Audience Development: Are you listening to your audience?

Hey-You-What-Song-are-you-Listening-toHere’s a follow up to the last post, one more radical idea:


I know. We all think we do this.  But do we?  Or do some of our assumptions get in the way?

Sure, it is our responsibility to LEAD our organizations.  And it is, I believe, even our responsibility to LEAD the audience in terms of the art.  Lead them to new experiences.  Lead them to great work.  Have a clear vision, a place to go, and start heading there and the audience will follow.

But there are ways in which the audience HAS to lead us.  And, boy, do they ever let us know what those ways are.

And the loudest way that they tell us is through their ACTIONS.  Occasionally, you’ll get an honest and up-front audience member who tells you when a show wasn’t up to par or your cookies are stale or your air conditioning is inadequate.  And sure, listen to those and respond to what you can.

But ultimately, audience talk with their money.  With their actions.  With which opportunities they grab and which ones they pass up.

And we need to listen intently to what our audiences tell us about everything from our ticket prices, to the way in which we sell them the ticket.  From the programs they show up for to the ones they stay away from (offering the most profound apologies, of course!).  And we need to listen when they say, “I came back because of X” or “I stayed away because of Y”.

Listen with intent.  That’s what we tell actors, right?

And to that end, I’d like to share a comment here that an acquaintance posted on my Facebook wall.  It is straightforward, spells a few things out from an audience-member’s perspective and are some pretty straight up marketing things that have worked for many a theater in the past and probably still work.  Give him a listen.  See if anything he says makes sense for your company.  Let’s look at every possibility and refine those things that are already working and try a few new things in the process:

A few random thoughts from a theater end-user:

1. I like theater, but I love an evening out. Dinner + theater + drinks afterward to discuss the sort of provocative shows your company does is a wonderful way to spend an evening with friends (I think you’d like Boston Court here in Pasadena). How’s Au Lac? [It’s been a while since Richard has been in Fresno, but we get his drift! ~hp] Would they be open to considering some co-marketing? Maybe they offer a percentage discount for your ticket holders, and vice versa. If not them, some other restaurant within walking distance? 

2. I like season tickets. [Many people have been heralding the death of the season ticket model in recent years, but realistically, it still works for the vast majority of established theaters. For newer theaters, a season “pass” – without the rigamarole of selecting seats and dates – is a viable option. ~hp]

3. How hard would it be to make a sort of Theater Passport program with other local companies, where I could buy one pass and get into any participating theater either for free or steeply discounted prices, kinda like a multi-company season ticket?

4.  Respectfully, your prices are too low. Think price positioning. It’s live theater fergawdsakes. $10 is probably a good option for students and “pay what you can” tickets, but regular pricing of $15 would be a more than reasonable and frankly maybe even $20 is good for most folks; still seems cheap to me for a live show. [This is pertaining to {tne} specifically. Richard is an Angeleno, so adjust accordingly, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right! ~hp]

5. Marketing to me is good; marketing to me, my gal, and another couple as a group activity even better, and if you can convey that image to your patrons you can sell four tickets where you might have sold one or two. Maybe with a price increase, boosting total sales becomes as easy as “Buy two tickets get a third free” or some such. Full houses are more fun for both patrons and performers anyway, so everyone wins when you find ways to sell multiple tickets in a single sale.

6. Rotating art in the lobby can mean local artists have a reason to send people to your space, and an art opening once a month can bring art fans into the space where they also learn about the performances that happen on other nights.

i’m just a lay person, but these are some things I’ve found get me off my sofa and out to see a show.


Thank you, Richard Gaskin, for breaking it down for us! I can promise you that The New Ensemble is listening and is going to try some new things this season.  (And I hope to see you this weekend for Wexmas at Chez Tiff!)

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