Lessons Learned: Southwest Airlines x Shakespeare in Detroit Collaboration

Earlier this year, I was asked to play a role, if you will, in Southwest: The Magazine’s February cover story, “All the City’s a Stage.” The piece profiles one woman’s daring idea for Shakespeare in Detroit, a theater company that stages The Bard’s plays in unexpected locations across the city (think recycling centers and the YMCA). Writer Drew Philp, a theater critic for the Detroit Metro Times, shadowed founder Sam White as she took to the streets recruiting audiences and putting on shows. His story brings to life the actors, the plays, the locations, and—perhaps most importantly—the impact Sam’s vision is having on her hometown.

“All the City’s a Stage” is an underdog story through and through, which made it perfect for our client, Southwest Airlines. When Southwest began operations in 1971, it was a tiny upstart flying between three Texas cities; the company now flies to more than 90 destinations—Detroit among them—and is the U.S.’s largest carrier (in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded). Southwest achieved so much success in large part because, much like Sam White, they utilized locations that others overlooked and set out to serve the underserved.

The story’s beautiful photography and accompanying captions also highlighted must-see destinations within Detroit, encouraging readers to interact further with the story outside the magazine’s pages. Yet we knew that Shakespeare’s works are most effective when they are seen and heard, so it was essential to have a video component to this project. Together with the help of Chris Crisman Photography, we filmed a series of Shakespearean plays set in iconic Detroit locations. I played the part of Editor and it was a learning experience like no other. Here are 7 lessons I learned during the process.

1. Be Present

As the editor of the film, I can’t tell you how much it helped being present for the filming. When you get a hard drive filled to the brim with footage and no context, it can take a painful amount of time to figure out what you need the end product to look like. But when you’re on set, it’s much easier to see and hear the takes you want to use and the edit points. Then when you get the raw footage, you know exactly what to look for.

That was especially helpful in this interview with Sam White when I had pull shots from every play we filmed into one video.

2. Play Your Part

Just like actors in a play, it’s important to know what part you have to play. As the editor, it’s my job to view the filming from an editor’s perspective. While the director and cameraman are worried about things like lighting and cinematography, I’m more worried about making sure we have enough b-roll and recording ambient noise to play in the background. That might sound boring to some but if you don’t capture in the moment, you’ve lost your chance.

3. Cater the Performance to the Audience

Our aim was to present the works of Shakespeare in a YouTube-friendly format while simultaneously showcasing the actors abilities, the power of Shakespeare’s words, and the character of each Detroit location. That’s not so easy to do when you consider the fact that viewership decreases dramatically after three minutes. That means, we couldn’t make 10- to 20-minute-long videos. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare’s words are so powerful, we were able to create incredibly intense videos without having to film entire scenes. The Bard is just that good.

4. You Don’t Always Need Words to Tell a Story

In this scene from Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago delivers a stern warning to the play’s protagonist. Othello, played by Hugh M. Duneghy II, has only nine words of dialogue, but he steals the scene just with his presence and body language. Sometimes you might feel like you have to explain everything with words to get your audience to understand your story. But remember that there are more tools at a storyteller’s disposal.

5. Stories Have the Power to Change Perception

Think a school bus would be a good stage for a Shakespearean monologue? I’m willing to wager that your answer is “no.” But watch the video below and notice how the cramped space actually brings your focus to the performer.

One of our goals of this project and of Shakespeare in Detroit is to help change the perception of Detroit. Just as we have shown you can turn a school bus into a stage, the theater company aims to turn the city into a place where performance art can thrive. That’s the thing about great storytelling. It has the power to change your perception. They say perception is reality. So if you’re trying to change the reality, use stories to change the perception first.

6. The Most Effective Locations Will Match Thematically to Your Story

Why do horror films tend to take place in dark, ominous locations? Why do action sequences take place in hectic locations? Because a story’s setting is a crucial element in enhancing a story’s theme and tone.

For this scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we decided that the Heidelberg Project was the perfect setting. Why? Much like the discarded objects that have now become art, the city of Detroit, once forgotten, is now becoming a place where art and culture thrive. The parallels of location and art form create an energy that serves to enhance the scene.

7. There Are People Everywhere with Interesting Stories

Being a part of a project like this reminded me how many amazing, untold stories there are in the world. Did you know there were Shakespearean performances popping up in recycling centers of Detroit? I didn’t. That’s why it’s so important as content marketers to not only be storytellers, but to also be story finders. Anyone who says all the good stories have already been told clearly isn’t looking hard enough.

Sam White is one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever met. Here she discusses her favorite quote from the Bard and how it inspires her every day.

And here she discusses how a punishment from her mother introduced her to the works of William Shakespeare.

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