fans are producing and sharing their own content, then all of this online presence and advertising is completely free. SIX don’t have to do anything to produce this material (other than perform), and like I said, they barely even have to encourage it.
With this amazing live footage from the show, they can easily publicise the type of atmosphere created in the venue, and although I haven’t seen the show live, I can assure you the atmosphere is electric. From seeing these videos all I can think is that I want to be part of the audience to see it live! With all honesty, without seeing the videos and hearing it live, I doubt I’d have been that tempted. It’s always a risk seeing new shows and I wasn’t sure if a pop-concert-style-musical about Henry VIII’s six ex-wives was really up my street, but now I’m desperate to see it!
As well as experiencing the atmosphere, audiences can get a taste of the music and genre. It really is a sort of Little Mix or Beyonce vibe that the show has got going and again, without having heard it beforehand, I doubt I’d have gone on Spotify to listen to it directly. Now you won’t catch me walking to work without some sassy ex-wives singing to me.
SIX’s social media presence has gone through the roof, and as you can see by this graph made using a Tweet Sentiment Visualisation Software, @sixthemusical is receiving an overwhelming amount of positive responses on Twitter:
The circles indicate each tweet and the “greener” the circle is indicates the more positive the tweet is. As you can see, there are multiple green circles indicating pleasant tweets, with many in the “excited” to “happy” section.
What also seems to be working for SIX is that it is a show that has gotten people talking: whether people are talking about the fact you can film during the finale, the songs, the message, the diverse casting, the insane costumes, the feminist vibes or the pop-concert-style of the show, the show has an incredible word-of-mouth reach. Even me writing this piece about them allowing to film live is a piece of advertising for the show because it’s got me talking! The show is inspiring, especially for young girls and women, with only females on stage (including the “ladies in waiting” as the band for the show), and is portraying role models of strong women in powerful positions.
The allowing of filming is ultimately amazing free exposure that SIX and the Arts Theatre London have exercised perfectly. It has gained a modern, upbeat, feminist, fun show some great free advertising and social media marketing, and I hope the show extends its tour.