Thesis: People are more likely to spend time and attention on performance activities they have participated in. I’m not a sports watcher, but I fenced saber for a year in college. I’ll take a few steps out of my way during the Olympics to catch a little fencing – even though they mostly show epee.
This National Endowment for the Arts study (nea.gov/research/2008-SPPA-BeyondAttendance.pdf) found that US residents reporting participation in artistic creation were nearly twice as likely to attend artistic presentations as were those who did not themselves create. (Diagram in lower left of page 16.)
Idea: A company can work with a local playwright to commission a 5-10 page, 3-5 character micro-play which in some way relates to an upcoming production. Perhaps it has thematic overlap, borrows characters, is set in the same world, at any rate, it has the potential to create an association with and generate curiosity about the work it is written to support. (For a real world but too long for this particular idea example of something like this, see Tim Crouch’s “I, Shakespeare” short plays.)
Company pays playwright a pittance to make the play available public domain or under creative commons.
Company distributes the play to past and prospective audience members along with a few paragraphs of background explaining how the play relates to the main production.
Playgoers are encouraged to gather friends and hold a table reading of the play. Maybe you even include some food suggestions for accompanying the event. Make it sound fun.
It can end there, or you can encourage people to audio or video record their performances and post them on your web site.
Invite a different group to perform their micro-play version in your lobby pre-show or at intermission each performance.
On a dark evening, hold a competition where different groups perform their versions and the audience votes for a favorite.
Anybody done anything like this already? Examples of success are way better than my wild speculations.
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.