Thursday, June 14, 2012


Last Saturday I went to a show in a 99 seat house that had 18 audience members, I also heard about a show that was cancelling performances because they had no reservations. Then I got a link to this and I started wondering if we had an epidemic on our hands. But then I thought, no, I can name at least as many shows that were sold out this weekend.

I’d like to see them all sold out. The League does a lot of marketing of Chicago theatre and a lot of PR around Chicago theatre. Can we be doing more? Always…but we are limited by resources. So, I started thinking about specifically targeting new audiences – that would be local people who don’t go to theatre now. The Free Night of Theatre program is focused on getting people to a theatre they haven’t been to before and Hot Tix is also focused on bringing in new audiences (although those audiences are as likely to be tourists as they are to be residents). Could we maybe expand on the Free Night message – there is a great theatre in your neighborhood – go check it out? How would we do that? What media would we use? Are we using social media in the best and most targeted way? What kind of a goal could we have to measure success? Beyond that, are theatres using their current patrons and their patron data to retain and attract new audiences? Are there more ways we can help with that?

The goal is important. What number do we start with and where do we move it. What tools do we use? I’m curious to know your thoughts on this.



Aaron Andersen said...

The economist in me says that there are just too many storefront theaters to reasonably expect they would all be full. Barriers to entry to mounting a production are low (though they are getting higher, particularly the lack of affordable performance space). And there is nothing to really do to quench supply, other than make performance venue licensing even more stringent, and heavily enforce it. The economist in me says we shouldn't be quenching supply, anyway. Let the cream rise to the top, and let everybody else just contribute to Chicago's reputation as a city with lots of theater.

And those theaters that program what they think is most artistically fulfilling, rather than what lots of people want to see... well, that's their decision, so they should abide with the consequences. They also help the theater ecosystem by exploring the fringe, getting artists and audiences somewhat more accustomed to the new and different.

The part of me that is on a Board of a storefront theater is not so cold-blooded, though. In my experience, I can say that most of us lack the ability to attract management staff who really know what they're doing in regards to sales and marketing. Our managers tend to be members of the artistic Ensemble who begrudgingly accept that somebody has to do it, or they are very early in their arts management careers, and so are going to learn by stumbling. In either case, managers often don't get enough support from Boards nor Ensembles.

We can't generally afford the experienced professionals. So we have to learn to offer more to managers in lieu of compensation, or we have to do more to nurture and encourage and find mentors for the members of our artistic ensembles who are really managers deep inside.

I'm sure some people will think it silly to weep for the managers, but in a storefront theater, a good manager is really hard to come by. And if you who think anybody can do it... good luck to you.

Linus said...

I wonder if audiences would be interested in finding ANY show near them? If we had a community site where people could:

- Find shows playing near them by entering their address (perhaps, with links to CTA directions, distance by cab/walking, time to location, etc)
- A number or site to check for availability.

I wonder if that's something that might be of interest...