Cultivating an Audience in the Theatre

To be able to bring true, honest-to-goodness live theatre to people not normally exposed to it is something I feel very strongly about. And I’m specifically talking about targeting younger people. Why? Well, I myself am young and I can tell you that there does not exist a deep rooted culture of theatre.

It’s not a secret that most patrons of theatre are old and rich and (literally) dying off. Our audiences are dying so you see initiatives at almost every theatre worth its salt developing outreach programs to schools and children in general. Whether that’s taking plays to them or inviting them your domain as a field trip. The idea is simply to indoctrinate those impressionable minds in the ways of live entertainment so when they grow up they can be the next generation of patrons. But how can we get this same demographic to come see a play outside of school? To make them think about going to the theatre the same they would about the movies or actually, a music concert (which they do all the time!). Is it price? Yes, that makes sense. How do you make an inherently expensive thing affordable to a teenager? I’m always racking my brain for a solution beyond student discount prices which are still super expensive. Another point, and which I think is the root, is the lack of name recognition. Movies have the advantage of playing everywhere at once so advertising is on a literal global scale, the same with music concerts. But theatre is specific to a city, or a town. A single area code. You can’t have a national commercial on the Super Bowl to plug Noises Off at the Guthrie Theater. I mean, you could, and that would be awesome, but a complete waste of time. Also, even if it could work, nobody outside of theatre as even heard of Noises Off so how do you market that? I want to come up with a system that advertises and promotes plays like movies and TV, directed at teenagers, so they can start seeing the art forms as basically the same thing. Which they are. Basically.

And I really do think it goes beyond just more “advertising”. A billboard isn’t going to cut it, because again, nobody’s going to know the name of the show or the actors in it, as opposed to a billboard of American Sniper with Bradley Cooper.

I think the theatre needs boots on the ground. I think if all the theaters within a defined area, and I mean community, high school, college, and professional mobilized and went into classrooms or parks or town squares and engaged the community in the upcoming season then that would galvanize potential patrons more than a stack of postcards left behind on the counter of a Chipotle. And I also don’t mean “doing a show” for these people- you have to go beyond that. Have games, t-shirt guns, raffles, essentially sell your soul a little bit in order to appease the masses. People are easy to please, just give ’em what they want. And along those lines, be willing to have raucous crowds a la Elizabethan Times. Maybe sell a night where you promote food and alcohol while the show is happening. Promote a night where catcalling and hooting and hissing are all encouraged. The unique thing about theatre is that it’s live, right? So let’s really capitalize on the thing that sets it apart from the pack.

I know, I know, a lot of directors and producers just had a heart attack with the above idea but come on. For one night of cleaning up spilled beer, you could have just opened up the minds of some bros and get them hooked. And bros become lawyers, or doctors, or accountants and lawyers, or doctors, or accountants become donors. Again, people are easing just give ’em what they want, which is usually alcohol. But also, quality.

If it seems like I’ve just been subtly bashing the sensibilities of average people, I have, BUT I also do give people tons of credit when it comes to quality. It’s something Hollywood is slowly starting to realize- that you can have smart blockbusters like Inception or Interstellar that actually do better than mindless popcorn fare like Transformers. So let’s not think that in order to attract teenagers we have to do “teenager” shows. Sure, throw them in there, but I think we would be surprised by how well they would respond to just good shows, no matter the demographic. Classics, yeah, but there are A TON of new plays that speak to living in the 21st Century. Do those plays. Get a reputation as THAT theatre company. The place where teens go for dates on Saturday nights, because let me tell you, guys are always looking for “the perfect date” so offer an alternative to mini-golf. They will take their dates to the theatre if it’s a.) affordable and b.) something cool. Once again, people are easy, just give ’em what they want, which is usually a dark place to make out in (or hold hands if that guy is as awkward as me on my first date…)

Have I covered everything on that front? Let me think… for now, yeah. I would just love to see a system of theatre people hitting the streets in an organized way and getting people fucking excited. And maybe that already happens in a place like the Twin Cities, I have been in Minnesota less than a year, but where I come from- Central Florida- that is not a thing.

I just… I just want everyone to know what I know- that theatre is the most real and indispensable art form out there. That when done well, it is the closest thing we have to magic on this planet. People shape shift into others’ and whole worlds are conjured before our very eyes, often in seconds. Tell me that kind of shit doesn’t appeal to the younger generations.

“…the artist is always crucial. Could we have had the Bible without writers? Without painters who could imagine what Jesus looked like?”- Arthur Miller, Resurrection Blues


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