Follow Voicebox on Twitter Follow Voicebox on Facebook
Follow Voicebox on Facebook

The Center For The Advancement Of Urban Theatre Audiences

May 11, 2007

John Wilkins of Last Planet Theatre Company in San Francisco, thinks -- and I agree -- that there isn't much creativity around engaging audiences in the theatre. The typical efforts that companies make here in the Bay Area include post-show talkbacks with playwrights, actors, and directors (more usual for midsize and larger companies) and (in the case of Fringe companies) raffles in the intermission, where the lucky winner wins a tube of Mentos in exchange for handing over their precious contact information for the company's database.

The raffle approach is deplorable, I think (though it may seem cute first time around.) And the talkbacks, often not much more productive.

One idea John has for inspiring greater involvement from audiences is by setting up what he terms "The Center for the Advancement of Urban Theatre Audiences" or "CATS" for short. CATS aims to increase the size of theater audiences as well as the amount of time those audiences spend talking about theatre. Some of the activities of the Theatre Salon that a few of us launched two weeks ago over dinner at Last Planet Theatre might fall under the auspices of CATS. Other programs might include:

1. The Chair Awards -- a series of awards for audience members who achieve such goals as attending 100 or more shows a year (the ticket stubs would act as proof of attendance), attending the most eclectic or edgy or mainstream range of shows, attending the most opening night receptions, walking out of the most shows etc.

2. The Drink With A Critic Night (the less said about this the better.)

3. Theatre Essay Competition for theatre bloggers and theatregoers who send out post-show postmortem emails to 100 of their friends. I don't personally know any people who fall into the second category, but John probably does, otherwise he wouldn't have included this type of award on his list.

John's treatise on the subject of CATS makes for an excellent read. It's very witty too. And parts of it are eminently doable.



  • Crowded Fire Dissed!

    Actually I agree, the Mentos thing has to go.

    But here's the deal on the post-play discussions and the raffle thing and the whole creation of an audience thing.

    These ubiquotous events are about identifying and capitlizing and forming a bond with YOUR audience. In other words, John's ideas are good in the abstract and good for the theater in general. But the only way for a company to get to know their audience is to engage them directly in conversation.

    A company who doesn't engage its audience in conversation risks making them feel like nothing more than consumers. The audience in turn bases their judgements on a thmbs up/thumbs down mentality. This does no one any good.

    An individual's investment in the company is directly related to the feeling of community they receive by being a part of something. One thing I have learned is that I may hate the post-play discussion, but it is absolutely essential for maintaining a relationship with my audience. There is a reason companies do this and continue to do it.

    As a theater professional, and a professor of theater, I am constantly reminded of how much of our process I take for granted. I am also constantly amazed at how often audiences crave more information on the process. This is how you keep them coming in the door. And this is how you continue to make theater relevant. By doing the thing it does better than any other art form. Create community.

    I love your blog! Thanks for keeping it up.

    Kent Nicholson
    Artistic Director, Crowded Fire

    By Blogger Kent, At May 15, 2007 at 5:16 PM  

  • Hi there! Chloe, I don't think we've ever officially met; but I'm sure we've seen each other (I know you've seen me!).

    Anyway, I read this original post and Kent's comments with interest. If you haven't read it yet, take a look at Anne Bogart's new book "And then, you act" - especially the sections on content and audience (I can't recall if she uses the term "audience" to title a chapter or not, but it'll be clear if you open the book). She has some great stuff to say about involving the audience in the process (from The Audience Project, which the SITI Company undertook at ATL some years ago and the resultant show Cabin Pressure) and anecdotes about Gardzienice and others.

    By Blogger D, At May 30, 2007 at 10:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home