“Essentials of Audience Development” is composed of a lot of theory, most of which is worth studying but won’t develop your audience unless you act upon it. The first action, though, is to “understand thyself.” Without understanding your goals and your performance, you’ll just be taking a stab in the dark. Some of the first questions to tackle are the following:
Who is our audience? Where are they at?
How are we communicating with them? How WELL are we communicating with them?
What’s up with our marketing?
How do we interact with our audience? How do they interact with us?
Do they like what we do?
Do we lead them well?
The first step is to have the honest and difficult conversations sparked by these questions. Come to some conclusions about who your audience REALLY IS, where you can find them, how your communications and marketing works and where it is lacking, really evaluating how well you treat your audiences in all aspects of your connection with them, and evaluating your programming. Do you know who they are? Do you talk to them well? Do you give the a real reason to choose YOU?
Once you’ve hashed out these things, you’ve got some idea of what you might like to try for audience development and what probably is a waste of your time.
At The New Ensemble Theater Group we know who our audience is and it isn’t everybody. So casting a wide net is not necessarily going to work for us. We’ve defined our audience as “smart and forward-thinking” and “willing to take a chance” and who enjoy “intelligent, raw performances”. This helps us target who we want to reach and gives us a more concrete idea about where we might find them. We’ve also focused on those who already love the arts– or those who are about to DISCOVER a love for the arts. That’s a pretty specific group and requires some creativity to reach them.
But we’ve also had to be honest about some of the drawbacks of our audience development. We often present in some tiny, unknown, uncomfortable spaces. So we have to turn that into an “adventure” and make that work for us in terms of our audience. We also know that every other aspect of the experience has to be positive for our audience– box office systems have to run well, we have to be inviting in the lobby, we have to give them access to us in different ways and encourage a personal connection with TNE playgoing.
And with our programming, we’ve had to acknowledge the value of having a variety of things offered– readings, different directors, actors new to us– to keep our audiences engaged and keep word of mouth positive.
Our audiences have grown steadily and at a rate appropriate for our size and resources. But that’s only because we’ve made it a practice to review audience related questions with each and every show and acknowledge where we have to make up for our drawbacks.
We aren’t a complete success story yet, but beginning with honesty and the difficult questions has set us up well. We hope!