From the Archives: Giving audiences an experience

Archives Door_0This edition of From the Archives is SOOOO 2007, talking about the “experience economy” and touching on “immersive theater” experiences. But while those phrases may be rather passe these days, there are still a few takeaways in here for consideration.

It is still odd for me to think about how much I’ve evolved in the last decade or so. I’m not as effusive or as ambitious as I was in 2007. But I think I go a little deeper in my consideration of creative work, both the work I see and the work I want to do.  In some ways I’m at the place where after working on so many (and such a variety of) productions, I’m in an incubation period again. These days I tend to want to strip away any barriers to the art, to get rid of the trappings and distractions that often surround the art. I want the art itself to do the heavy lifting.

But that’s part of the experience, too, right? I’d argue that’s the most important part. Either way, it is good to think about the experience we want our audiences to carry away with them and how close we come to delivering that.

The experience is the thing –  Oct 24, 2007

I’ve been talking and thinking for a few years about forms of ‘experiential theatre’.  Since Turn of the Screw, I have felt that leisure audiences are seeking more than just a diversion, a story to be fed.  They can get that at home on DVD.  More and more, audiences want an experience– a unique memory– when they go out and pay money for entertainment.  (They may not know they want it, but they do!)

On Turn, I extended the theatricality outside of the stage area to include the entire space. Made it a Victorian Drawing room complete with intimate seating arrangements, oil lamps, and black shades.   The whole atmosphere was charged as the audience experienced– up close and personal– the ghost story unfolding before their eyes.

Many people had said they’d never experienced something like that before.

I think that’s what really hooked me with historical costuming events. . . the fact that it’s an immersive experience for someone coming in the door.  And if it is done well– with focus, and story, and style– it will be a memory apart from other events we’ve gone to.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz– hell, most Shakespeare in the Parks– does the same thing.  It’s outdoors, beautiful evening, enjoyable staff, good theatre, picnicing on the grounds, something to think about as you walk away.  It makes for some fabulous times.

But I find that other theatres don’t get this.  Not only is what’s happening in the lobby, in the external experience, not very memorable, what’s happening on the stages is less and less memorable.  They definitely don’t leave anyone thinking about the experience for very long  It’s unfortunate.

I’m excited that this spring I’ll be presenting a show at the Rogue Festival in Fresno.  The Rogue gets the experience economy.  They provide an insane number of inexpensive shows, in a fabulous layout, packed into two weekends.  A group can map out three to six interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking shows in one day, and do some dining and have drinks along the way.

To get people off of their butts and parted with their money, artists need to offer more than just their sweat equity.  The ‘if you build it, they will come’ mantra doesn’t work in an experience economy. Get innovative!  Get out of the doldrums!  Get creative!  It’s what you say you are, after all.

The experience economy looks something like this:

  • If you charge for undifferentiated stuff, then you are in the commodity business.
  • If you charge for distinctive tangible things, then you are in the goods business.
  • If you charge for the activities you perform, then you are in the service business.
  • If you charge for the feeling people have because of engaging you, then you are in the experience business.
  • If you charge for the benefit people receive as a result of spending that time, you are in the transformation business.

If you’re offering leisure activities and you’re not hitting in the last two categories, you’re missing the mark.

That’s why I’m glad for this time to reinvent my focus.  I want to give people a great day in the park, a great evening in the space, something to think about as they leave.  Any animal can be diverted by bells and shiny things for a time and leave without a thought in its brain.  It’s the memory, the thinking and the consciousness of true, engaged experience that reinforces our humanity.


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