The other day, I was following a 2am conversation about how some Chicago theatres could work together to maybe create “industry Monday” shows, or “pay what you can” shows to get people in seats. Ideally, you would be able to get other theatre folk in to see your show, you could then go to their show, you’d cross-promote to each other’s audiences and everyone wins. At least in theory.
And it’s a good theory. It might even work with very different companies and audiences. I know that if a theatre I trust tells me, “you know, this other company’s doing this show, it’s inSANE, it’s not like anything we’d do, but it’s fantastic, you’ve got to see it,” then I’m going to give it more weight than if I’d come across that other show on my own and passed it by.
In a sense, that’s a little bit of what the Late Seating at Actors Theatre of Louisville is all about. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s detailing the wheel and giving it snow chains, laughing maniacally all the while. (You think I’m joking.) It’s a cabaret of sorts, on the occasional Friday night at 10.30pm, with a blend of musical acts and local theatre companies, sometimes even an in-house sketch or two. Oh, and there’s a cash bar inside the space.
So who shows up? A blend of people. Regular ATL patrons, younger audiences who know the music performers, fans of the smaller companies, people who don’t normally set foot in your Major Regional Theatre Building. (That sounds better with a stentorian voice and fake echo effect. And a trademark.) My company’s performed at a couple of shows there, and even though we’re forty minutes away, off in the rural wilds of southern Indiana, we’ve picked up some regular patrons who make the drive up the river because they liked what they saw.
At any given Seating, you might see an insane puppet show, a bartending competition, a dell’arte company (that’s out of this world), a short video, maybe even a talk show segment. There’s usually at least one genuine ten minute play or a few sketches, maybe part of a recurring fake radio drama, maybe not. Sometimes there’s a theme to the evening–we took part in a night of adapting Jonathan Lethem stories–and sometimes, it’s just a party. Either way, you get a good sampling of your local artists and theatre companies, even in a single evening.
But that party’s growing. The first time we went, the house was maybe about a quarter full. That was three years ago. The most recent Seating last week was standing room only, and that was in the middle of a snowstorm. Better yet, that concept is spreading. More and more theatres are beginning to try events like this, just to see what happens.
That’s just one idea. It helps if you’re a theatre company that has a permanent home and a dedicated space. Why not fill it whenever possible? Getting new people to cross your threshhold, getting them inside your building, that’s the first step. Give them events that’ll bring them back. If you’re a major theatre, do like the Steppenwolf Garage, adopt a few small, professional companies and set them loose. Work with them so you can trust their artistic choices. Don’t charge them rent and bleed them dry. Embrace the new audiences and share the work with your own current audiences. That’s a win-win proposition, if you ask me.
But that’s another post for another time.
If you’d like to read more about the Late Seating and the people behind it (hi guys!), check out this profile of the Late Seating producers in the Courier-Journal of Louisville.