On Saturday the 8th of June, I hosted a session of the Theatre Communications Group Conference in Dallas to prompt discussion of ideas to increase playgoing. It drew a great group of people who brought a lot of terrific ideas into the room. TCG staff member Zach Chotzen-Freund was kind enough to take some notes, which I am sharing here in the hope that others will be able to build on these ideas. The ideas are not attributed because the conversation was moving too fast to capture origin. Just know that pretty much none of this is mine and that I am deeply grateful to everyone who attended the session.
If you are just getting on board with 3xPlaygoing, you can see a video here to catch you up:
On with the notes:
Some folks from Boston mentioned the Boston Small Theatre Alliance which has met a few times with the intent of sharing resources to get their audiences interested in each other’s companies. They particularly pointed out their recognition that currently unsellable seats can be used as a commodity to draw people to new companies and potentially make playgoing a larger part of their lives. They’re also using this forum to share props and set elements and to feel less as though they are alone in the struggle.
One woman spoke about some research she is doing towards a Howlround article which will report on reasons people choose not to attend theatre. For those who have attended recently but don’t make a habit of it, what would it take to make them come back more often?
A person who leads a small town company described a several year program of making all seats for the final preview performance free to anyone proving residence in the county where they perform. The first year showed a drop in their ticket revenue, but with a substantial rise in years 2 and 3 of the experiment. The preview evenings have a pronounced social component that people seem to enjoy and talk about.
Someone reported on a social media connection building campaign that Playwrights Horizon ran. They received and advertised a challenge grant that would pay them $10,000 for achieving 10,000 likes on Facebook. They rapidly hit the target and feel they have remained connected to a reasonable number of the people who hit like as part of that campaign.
Several people had attended a session the day before which included a presentation from Kyle Nelson of Stout Partners LP. They are working on a project to build a collaborative communication environment across a number of different arts organizations in and around Dallas. All members of the group will agree to a particular media schedule in which they will promote each other’s activities, leading to a clearer perception for all their constituencies that each organization forms a vital part in a lively biosphere of art activity. Watch out for that one, it’s supposed to go live by the end of the summer.
Several people described efforts to involve theatre artists in their social media activity, especially actors who are familiar names and faces to their particular audience. They are finding that audience members enjoy communication from these micro-celebrities.
Someone suggested that companies that produce locally using local artists can make appeals to hometown pride. Give the public a reason to root for you.
There was a suggestion that social media presences could be enlivened and made more credible by inviting audience members to guest tweet or guest post on behalf of the organization. Several people had also experimented with inviting audience members to dress rehearsals and tweeting those events. Still an area of concern about how best to handle it. Hopefully, the work is too rich and engaging to both watch and tweet for many people; but some reported success stories.
There was some frustration expressed about the ways in which our field wide approach to intellectual property restricts audience photography. There is a growing chunk of the population for whom an event practically didn’t happen if they couldn’t photograph it. What can we do to get around this? Maybe take a production photo of the set and make it available as a digital background for people to paste themselves into?
A practitioner from Ann Arbor reported working with other companies to build a best of subscription opportunity, in which each organization offered one production to go into a subscription package of one show at each company. Someone from Orlando is participating in monthly meetings with leaders of other performing arts disciplines. They’ve put together a $99 pick three package for someone who attends one show at each of three companies.
These comments prompted a participant to mention a group of independent coffee shops in the Boston area that collaborated to create a disloyalty program. It’s just like the “get a stamp” cards you’ve probably seen in different small businesses, but to get your free drink, you have to get a stamp from each of the participating shops.
Three Colorado Springs companies are collaborating on a $365 dollars for 365 days pass. Attend any shows at any of the companies for a whole year for that fixed price, which they then split three ways.
Someone reported on using artists usually associated with another company to participate in post-show activities. The audience of their home theatre followed them to the new one even without them performing.
I know this is fairly disjoint, but I hope it conveys a sense that a lot of collaborative effort to pull more people into more frequent playgoing is already happening, that it is having some favorable effects, and that the people participating in the collaboration are enjoying what they are doing. If you want to get in on the fun, reach out to your fellow playmakers at other organizations and start conspiring.
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.