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New Burlington Play Generates a Publicity Machine

State of the Arts

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Word-of-mouth is potent advertising for everyone from plumbers to playwrights. James Lantz happens to be one of the latter - his latest work, American Machine, opens next Tuesday at the FlynnSpace. But Lantz is not relying on the old-fashioned, no-tech kind of word spreading. In what may be a first-of-its-kind marketing approach - at least 'round these parts - the Burlington writer has been covering his electronic bases. Besides the play's website, Lantz maintains an American Machine blog and e-newletter. The Flynn - which co-commissioned the work - follows the play's progress on its blog. Neighbors and friends around Burlington are posting notices in support of the play on their Front Porch Forums(in part because opening night is a benefit for the Burlington Schools Food Project). And FPF founder Michael Wood-Lewis touts the play on his blog, called Ghost of Midnight, where Lantz reciprocates with a rave about Front Porch Forum.

That's not all. Lantz has planned a special "Bloggers Night" - September 27 - when "we're going to invite about 20 of Burlington's bloggers to this show gratis," says a recent post. "The only thing that we ask in return is that our bloggers do what they do best: blog about what they saw."

The playwright, whose previous work was last year's The Bus, is careful to note that the bloggers can say whatever they want about the play. But whether thumbs go up or down, there is no denying that Lantz's grassroots - techroots? - approach is creative. In a Google search for "American Machine, the play," Wood-Lewis' blog entry actually comes up first. (Ironically, www.americanmachinetheplay.com is eighth on the list.)

Lantz has not disdained paper media, to be sure: He's printed and mailed out attractive, glossy postcards for the show and - full disclosure - purchased display advertising in this newspaper.

If the raw material of the play comes close to matching the hype - never mind the carefully built set, exhaustive cast selection and rigorous rehearsals - American Machine should be a hit. What's it about? The "part parable, part cautionary tale" addresses the disintegration of the American dream through the lives of six factory workers, whose job building cars has devolved into one making buckets and mops for Wal-Mart. That portrait of the "new world order" ought to strike a nerve.

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