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An Audience Development Parable

10.31.12 | Comment?


CATEGORIES arts administration, engagement, ideas, marketing

Today I had a meeting at an Early Voting Location. Now, I had already voted on Monday (and got to meet Debbie Wasserman Schultz), so I was just going into this place for a meeting.

On my way in, I was accosted by a Romney supporter brandishing a pamphlet about local issues. I said, “I’m a Democrat who’s already voted, but thanks.”  She nodded, I walked towards my meeting, but while I was walking away, I overheard her companion loudly and pointedly complaining that I wouldn’t take a pamphlet.

I wanted to go back and say, “Look, dude, I’m doing you a favor by not taking your pamphlet that is just going to go in a recycling bin. Not only am I committed Obama supporter, but I’ve ALREADY VOTED.”

However, I try not to engage with crazy people, so I just went to my meeting.

This is a good parable for audience development.

Not everyone is going to be the right audience or even a good audience for what you do, just like I was not a good audience for someone who was looking to catch an undecided voter for Romney. It would just end with both of us frustrated. Likewise, I’m not a good audience member for a lot of different shows. The show I loved most this year, which was one of my favorite South Florida theatre experiences, was the one that also had the most walkouts at intermission. I was the right audience for that show, and sadly the theatre’s subscriber base was not.

As theatre practitioners, we need to be smarter about audience development and we need to learn when to let go. How many folks have complained that people don’t get your work are stupid or culturally ignorant or something else? I get the need to vent, but spending too much time complaining about people who don’t like your art is similar to the Romney supporter complaining that I wouldn’t take a pamphlet. He was never going to reach me anyway.

Not everyone is going to get what you do. The real trick is to find enough people who get what you do. Find the undecided voters of your art and reach out to them.

I said this in a post I wrote today for the South Florida Theatre Scene, but we don’t berate adults for not going to children’s theatre – so why do we get mad at folks in their 20s for not going to shows geared for people in their 70s? We need to look critically at the theatre we’re creating and ask ourselves: who is the ideal audience for this? Who is the undecided vote audience for this? And then do what we can do to reach them. Just as it is pointless for a Romney supporter to try to convince me to vote Republican (particularly since I already voted), it’s pointless for theatre artists to insist that their art is for everyone.

And as a side note to the parable, make sure you go out and vote in this election. There’s so much at stake for the arts.

Andie Arthur

Andie Arthur is a playwright and theatre administrator in Miami. She is the executive director of the South Florida Theatre League, the co-founder of Lost Girls Theatre, and the Florida Regional Rep of the Dramatists Guild.

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