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Leo Burnett ad agency plans off-Broadway play next month

The New York office Chicago-based Leo Burnett is taking stage GreWhite Way or least Off-Broadway as it produces crowd-sourced play

The New York office of Chicago-based Leo Burnett is taking the stage on the Great White Way, or at least Off-Broadway, as it produces a crowd-sourced play, called “8 Million Protagonists.”

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:41AM

It’s not quite Madison Avenue to the Great White Way, but it’s a start.

Chicago-based Leo Burnett advertising agency is opening an off-Broadway play, “8 Million Protagonists,” next month in a theater in New York City’s East Village neighborhood.

The play’s script is culled from contributions to the website New York Writes Itself, which launched as a way for the nearly 2-year-old Leo Burnett New York office to integrate itself into the city. On the website, anyone can contribute stories about daily life in New York.

“Our industry is moving into content curation and creation so anywhere there is an avenue for entertainment, I feel like ad agencies and their brands should be playing,” said Jay Benjamin, Leo Burnett New York Chief Creative Officer.

New York’s robust theater scene made theater a natural place to expand the website. The agency will be creating short films and other content off the play, which premieres Nov. 1. Tickets are $20, and the entire production cost less than $100,000.

The agency teamed up with the Village Voice newspaper for both the website and play, allowing the paper to move beyond publishing and into entertainment, Benjamin said.

In addition to the play, New York Writes Itself has already spawned a YouTube channel and letterpress art exhibit.

Benjamin said if this run goes well, the agency may make the play an annual event.

“There’s definitely potential for other brands to get involved,” Benjamin said. “It’s a smaller production at this stage. We want to see how it goes and make it better after this. If it gets bigger I’m sure more brands will be involved.”

Benjamin said he’s expecting critics at the first performance and is anticipating positive reviews.

“It can only be panned so much,” he said. “It’s just a day in the life of New York.”

Martin Block, professor of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University, believes Leo Burnett is trying to attract clients and possibly recruit new employees with the play.

“Attention is what they’re wanting,” he said, adding he’s never heard of an advertising agency putting on a similar show.

At this point, there are no plans for a Leo Burnett theater project in Chicago.

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