Please. If you are a board member, artist, or employee of a theater company, understand that most people are not visiting your website because they like you, or because they want to like you. First and foremost, they are visiting your website for information. All the glossy photos, taglines, and rave reviews will not give these individuals an emotional stake in your company if you are going to waste their time by not conveniently giving them the information they seek.
The following are the basics for any theater website homepage. A visitor to the page should be able to find them in seconds.
Address. Clearly, unambiguously: this is the street address for the venue where the show is taking place, and this is the name of the venue.
When. Dates and times. Many theater companies hide this information behind a button marked Buy Tickets, or some variation thereof. If it’s 6:20 p.m. and someone is looking at your website, it is most likely not to buy tickets but to confirm the showtime and/or location. Don’t make people lie in order to find the information they need to see your show.
Running Time. When a show begins is essential to an audience. When a show ends is also useful: a running time or end time. Imagine an overworked couple standing in the foyer of their house at 6:20 p.m., checking your website on their iPhone to tell the babysitter when to expect them home, two hours later or five hours later.
How to Donate. Blue Man Group, skip this one. (Then again, Blue Man Group, skip this whole essay: your website follows these rules already, and in Chicago you pulled in nearly $627,000 in ticket sales last week.)
But if you are a not-for-profit company, give a visitor to your website clear and immediate information about how to donate to your company—even if it’s just a mailing address. Imagine an overworked lumber baron who, sitting at his desk before a roaring fire, has five minutes to give to a charity. He momentarily thinks of his college roommate, whose niece is the sound designer for your company, and visits your website on a whim. If your site requires more than 30 seconds of time to figure out how to make a donation, that lack of clear information could cost your company a major new supporter.
Contact. An e-mail address, a phone number, whatever. Imagine the lumber baron saw your show and wants, simply enough, to thank you. Imagine the possibility of him going to your website, giving up in frustration after a minute, and moving on with his life, compliment unpaid, relationship unforged.
Quick story—this relates more to the content of that contact information than its placement on a website. I work with foundations that fund theater companies. I review proposals and see shows (often, as a representative of the foundation, looking online at 6:20 p.m. for a show’s start time). Recently, I reviewed a grant proposal from a generally healthy, artistically strong theater company that had recently undergone administrative changes. I was trying to arrange a meeting with its managing director.
The e-mail address on the application form was incorrect—the equivalent of, say, Sandbox Theater writing its address as firstname.lastname@example.org instead of the correct email@example.com. The e-mail I spent 10 minutes composing was kicked back to me. Next, I called the phone number on the grant application, sat through a four-minute recorded pitch about the current season, followed by directions to the theater. When offered an option to leave a message for the company, I pressed the appropriate button and then listened to a three-month-old message about auditions for a show that had already closed. When I pressed one more option, I heard an outgoing message from the former managing director, with his personal cell-phone number for those who wanted to contact him. In this case, I finally did go to the company’s website and found the correct e-mail address on their homepage. At least there was that. (And this company does strong work—I’m rooting for them.)
Checklist. The basics—after which, but only after which, feel free to add photos, blogs, color, zingers, slideshows, exclamation marks, and sales pitches:
—Correct, current, daily showtimes. (If there is no current show, tell us what is happening at your company this month, even if what you’re doing this month is taking time off until you pick your next show.)
—How to donate.
—How to contact the company in a way that will receive a timely response.
One more. It only takes two clicks to get from the homepage of the Lyric Opera of Chicago to its most intimate financial data. (Go to the homepage, click on About Us, click on Financial Data, and you’re there from the homepage in seconds flat.) If your company is not doing the same, why not? Would this not also inspire the impatient lumber baron to write you a substantial check? Why hide?