One of the things I find most fascinating in the marketing/branding industry is partnerships. When two brands with similar values come together and are able to leverage each other’s audience and resources, they oftentimes create something unexpected and magical.

Like when Uber partnered with ASPCA and the meme site, Cheezburger, to bring us UberKITTENS! Kittens brought to you on demand through the convenience of Uber while raising awareness about animal adoption. What's not to love?!

More recently, in celebration of its one year anniversary on Broadway, Fun Home partnered with StoryCorps to encourage fans to share stories about their own families through the StoryCorps app.

When I learned about this, I couldn’t be more excited. Their partnership brings together so many of my favorite things: theater, LGBTQ awareness, storytelling, and branding.

Their partnership allows them to benefit from cross promotion, reinforce each other’s values in human connection and storytelling, and create new opportunities for their audiences. Fun Home is more than a play/entertainment. It speaks to universal themes that truly matter to us: life, love, family, and survival. In doing so, Fun Home helps StoryCorps to set the stage for and inspire more stories relating to family and LGBTQ acceptance. And StoryCorps helps Fun Home to live on through stories by the cast and creative team as well as fans, while also connecting Alison Bechdel’s story back to the bigger picture of our shared humanity.

Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn talk about their lives working on Broadway and the sacrifices and compromises they have each made throughout their careers.

Barbara Whitman and Kristin Caskey talk about the experience of co-producing the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Fun Home.

“Coming out and becoming the person you’re going to be is a life-long process,” says Beth Malone, actress who plays old Alison. It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight, young, or old, we can all relate to that feeling of uncertainty and simultaneous fear and desire to do what feels right.

It is through projects like this that I remember why I am so obsessed with marketing and storytelling. Projects that deliver messages that truly resonate and gives us pause to take note of what’s most important and beautiful in our lives…

However, I don’t think the two organizations did enough to help bring out the best in each other. StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve the wisdom of humanity for generations to come. Each recording represents a legacy. StoryCorps wants to make it easy to record our own stories via their app and works to demonstrate to us that every story matters. But a story is not the same as a casual chat over coffee.

So what went wrong?

While recordings by the cast and creative team were an obvious answer in a collaboration between the two organizations, we cannot forget the key to their success that their new content coincidentally lacks: a good story.

A good story is not the same as a chat over coffee.

  1. A good story requires preparation: The cast and crew should know better than anyone else as they have edited and re-edited Fun Home so many times over the years, taking out songs, changing the performance to fit the round, etc. I can understand that not everything a person says is recording gold. You need to edit. But there was no editing that I could tell. It seems like more work is put into StoryCorps’ weekly podcast than into these partnership recordings.

  2. A good story has a unifying message and structure: I did not understand the purpose of the Fun Home recordings. They barely speak to the underlying message of Fun Home, and they do little to support the mission of StoryCorps. What I was left with in the end: Hard work pays off. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. Fun Home changed so much. We can all relate to Fun Home. You need to watch Fun Home. The recordings felt more like press interviews and behind-the-scenes previews than a legacy. In one interview, it almost felt as if the storytellers were being held hostage and had to fill the time. How did they allow that to happen?!

  3. A good story is personal: Both organizations address important themes of LGBTQ awareness, identity, family, love, and acceptance. I do not expect the actors and creative team to delve deep into their personal lives for the sake of the partnership but with their life experiences and after such an enriching journey (The team had been working on Fun Home for 2 years at the time of recording.), they must have something to say, reflect upon, reiterate.

As an avid listener of StoryCorps and as someone who literally cried 3 times from listening to podcasts on my commute to work this morning, I was bored and grossly underwhelmed.

  Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris as young Alison Bechdel and her father in Fun Home. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris as young Alison Bechdel and her father in Fun Home. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

What more could StoryCorps and Fun Home be doing (instead)?

  1. Do more prep work: Listen to recordings. Edit recordings. Have something to say. Let each of the personalities of the team shine through. Doing this not only strengthens the Fun Home brand with higher quality materials but also helps to build a stronger legacy and following.

  2. The Fun Home team may even want to use the StoryCorps app themselves. The app gives related prompts to facilitate the conversation. Make a game out of it. Interview audience members after the show. Help to create a unique experience for fans.

    1. Tell me about where you grew up.

    2. What was your relationship like with your parents?

    3. Do you remember your first kiss?

  3. Create a Fun Home toolkit: In 2006, StoryCorps launched the Memory Loss Initiative to support and encourage people with various forms of memory loss to share their stories with loved ones and future generations. They created a free unique toolkit, Commemorate, for organizations to enable them to record, share, and preserve the stories of clients living with memory loss. The toolkit gives them tips on every step of the process, from introducing the activity to their existing roster to working with the clients and reducing common feelings of isolation and low self-esteem. There is so much material to work with in Fun Home. You can include panels from Alison’s book and relevant questions. Talk briefly about how the experience affected individual team members. Tie everything back to the underlying theme of self exploration and acceptance.

  4. Continue to promote the partnership on social media and at the show: Fun Home has been doing a pretty good job on their Twitter, but I saw no mention of the partnership during or after the show at the Circle in the Square Theatre. This is the greatest lost opportunity as this is the time when half of the audience is in tears and when fans are most likely going to broadcast their experience to family and friends.

StoryCorps does little to promote on social media even though they have more than twice the number of followers.

Two weeks after the launch, I have only seen 3 recordings by fans. It’s not that we don’t have stories to tell. We all have stories to tell. My guess would be that few fans know about the partnership and those who do are not especially motivated to participate. Myself included.

Dilys Zhu, MSD Intern