Audience Development

Topics: Theatre, Broadway theatre, Repertory Pages: 12 (4794 words) Published: April 30, 2013
Audience Development: Broad and Niche Markets
How do we get people to come to the theatre in an era of instant gratification? Movies are simply available all the time. Although pessimists might feel live theatre is a dying art, there will truly always be a place for it—the difficulty is making sure the audience knows it’s there and knows how to take advantage of it. In order to maintain 501c3 tax status, not-for-profit theatre companies must prove they are producing work that follows the mission statement they have outlined. So, what happens when the very audience that used to seem so invigorated by specific work stops storming the box office? When it comes down to changing one’s artistic identity or seeking out a new generation of people who appreciate the work a company prides itself on, the pieces need to fit together and the modes of connectivity are numerous. Specific agencies like TDF, the theatre development fund and TCG, Theatre Communications Group, among others, have set up resources for increased institutional awareness. Can general marketing get butts in seats? The answer is not so cut and dry. Audience development is an ongoing process and the company must learn to adapt and grow with its patrons. In order to get a better idea about the kinds of tactics that are successful in expanding an audience base, Roundabout Theatre Company will be the first model examined—an example of a large non-profit.

According to Playbill, “Roundabout is recognized as a national leader in audience development and offers a comprehensive program of initiatives including the Social Series, the Early Curtain Series, the Wine Series, the Gay and Lesbian Series, HIPTIX (targeting young professionals), and related humanities events and publications” (Playbill online). Interestingly enough, Roundabout is an example of a non-profit whose mission statement is very broad. It is: “Roundabout Theatre Company is committed to teaming great theatrical works with the industry's finest artists to re-energize classic plays and musicals” (Charity Navigator). Roundabout is reminiscent of a for-profit organization in a few ways: its size and budget, space and notion of the mission statement not actually being at the forefront. In fact, the mission cannot even be found on their website. The fact is: at the end of the day they are still a non-profit and they have managed to find a very successful equation for gaining an absolutely huge base of subscribers. If smaller organizations can observe their model, perhaps they could effectively integrate a few similar programs into their operations. Non-profit theatre companies are usually urged to find their niche and target their audience. Roundabout on the other hand, produces a very wide range of work. In the same season they can produce a large-well known musical like Anything Goes and a new commissioned work. In the case of this season, a play called The Language Archive by Julia Cho. Being a non-profit, it is undeniable that this sort of freedom has immense advantages. There is almost certainly a correlation between their audience base and the variety of work they do. If a company can produce something for everyone then they are more likely to be able to reach more people. Conversely, Michael Kaiser has said, “Successful arts organizations are very, very clear about what they are trying to achieve’’ (Kaiser). This certainly works, probably 90% of the time, however, in the case of Roundabout clarity does not come with what they specifically want to achieve but who they want to reach. And even that isn’t specific! They want to reach everyone in some way. The good news is that smaller organizations could really benefit from mirroring their methods for outreach with under-represented groups. Besides reaching more people through the variety of their productions. Roundabout is also a standout, if not the exception, when it comes to venues. The company operates in 5 spaces: The American Airlines Theatre,...
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