Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some thoughts about audience building

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Heidi G. Grumelot.

I recently got this piece of advice from a marketing professional, ‘Know your audience.’ It is more cost effective to market shows to individuals who are likely to go to theater. To that end, we have been working on our branding and website organization lately to more coherently package our eclectic mix of offerings and to help our current audience know about our other shows. Like most Indie Theater Companies, we rely on the friends and family of our artists for much of the back bone of our show audiences. Obviously, shows that are good at social networking tend to garner the larger audience numbers,  and the more members of our community mingle, the more we see audience cross-over. And we do have the backing of a rather large mailing list accumulated slowly but surely over the past 12 Seasons. I think we know the audience we know, but we are interested in getting to know more folks outside the existing Indie Theater community. 

While Off-Off Broadway Theater websites have solved the problem of making basic show information available to the general population, and Blog Critics have done an amazing job describing the qualities of the shows happening around town, Indie Theater still seems to have to work hard to earn its audience. I often commiserate with performers, directors, and playwrights of wonderfully rigorous work saying, ‘I know; you have to make the work, pay for it yourself, and then you have to go out and get your audience too.’ New York is tough; we are in competition with so many other shows, sporting events, music events, film events, clubs, parties, sporting leagues (btw: have you heard of karaoke leagues? ), and just plain inertia with a population of hardworking people. 

Maybe we need to modify the earlier statement and say, ‘Get to know potential audience members.’ Find the people who are going to go out tonight, and invite them to your performance. My marketing friend also told me that the demographic that watches MTV normally goes to the movie theater on average about once a week. Indie Theater ticket prices are about the same as movie theater ticket prices, but I’m not sure how to break into the MTV market, save advertising on MTV and creating work about them. I do have an more developed idea about bringing more avid Broadway folks to the Indie scene.  A friend from Minnesota sent me a series of blogs that address ‘theater audience building’ from the perspective of an ex-music industry exec.  Out of all of the entries, here is the item that struck me most.

…I just wrote "theatergoer." That's like "music listener": it's factual, but not helpful. How much do fans of Carrie Underwood, the Buzzcocks, Lil Wayne, Caribou, Coltrane, or Mahler really want to listen to each other's music? Punk bands wouldn't staple fliers to bulletin boards in the Orchestra Hall lobby, even if they could. But how much do we do the equivalent? Admit it, we do. - What is "theater" anyway? June 20, 2010 by Scot Covey Issue: Wild grass

I think we can work a little harder at educating potential audience members, avid Broadway fans and MTV watchers alike, about the variety of theater and performance art genres available to them on any given night in New York. Maybe we should take a page from the Netflix book. If you liked Scottsboro Boys on Broadway, you might like Jump Jim Crow: How to Create Your Own Minstrel Show or Neighbors. If you liked Pricilla Queen of the Desert then you might like Lesbian Love Octagon, MilkMilk Lemonade, The Gay Agenda’s Great Big Broadway Show, or Goodbar. If you liked RadioTheatre’s H.P. Lovecraft  Series, you might like Fear Mongers or The Pumpkin Pie Show.  We could even give helpful categories like Opera, Subtitled Opera, Musical, Rock Musical, Horror, Romantic Comedy, Puppet Theater, Adult Swim Theater, Foreign Language, Saturday Morning Cartoon Substitutes, Action, Drama, Comedy, Burlesque, Improv, Stand-up, Sketch  or Storytelling….does someone want to make the website?

1 comment:

  1. It's a good question, and a hard job. Even identifying your audience demographic isn't necessarily enough to motivate them to go. In fact, while marketing experts love to identify and crunch data, knowing your target still isn't going to get asses in seats. I think we've all seen comics with good material and bad delivery. The audience smiles along, but a comic with good delivery--even if his material stinks-- is they guy who gets the laughs and a fan following.

    Sure it's important to know your audience, but the art to marketing is to find ways to inject them with energy and the pressing need to go, even a fear of missing a show.

    I'm not sure I have great answers for these questions, but things like building big mailing lists, aggressively promoting, getting mentioned in other media, having stories-behind the-story, etc.. are ways to rouse people's curiosity and loyalty. It's probably also important to have ways to pique the curiosity of those who don't fall into the "demographic."