TCG to study and share "audience engagement models that work"

Teresa Eyring on the Theatre Communications Group blog, 3/26/12

The old saying has it that laws are like sausages -- the less you know about how they are made, the more you like them. Theatre, however, may be more like a garden, and increasingly, audiences want to get their hands dirty. In every community I've visited of late...theatres are experiencing increased audience interest in the behind-the-scenes process of theatre. This anecdotal evidence is borne out by Theatre Facts 2010, with attendance at workshops and readings increasing 29% and attendance at event offerings like backstage tours, talkbacks and cabarets rising an astounding 47% over a 5-year period. Clearly, a lot has changed since we first published Danny Newman's Subscribe Now! in 1977... and recently, there's been a surge of audience research. To create a comprehensive home to better share, measure and implement this knowledge across the entire field, we are thrilled to announce our new Audience (R)Evolution program. Unfolding over three years, [this program] will feature four phases: research and assessment, a convening, grant-making and widespread dissemination of audience engagement models that work.


Commentary: Will funders stop supporting theaters that don't engage audiences?

Rebecca Novick,, 3/7/12

Recently, the James Irvine Foundation announced that it would shift the majority of its support to projects that expand how Californians engage actively in the arts "by making or practicing art." In a report on the subject for the Irvine Foundation, Alan Brown writes:

People are thinking about the experience of culture differently than in the past, placing value on a more immersive and interactive experience than is possible through mere observation.... Increasingly, Americans want to meet the people who make our products, share in the work of the makers and make things ourselves.

Does this signal the beginning of a de-investment by funders in the presentation of conventional plays in conventional venues? Is the implied suggestion here that we should never do a conventional production of Hamlet again? Ben Cameron, head of arts funding at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, likes to compare the current culture shift with the Protestant Reformation. He parallels that with the current advent of various technologies that are allowing for an un-intermediated engagement between the art and the individual -- YouTube videos, "concert-quality" sound through headphones, higher-quality on-demand television, and movies. Who needs an institution in that world? As Cameron says, the Reformation was not a great time to be monastery. [M]any theaters are beginning to take some steps towards a more inclusive, open, democratized way of working. If we want more theaters in the field to begin to change, we must chart these early steps and acknowledge the importance of beginning. This won't look like never doing Hamlet again, but it may look like telling stories from other traditions as well, developing new work in concert with the communities we hope to engage, gradually blurring the lines between professional and amateur, and creating other programs that receive as much focus and investment as the performance of classic plays by professional artists. There's a democratizing wind blowing through our culture and a growing sense that everyone deserves the opportunity to be a maker. Theater institutions can be part of making that possible, or they can continue to be gate-keepers, deploying their formidable resources on behalf of just a few anointed artists, performing in front of ever-shrinking audiences. 


Commentary: It's frustrating to seek funds outside community in which art is made

Founding Director Adam J. Thompson on the DTP website, 2/1/12

When I founded The Deconstructive Theatre Project in 2006...I wanted audiences to understand the full life cycle of a piece of is something made? How can it be made differently? How do artists and audiences communicate both inside and outside of the performance arena? How can performance reveal process? I want The Deconstructive Theatre Project to prove the value of collaboration and to steer individuals away from a concern over individual ownership. All art is by nature stolen. The Deconstructive Theatre Project champions a collective trading and shaping of ideas and a shared ownership of curiosity, process, failure, and success. I want our community to be an extension of this collective mindset. It is frustrating to see communities lose investment in the presence of art. It is frustrating also to be driven to seek funding for artistic process outside of the community in which the work is being made. This happens, I think, because artists and their larger communities do not communicate with one another as regularly as they ought to. There has been a lot of talk about transparency lately. I think the entire artistic process should be transparent and the community should be invited to view and partake in it. The rehearsal room is sacred, yes; but keeping it sacred is not a matter of barring the outside world from entry, but rather a process of empowering that outside world with the tools necessary to understand that sacredness and its local, national, and global value. Just as I hope The Deconstructive Theatre Project teaches artists to forsake concerns over individual ownership in favor of the powers of collective mentality, I aim to inspire the company's audiences with that same shared investment in the failures, successes, and livelihood of our members and of our work.


Commentary: Breaking down the walls to make audience engagement essential, 2/29/12

An excerpt from a "manifesto" by Arena Stage's literary manager Amrita Ramanan presented as part of the American Voices New Play Institute's 21st Century Literary Office Convening that took place February 24 & 25, 2012 in Washington, DC:

Unique methods of interaction and conversation with audiences become essential, viewed as the broth for a soup rather than the saltines sprinkled on top. I look at audience engagement at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, with a post-show conversation following every performance facilitated by staff, interns and volunteers, or the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company -- with playful, interactive lobby displays through their Connectivity department that encourage the girl that religiously follows Indian Standard Time to arrive at the theater way before show time. This idea of engagement pre and post-show celebrates the experience of the art and the dialogue generated from it rather than assuming that two or three hours in a dark house are enough. Long gone are the days when we took the intimacy of the work onstage so seriously and didn't care about the tone set from the moment the audience steps through the door. During the 2011 LMDA conference, Keynote Speaker Adam Lerner talked about how, "We spend so much time being excellent that we forget how to be awesome." The value of a fun, synergetic atmosphere and more face-time becomes customary rather than an anomaly.

> Click here to watch a video of all five manifestos from the convening.


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Commentary: The future of audience engagement, using social media

An interview with consultant Shane Hudson by August Schulenburg, TCG Circle blog, 3/22/12

What is the biggest misconception about social media holding theatres back?

There are three misconceptions. First, social media doesn't sell tickets. Theatres should look at social media as an outreach tool, as a way to connect with patrons and potential patrons, and as a way to listen to what others are saying. Oh, and don't use social media to try to get young people to the theatre. Focus on your programming and your mission. Yes, young people are the most active users of social media, but the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women ages 55 and above! Second, there is no "right" way to use social media, but there are many wrong ways. Theatres need to experiment with what works because each theatre, and each audience, is different. What are the wrong ways? Refusing to use social media at all, being scared of social media and the threat of negative feedback, and using social media as a bullhorn are all ways to use social media incorrectly. Finally, stop worrying so much about ROI. What is the ROI on word of mouth, and how do you measure it? New tools are being developed all the time to assist in measuring the ROI of social media, but the most important thing is to have an active presence and commit to developing relationships.

> On Wed, April 4, Shane D. Hudson will lead a free webinar for TCG member theaters called The Future of Engagement: Social Media and Your Audience. Register by this Friday.

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