50 Shades of play.

Is it just me, or does every woman you see have a copy of 50 Shades of Grey in her hands everywhere you go?

According to wikipedia, the book has sold 40 million copies worldwide and has “set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time” beating the previous teenage record holder, Mr. Harry “I’m cool because I’ve got a magic owl” Potter.

And get this, critical reception has been “mixed”  . . . (are you surprised?  It seems to me that the more popular and entertaining a show, film, book, etc. is the more mixed a response it gets).  Surprisingly though, reader response is also mixed.  The whopping 12,561 aggregated reviews on Amazon result in only a three star rating.  Some of the reviews are so bad, it sounds like they want to give the author a spanking.  Cuz she was just a naughty, naughty, bad girl.

So what is it about this book that has girls going wild, and what can we learn from it?

1.  50 Shades is about sex.  

The oldest cliche in the book is the oldest cliche in the book for a hot and sweaty reason.  Sex sells.  Like it or not, or whether it’s good or not, like a new frozen yogurt in Manhattan or the latest exercise fad, sex just sells.  I saw this first hand with my production of My First Time, that has been done all over the world, and now is being licensed all over the country.  There wasn’t much advertising required for a title and a subject like that.  Makes you a little hot for this season’s The Performers, doesn’t it?

2.  50 Shades is not just about sex.

It’s about a kind of sex that we don’t hear about every day – BDSM.  And like I wrote about in this blog four years ago, the most exciting drama opens the door to a world that the audience isn’t all that familiar with but is super curious about (the mob, the super wealthy, The West Wing, etc.).  The doors to the BDSM world are literally locked to protect privacy . . . and this book gives you a voyeuristic key . . . with no safe word required.
I’m certainly not advocating that every one out there put some kind of erotica on the stage of their local community theater, but it’s always important for Producers of all types of products to analyze what’s popular in the mass market, and use it as a research guide for what could be popular in your market.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll be so successful you won’t need a spanking.

Unless you want one . . .


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  • Tom Deedy says:

    Yes. Good to hear this. In art in general, painting or playwriting, that’s our job as artists, to transport the audience where they dare not go, even though they might want to. I have just submitted my new drama, “Austerity” to your company for consideration. Please attend my artists reception at 305 Broadway, NYC, on November 15, 2012, for an exhibition of 30 original paintings. Somehow, sometimes, when things work, we transport audiences through the spirit of the work.

    • Catherine says:

      Tom – are you an exhibiting painter and produced playwright? I am .
      I would like to see your exhibit.
      As well as read or hear a reading.

  • janiska says:

    Sex sells, but if you want a lasting hit, you gotta’ have geat music, great dancing, and a terrific story.

  • Catherine says:

    It is natural and genuine to write true sensuality
    or subtle erotic shades into your characters on the page. This comment is probably more for playwrights than producers but it is necessary for producers to promote and inspire catch ideas or action which moves every character in every scene forward fast and with
    clarity. It is about time a theatrical professionalcommented on that book. It is hugely main stream. So that becomes a shadow if u will or a reflection of audience, and hey , women make up the larger part of ticket buying, somaybe this article is just the ticket.

  • Clair Sedore says:

    Sex definitely sells! Look at the recent Venus in Fur, soon to be a major film, and the box office hits of the past like Oh! Calcutta!, The Dirtiest Show in Town, The Blue Room, to name but a few…
    Clair Sedore, world-theatres.com

  • Shannon D. says:

    I just HAVE to share a female friend’s facebook status that she posted during the original hoopla of “50 Shades”…
    I hope it makes ya chuckle:

    “So you’ve read 50 Shades of Grey and you’re all excited about it. How nice for you that you’ve discovered pornography. I did too. When I was 10. glad you’ve finally caught up!”

  • Ken,



  • Janet H says:

    I bought 50 Shades in a WalMart in booneville Colorado, using the excuse that I couldn’t find anything else to read on the plane back to NY. I knew what I was in for and after the first few chapters started skimming to see how it ended, knowing that somehow the author had scammed this into a trilogy. This book, like many plays and movies that sell through sex do not give us glimpses into worlds with which we unfamiliar, because the characters are parodies rather than real people. The SM becomes repetitively boring. The purveyors of junk like this are entrepreneurs rather than artists. They take advantage of dissatisfaction with what so many of us consider our less than perfect human existence. The writer above hit the nail on the head. It is porn, but it actually is rather poor porn, failing even in its purpose to arouse.

  • Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    I’ve heard Fifty Shades of Grey is boring. So I’m taking a pass.
    But the play that leaps to my mind as perfect proof of your whole argument is “Venus in Fur.” What a tour-de-force! Not only sexy, and dark, but infused with both emotional energy and mythological underpinnings. Talk about brilliant and ravishing.
    And it’s even about the theater.

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