Softening the Ground for New Work


Chad Bauman on the Arts Marketing blog first threw a gauntlet to the arts community with a controversial post called “How Marketing Directors Kill New Work.” After some heady response, he acknowledged that his initial post identified problems without proposing solutions. He proffered some GREAT solutions in a follow up post, which I highly recommend you check out here.

There was one element that he didn’t get into, that I think is worth airing out, particularly in light of the recent Devised Work New Play convening at Arena Stage that 2amtheatre has been covering elsewhere on the blog.

He talks about what we need to do as marketing folk to help a specific new project succeed. My thought is:

What could we be doing, right now, BEFORE we have a new work project to present, to help acclimate our existing audience to the risks and rewards of new work in general? How can we be using our regular communications with our audience to pique their curiosity what’s going on nationally and locally in the arena of new work?

Here’s my theory- just like a marathon runner builds up the muscles, habits and skill sets required to make it to the finish line months before he shows up to the starting line, our audience could also be given the opportunity to build up their “new work” appreciating habits and skills so that when we do have that next extraordinary world premiere to present, they are prepped to make it to the finish line.

But how? Here’s a few starting ideas, and of course I’d love to hear more from you!

1.Introduce. If there are playwrights or groups whose work are on our radar, let’s introduce them to our audience through occasional “Did you know’ snippets in our e-newsletters, links on our Facebook pages and twitter feeds. We are highly informed about what’s going on nationally in the theater. They are not. If we keep it short and fun, we can raise their awareness and help them stay up to date on playwrights and projects we’ve got our eye on.

2. Inspire. Inspire our audience to build their potential appetite for new work by asking them in quick fun ways (Facebook quizzes, Twitter questions, blog call and response) what they issues or ideas they’d love to see a show about. If there’s a new work out there that matches themes to their response, draw their attention to it. This becomes an ongoing community engagement exercise, as well as a great sounding board for what the audience is intrigued or pre-occupied by.

Include opportunities to vote on which of the newest works on our radar they think sound interesting, based on short funny character or theme descriptions.

Ask them to guess the name of a new work being produced elsewhere based on clues, and send them googling the company or playwright (and learning about them as they go).

3. Sample. Let’s build routine, inexpensive opportunities for audiences to sample potential new work as part of their existing play-going practices. Is it a pre-show podcast with a snippets of a few new pieces we’re interested in, available by borrowed iPod Touch in the lobby? Is it a curtain raiser using the teen acting council? A producer’s lunch that comes with face time with the A.D and a pre-lunch scene from the work of a playwright we’re interested in commissioning?

Most importantly reward their participation in any of these sampling opportunities- if they listen to the podcast and take a quick survey afterward, they earn a drink at the bar, or a discount on their next show.

4. Encourage appreciation for interesting failures. The devised work convening this weekend talked a lot about the importance of an audience willing to see an “unfinished” piece that may be interesting but flawed.

One theater company in Portland during the Fertile Ground Festival does this with a beer sponsorship. Their ticket price included a free beer. Their show ended up being excellent, but before you went, you figured- either way I’ll get a beer out of the deal.

Another rewarded people who took the time to share their opinion of the new work online (positive or negative) with a 2 for 1 coupon to the next well known piece on their radar.

5. And last but not least in my list so far, THANK THEM PROFUSELY for any successes. If a new work does well, gets great audience response, and/or goes on to succeed in another market, let’s make sure our audience knows that their participation and feedback helped create the success. Let them hear from playwrights, performers, etc how much it meant to them to see the piece premiere, to see people turn out for it, to see the piece succeed. Give our audience ownership of successful new work, and once they have ownership, keep them apprised of where “their” play is off to next.

What else…? What do you already do, or would like to begin, that would help your audience be more comfortable with and curious about the world of new work?

  • February 21, 2010
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