Building an Audience for the Future

In December, I wrote a blog post about a show I went to see that was well attended, but the median age of those present was in the 40-50 range. A big issue for a lot of theatre companies right now is looking to the future, and trying to figure out how we can build new audiences, specifically younger audiences. Diane Ragsdale’s keynote address Surviving the Culture Change, which I wrote about on Monday, has some specific ideas. And here are a few more:

First up, from the UK: A Night Less Ordinary offers free theatre tickets to those who are under 26. An initiative of the Arts Council of England, it’s meant to help build younger audiences. Launched in February 2009, the scheme offers thousands of free tickets to theatre events including comedy, tragedies, musical theatre, dance, modern mime, plays, circus and much more. More than 200 theatres across England are participating.

On a similar theme, but closer to home: Free Night of Theatre took place on October 16, 2008. More than 650 theatres nationwide, in the States, held free performances that night, to introduce themselves to people who perhaps had never seen theatre before. Hosted by the Theatre Communications Group, “Free Night is aimed at people who can (and do) become paying customers, while still successfully reaching groups that are currently under-represented in theatre audiences across the country.” Nothing on the website indicates plans for 2009, but it’s still early in the year.

Also from the UK, Up… Up… and a Play! To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, The Gate Theatre sent invitations that included a red balloon to its mailing list. The idea was for people to receive the balloon, take a digital photo of it, then upload it to a Flickr page with thier name, location and story. The photos are now part of a free exhibition at The Gate. Click here to read more.

Locally, there are a few programs to try to entice the younger generation into the theatre. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre has a Telus Youth Pass, which allows those aged 12-19 to get into any Clutch shows for free. In addition, The Cultch has a youth program that assists young people to write, direct and produce their own work. Many theatre companies in Vancouver participate in the “I Go” program that allows high school students to get into shows for $5.

What kind of initiatives are your theatre companies implementing to engage with new audiences?

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 5

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for the mention of Matt Boothman’s article on London Theatre Blog about the Gate Theatre’s participatory project.

    I was in Vancouver a couple of years ago and as always when travelling my first instinct is to try and see some local theatre. I ended up seeing two shows while I was there. Both in medium sized venues. And each time the audience felt predominantly white, middle class and 50+.

    Of course, part of that is a reflection of Vancouver demographics. But the subject matter in both performances and ticket prices alluded to a type of programming clearly targeted at that constitutency.

    I hope you’re able to use social media to get something going for new and younger audiences.

  2. Last year , Pi launched it’s Accessibility Program, offering free tickets to all of our performances all season. It was a great way to build our audience base and reach people who don’t usually come to our shows, as well as people who aren’t theatregoers in general. It was a big success!

    We solicited donations from the audience, and our revenue didn’t suffer. In many ways, I think the ticket price is more of a psychological barrier than an economical one.

  3. We’re working with other organizations (e.g. UBC Alumni Affairs) to offer their members special deals or events (like talkbacks) when they attend our performances.

    I think offering additional benefits, like the opportunity to interact with the director and cast at a talkback, does a lot more to bring new people in than ticket price. And, if you can get them in early in the run then you can hopefully rely on them to generate some word-of-mouth publicity for you (if it’s a good show!).

  4. We have a Community Guest program that provides free tickets for people who would not otherwise be able to see theatre. This program has been used to bring a group of under-privileged teens to a show, for we’ve had single parents come for a night out & send out vouchers for the program to a variety of social service providers in the community.

    Despite that, we haven’t had a large response to the program & are still seeing primarily white, middle class 50+ demographics in our patrons. We’ve spent the last year doing audience surveys to try to get a better sense of who is coming so that we know who we are still trying to reach.

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