On marketing theatre to new (young) audiences

Too often, when I’ve scanned the faces before the house lights go down at a show, I’ve noticed I am among a handful of people in the under 50 crowd. Or, I’m among a small handful of people in the crowd. One time, I was the ONLY person in the audience.


The holy grail for all theatre companies (at least, those that want to keep producing works for a living, breathing public) is building an audience — i.e., getting butts in seats. And, the best way to do this is to cultivate younger audiences.

In this frantic effort to keep afloat, theatre companies are exploring the “fresh” and “hip” ways to reach out to this elusive demographic. And Trisha Mead of the 2AM blog makes some sobering and candid observations for what theatre companies have been trying, and failing, to do in this effort.

Among the comments in response to Mead’s post, Nick Keenan makes a great point which I feel sums up the problem best:

I think we fool ourselves sometimes into thinking that marketing and selling the arts will somehow find a shortcut — everything is a relationship, and everything requires the same amount of pavement pounding whether it’s poster distribution or facebook / twitter conversations with patrons. It’s all relationship building, and human beings still need the same amount of sniffing and handshaking and eating together to develop that core foundation of partnership and patronage: TRUST.

Keenan hits it on the head: trust is so important. It’s no secret that consumers crave the comfort in knowing what they are choosing to spend their dollars on. Risk is avoided at all reasonable costs. And with the advent of social apps and instant e-communication, theatre companies have the opportunity to actively engage potential new audiences in discussion — make them feel part of the process. Make them feel valued and important. Make them invested. Make it relevent. Kids these days (heh) have the “what’s in it for me” syndrome bad. Play on that. Make them want to get to know you — and know you better.

On a slightly related note, I hope when people read this blog, they trust what I have to say. I don’t write with any personal agenda — at least not consciously. I’m just a guy with an opinion. Hate it or laugh at it — but know that I always speak from the heart and the gut. Mostly the gut, because with all this stress eating I’ve been doing lately, there’s likely to be more of it.

That is all.

2 thoughts on “On marketing theatre to new (young) audiences

  1. You’re right. I think that the “What’s in it for me” syndrome is really prevalent. I personally don’t know how to address that with theater marketing (I’m working on that.), but you do make a good point.

    And the lack of the personal agenda is why we love you. Try to take it easy and don’t get too stressed out.

    1. That’s very sweet of you, Monica. Thanks!

      Re: the “what’s in it for me” aspect — not sure. KIds these days like to feel like they’re important; the next reality tv star. So maybe somehow making productions interactive. Making them feel they have a say in what the next season is, or some other aspect of the production. Or, simply finding plays that resonate with their reality.

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