Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Getting audiences to show up at our theaters.
Reported by Vanessa Cate
L.A. Theater Network is open to anyone and focused on how to advance L.A. theater as a community, both in terms of individual companies and shows, as well as in the larger sense of identity. The question posed at the April 18 meeting at Chekhov studios in Glendale focused on ways to build audiences. Ashley Steed led the discussion, resulting in eight proposals:
- A Theater Festival to showcase what the city has to offer
Different from the Hollywood Fringe, this “Theaterpalooza” would be a one-day event in which as many theater companies as possible could perform and advertise themselves simultaneously. Despite different theater companies being so spread out across the city, for one day we would be together, reaching both new and seasoned audiences and offering a diverse palate of theatrical enjoyment as well as (hopefully) gaining media coverage – the theater community’s answer to a books festival.
- A “Fitness Pass” for Theater
The suggested pass would allow theater-goers to see a multiple shows at participating theaters for one charge. “How do we make this pass sexy, accessible, and cheap enough?” Jon Lawrence Rivera posed — along with the additional question of getting enough theater companies to participate.
- Guerrilla Theater: Bring our theater directly to audiences, rather than the other way around
In a society used to their entertainment being instantly gratifying and low risk from the viewpoint of one’s own couch, does Netflix and Youtube impede audience cultivation? Don’t let it! Jessica Salans urged a proactive “Guerilla Theater” approach that would bring theater scenes to audiences in the public. In coffee shops, at grocery stores, at gas stations – people would be unable to ignore the theater going on around them, and hopefully inspire and encourage them to seek more out for themselves. The contrary effect being that, if the performance is poorly executed or overly aggressive, it might cause audiences to flee in annoyance. How can we use street theater to seduce an audience into becoming more curious about live performance?
- Make it easier to find us with a strong, streamlined Internet presence.
If non theatrically savvy persons seek entertainment for the evening, how will they look for what to do? There are droves of theater sites, but none is necessarily a “go-to” for the uninitiated where they can find everything that is currently playing. The closest might be Goldstar.com. But this notion was met with displeasure from within the meeting. “We don’t use Goldstar because it devalues theater, and we don’t get the data from ticket sales,” said Ashley Steed.
Deciding on putting focus into one site, whether it be beefing up the theater portion of ExperienceLA.com, or supporting Stage Raw as a flagship for intimate theater, a decision should be made as a community so it might be more clear where to look for what’s playing and other relevant information.
Google and Yelp are still realities we cannot ignore. A strong presence on Yelp can be imperative. As an example, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group gets more business from Yelp than from all other sources combined.
Branding for L.A. Theater has been an issue for some time. Hashtagging #LAThtr has been the best we’ve been able to come up with, and its use since its inception in 2010 has been inconsistent, though promising. If we can all get on board — with either #LAThtr or some other strong, clear branding — and perhaps even with the city’s help, maybe we can make more progress and be viewed as a legitimate and valuable artistic destination for Los Angeles residents and tourists alike.
- Encourage children and families to attend theater
Though cross-discipline, LACMA was cited for its NexGen project, which provides free admission to children 17 and under with one adult, along with offering other kid-centric activities. This grooms children early on to become art enthusiasts in adulthood who will seek out events and raise children of their own to do the same. This idea, if implemented in some way in theater (as 24th Street Theater has been doing with L.A. Unified School District), would also encourage families and groups to attend shows, which as Douglas Jacobs explained, is essential for diversifying our audiences.
- Make L.A. Theater an EVENT
Making theater an event, including discussion, talk-backs, and even check-ins a week later. Creating atmosphere upon arrival, and discussion at the conclusion. But why stop there? “What is your audience doing a week later?” Invite them back for conversation or activity that can broaden the experience and increase retention.
Even in the midst of the passions ignited by AEA and the 99 Seat Plan, one good thing that has resulted in the past several months is an increasing amount of unity and dialogue within the theater community. Many or all of these solutions depend on a united effort, and getting different people and companies involved in what are really our common goals.