The True Cost of Theatre and Why it is Unsustainable

Introduction

LeicesterPrice represents one of the legendary seven P’s of marketing (The others being product, place, promotion, people, processes and physical evidence). Poor implementation of the other six P’s will hinder a project to no end, however the incorrect execution of price can single handedly destroy a product. Theatre is absolutely no exception and a producer cannot afford to set their ticket prices arbitrarily. To assist this endeavour, we need to understand all associated costs with attending theatre. Readers outside of Australia please take note that all prices are quoted in Australian dollars. 

The True Cost of Theatre

allian-web-marketing-costWhen setting the price for a show, it is not as simple as asking for X amount of dollars in exchange for a performance of Y amount of time. The nature of theatre asks for much more from a customer:

TimeTheatre attendance is quite demanding in terms of a time investment. It generally requires a person to plan ahead and block out an entire evening or afternoon. Let’s say we have a standard 90 minute show that starts at 7:30pm and finishes at 9:00pm. A customer must spend time getting to and from the theatre (for arguments sake, let’s say anywhere between 45-60 minutes each). Of course most patrons are not going to arrive at 7:30 on the dot because that’s when the show is set to begin, so let’s add on another 15-30 minutes to account for being at the venue early. All of a sudden our 90 minute show requires a time investment of somewhere between 3 hours 15 minutes to 4 hours. It could be argued that the same could be said for going out to a cinema, but the the large majority of films are generally available at a convenient local location that require less of a time commitment. A theatrical production only has one venue and if you don’t live nearby, then tough.

TransportWhether it’s public transport, your own car or a taxi, getting to theatre carries a cost. A bus or train may cost as much as $5-$15 return. If you have your own car then you may end up having to pay for parking. Let’s say $10 if you do and we won’t take fuel into account. The most expensive option of the taxi could cost anywhere between $20-$70 to get you to the venue and back home.

MealsLet’s say a customer finishes work at 5:30pm on a Friday afternoon and has decided to go to a show at 7:30pm. Hunger chimes in and reminds the customer to neglect it at their own peril. A decision to go to the theatre can often result in eating out by association. A customer may go for a quick snack to tide themselves over for $5-$10 or a full dinner at the cost of anywhere from $15-50.

IncidentalsOnce we’re finally at the theatre you might want a glass of wine or a beer to drink in the foyer. $5-$10. Oh and they’re also selling programs for $2-$10.

Totals


health-insurance-wallet-stethoscopeLet’s assume the best case scenario for our wallets first:

  • We’ve paid $30 for a ticket to a 90 minute show.
  • We live close by and can take public transport ($5-$15).
  • We decide to fight against our stomachs and wait till we get home for dinner ($0).
  • Foyer drinks and programs do not tempt us in the slightest ($0)

Excellent! Our $30 ticket has only become a $35-$45 ticket for the evening, but that is up to 25% more than most companies may consider when setting their ticket price.

Shut-up-and-take-my-moneyNow let’s look at a more unfortunate financial situation:

  • We’ve paid $30 for a ticket to a 90 minute show.
  • We drive ourselves and have to pay for parking ($10).
  • We give in to basic human needs and decide to have dinner ($15-$50).
  • A drink in the foyer sounds lovely and of course we must have a program ($2-$10).

Not so excellent. Our $30 ticket has become a $47-$100 ticket. Ouch. In addition, all of this is assuming that we’re going to see a show with a relatively low price tag of $30 per ticket, we’d never touch a taxi, that we are very frugal in where we choose to eat and that we are only paying for a single person. For a couple going to the theatre, the costs can easily spiral into the hundreds of dollars. As an independent producer, it would be of great benefit to perform this true cost analysis in order to understand exactly how much you are asking your customers to pay.

Theatre and the Law of Demand

Alright, economics time! So we’ve established that the true cost of theatre is far greater than any of us would like. Unfortunately, there is also good reason to believe that demand for theatre is on shaky grounds as well. The law of demand states that (holding all other factors constant) raising prices results in a reduction of demand. So already we have an incentive to keep prices as low as possible, however theatre has a couple of extra features that compound a decline in demand:

Theatre is a luxury product. It will always be one of the first things to get axed when times get tight.

Theatre has readily available substitutes. For roughly $18 – $25 a customer can go to the cinema and see a wide variety of works featuring world class filmmakers at a time that is convenient to them. Or for $14.99 a month, a customer can purchase premium Netflix access to over 1000 titles at literally any time they want to watch them. A customer can even choose to not to spend a single cent and browse YouTube for free. If the price of theatre becomes unappealing, many customers will not think twice about substituting it for any of the aforementioned options. 

netTheatre’s competition is cheap, diverse and convenient.

Takes up a significant portion of weekly budget. After paying for rent/mortgage, food, children/pets, transport, education, bills and every other little thing that pops up demanding your hard earned money, a night out at the theatre is a significant portion of your remaining income, if anything remains at all. 

The price of seemingly unrelated products will impact theatre. Because going to the theatre costs far more than the ticket price, other factors will dictate decisions to attend. If the price of public transport or petrol were to suddenly rise then a potential customer may decide not to attend because of the additional costs.

Essentially, theatre is highly price elastic. 

Elastic-Demand

Potential Unsustainability 

With the cost of theatre being so high and the demand so easily influenced, the future of the industry may well be on unstable ground. To be clear, it is in no danger for the immediate future. The majority of main stage theatre has an established audience base, with the two most likely age groups to attend theatre being 45-54 and 55-64 (Discussed in this previous article). However, when this audience base passes on, another generation will be needed to replace it. Currently, the price of theatre tickets indicates that companies are not adequately fostering this potential new wave of attendees and it has resulted in a whole generation being priced out of theatre. The median income for generation Y in Australia is between $40,000 to $50,000 before tax, compared to the Australian-wide average of $68,895. This income after tax, with all of the usual weekly expenses listed above and higher education loans, means that young people simply cannot afford to go to the theatre. Of course, this average income will rise in time but by then it will be too late. We will have a had a generation make their way in the world not knowing theatre and unwilling to take a chance on a medium that excluded them.

This is a very long term view, however, if theatres do not do a better job of cultivating a young theatregoing community today then there may not be one tomorrow.

Conclusion

Part of the foundation of setting ticket prices in theatre is understanding the true cost of your product. The audience’s time and money are both scarce resources and theatre can demand a surprisingly large share. Without this understanding, a company risks making a poor value proposition and repelling potential attendees with a price tag alone. Furthermore, this true cost in it’s current form will need to be addressed in order for theatre to thrive in the future.

I want to go to the theatre regularly. I want to be able to take a chance on productions and not have to wait until a show is getting nothing but fantastic reviews to justify spending my limited time and money on it. At this point in time, that is not possible.

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts.

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Seasonal Branding: The Benefits and Risks of Building a Company Identity

Managing Cohesion

One of the trickier aspects of managing a theatre company is the lack of consistency and cohesion between individual productions within a season. Generally, each show has a different creative team and a brand new script with radically different ideas to explore. One promotional method that theatre companies have used to bring some cohesion in recent years has been the seasonal identity. That is, giving your season a promotional brand of it’s own rather than focusing on constructing a brand for each individual show. However, do the benefits of this practice outweigh the loss of individual identity among productions?

The Seasonal Brand

This trend has been well and truly installed in the worldwide theatrical landscape for many years now with groups such as Belvoir (Sydney), Signature Theatre (New York) and Unicorn Theatre (London) all opting to wash a season of work with a singular identity. In broader marketing, this strategy is known as a branded house (applying one brand to a range of different products).

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 10.19.31 pmBelvoir’s 2015 season, for better or worse, has a very distinctive identity.

Unicorn SeasonUnicorn Theatre creates a common identity through a white background and the presence of cardboard.

Signature SeasonThe Signature Theatre Company makes use of a black banner aesthetic to create a seasonal brand.

NT1415The New Theatre uses objects and cropped shots to create a company identity. Separate yearly seasons are then given their own identity through features such as desaturation (2014) and vibrant backgrounds (2015).

It is worth noting that in addition to a seasonal brand, all of the above examples use a blank canvas marketing strategy, which we have spoken about before here.

The Benefits

The seasonal brand holds several key advantages:

Cohesive product identity. This is particularly important for companies who push subscription seasons. It reduces the perceived risk felt by customers entering into a subscription service by projecting consistency throughout the season.

The success of one show can directly impact the success of another. As all shows in the season share a core identity, the success of one cannot help but have a positive impact on the remaining shows. However, there is also the risk of the adverse occurring. A poorly received show can reflect very badly on the others that share it’s promotional identity.

They make the customer feel as though they are part of a greater experience. There is a difference between seeing an individual show that just so happens to be on at a particular venue and becoming part of a seasonal viewing experience.

It increases brand awareness. The production company is first and foremost in consumer minds when they see a familiar image, rather than being an afterthought or a thought at all.

Every now and then this strategy pops up in other mediums, one of the most notable being Baz Luhrmann’s red curtain trilogy:

RedCurtain

And in the world of business it can be seen prominently through Virgin:

virgin-logos

The Downside

Unfortunately, the seasonal brand is also the marketing equivalent of putting all of your eggs in one basket. It’s an all or nothing approach that may result in:

Isolating customers. Should a customer enjoy your seasonal branding then that’s all well and good, but if a customer does not like your brand aesthetic then they will carry that negative connotation with them throughout the entire year.

The failure of one show has negative impacts on the others. As every show is clearly branded as a company and not an individual product, the company assumes the responsibility of a bad show and that stigma carries over into the next offering.

No show being allowed to stand out. A common brand may struggle to generate excitement about any particular show in the customer’s mind. For example, here is a snapshot of the 2014 Belvoir season without the show titles:

BelvoirwithouttitlesThe 2014 Belvoir yearbook.

If you were to ask you, as a customer, which production excited you the most based on the imagery above, which would you choose? And if I were to tell you that among these productions is Oedipus Rex and The Glass Menagerie, would you be able pinpoint them? For the casual theatregoer (Or the non-theatregoer), this marketing leaves a lot to be desired. If nothing is able to take their eye then the production company has a lot of work to do to get them into the theatre. 

It is important to note that the marketing is not complete without the show titles, however the emphasis placed on an aesthetic cannot be ignored.  The old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ may actually an understatement with claims that 90% of information sent to the brain is visual and images are processed 60,000 times faster than text. So it could be argued that a picture is worth 60,000 words. Either way, it’s a lot of words. Furthermore, according to the picture superiority effect, memory retention is significantly higher when images are combined with text. So by attaching an image to a show title, you need to make sure that you are saying the right thing because that image is how the production will be remembered.

 A uniform aesthetic can leave very little room for individuality and may lead to higher perceived risk among customers, who don’t have any tangible cues to inform what they are spending their money on.

A More Detailed Approach

The main disadvantage of a seasonal brand is the lack of individuality among shows, however there are solutions to this problem. Take a portion of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2016 season for example:

STC Season

The common trend of featuring actors in the foreground is taken a step further by giving each production a detailed background. These backgrounds provide context for the actor’s expressions and enhance the overall feeling of each production, as opposed to simply relying on an actor to do this against a black or white background. If you were to ask you, as a customer, which production excited you the most based on the imagery above, you would probably have an easier time answering than with the previous example. Those with a sense of adventure may be drawn to the wonders of the outdoors represented in Machu Picchu, while those wanting a period story may gravitate towards the serene, golden lit gardens of Arcadia. For those who want something darker, The Hanging is inviting you to unveil it’s secrets through the shadows and fog. They all provide a tangible cue to customers about what they will receive if they decide to attend the show.

With that said, they are unmistakably part of the same season. Each production shares the common theme of actor with a textured background along with vivid colours and uniform text. In fact the promotional images appear to have been purposely desaturated to provide contrast to the vivid boxes accompanying them. With this detailed approach, the STC have presented a path towards being able to have a seasonal brand and maintain the individual integrity of each offering.

Griffin Theatre Company demonstrate a different detailed approach with their signature crosswords titles:

GriffSeason

These acrostic poems give customers a clear idea about what to expect from a production. The Boys uses the words “brothers”, “violence”, “brutal” and “confronting” coloured in a cold steel blue to provide a tangible atmosphere from marketing material alone. The vagueness of the words retains the mystery of the show and actively invites the audience to solve their context.

Conclusion

The seasonal brand is a powerful strategy to implement when trying to build brand awareness. While I’ve primarily spoken about main stage companies in this article, this is type of marketing is in no way out of reach of independent theatre companies. If you are an independent producer (or company) who plan on doing more than one production in a year then give some consideration to your seasonal brand. It will stop you starting from absolute scratch in terms of marketing with each new production. There are also some cases where letting each individual production stand alone is a very legitimate strategic choice. The key is to make the best choice for your theatrical ambitions. If you want to build a company then a seasonal brand can go a long way towards that and if you want to produce a singular work (Or series of singular works) then build the individual show. 

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts.

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Why Gender Parity Makes Sense From A Marketing Perspective

A Disconnect

The art of marketing prides itself on being able to understand and cater for the needs of it’s customers, however the theatre industry may currently be facing a disconnect between customer needs and product delivered in regards to the issue of gender equality. Recently in Sydney, the Darlinghurst Theatre Company came under fire for their unfavourable ratio of women to men in positions of writing, directing and performing for their 2016 season. The statistics are nothing so unusual when compared to that of Sydney’s other major companies, but that in itself becomes very unusual when we examine the theatrical customer base.

Theatre Attended Mainly By Women

Rather astoundingly, research from both Broadway and the West End concluded that women make up exactly 68% of both of their respective audiences. This precise number across two very different geographical locations may indicate a strong global trend. Exact figures for theatre attendance in Australia were unavailable, however the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2009-20 women were more likely to attend cultural events than men by a ratio of 88% to 83%. The further break down is as follows:

stats1

The two most likely age groups to attend theatre are the 45-54 and 55-64 years age groups (19.4% each) followed closely by the 15-17 years age group (19%). Although it should be noted that theatre attendance is quite well rounded throughout all age groups:

stats2

The statistical conclusion five years ago was quite clear. Across a wide variety of age groups, women attend more theatre than men. So why then does Australia’s theatrical landscape appear to be so dominant with male voices and opportunities? In the same year as the above ABS study was conducted, both Belvoir and the Melbourne Theatre Company faced backlash over female representation being less than a third of their male counterparts. In 2012, a report found that little had changed, as out of eight major theatre companies, women were writing only 21% of productions and directing 25%. Now in late 2015, an examination of Australia’s 2016 mainstage season reveals nothing but old news. Women are still underrepresented and from a marketing standpoint of catering to your core audience, it doesn’t make sense. With this in mind, I can only imagine that discussions within theatrical management go a little something like this:

tczky

The Big Argument

pointWe’ll go into the many reasons why it makes marketing sense to promote gender parity in a bit, but first we need to address the one big argument not to: The current state of theatre already boasts a majority audience of women even with low female representation. Honestly, this is a tough one. It’s akin to asking a company to change their product in order to attract a customer base that they already have. Furthermore, any drastic action taken could risk losing some of the male customer base. From the point of view of a theatre company, adopting inaction or ignorance on gender parity is a safer short term strategy, particularly if the female audience continues to vote in favour of inaction through their dollars. 

The quickest way to send a message to a company is through money. Realistically, there is no reason for a company to take any drastic action until a threat to their operations is detected.

A Threat To Operations

I put forward a survey to 223 theatre practitioners and consumers regarding the representation of women in theatre. It garnered an overwhelming (79%) response from women, while only 21% of those who chose to take the survey were male. The survey asked three core questions:

1. How would you rate:

All Rep

Female representation in marketing materials is perceived as the strongest by far with an average rating, while representation on stage and in capacities of writing and directing was rated as poor by almost half of respondents. Over 90% of responses considered the representation of women as writers, directors and on stage at average or below.

2. Would you be more likely to attend theatre if:

All likely

In terms of directing and writing, these results indicate that a female presence would have a positive effect on theatre goers with 51% and 52% (respectively) of respondents declaring that it would make them more likely to attend a show. Almost 50% of respondents reported that a female writer or director would likely have no effect. The conclusion reached here is that more than half of the market would be more likely to attend theatre if gender parity were achieved, while there is no risk of losing the other half of your audience as it makes no difference to them.

In regards to the main protagonist being played by a woman, the results were significantly higher with 65% of respondents signalling that it would make them more likely to attend.

3. Are your needs as an audience member being met by current main stage programming?

All Needs

Now here is the distress signal to a marketer. Just under half of the surveyed theatre going audience has indicated that their needs are not currently being met by the products on offer. A further 43% have said that their needs are only “somewhat” being met. Only 8% of the surveyed audience is satisfied with the current efforts of main stage programming. This isn’t just a distress signal, this is a potential threat to operations.

The argument could be made that this survey has an overwhelming response from women and does not reflect the male perspective. Firstly, I fail to see the issue as women have been established at theatre’s core audience and secondly, the most fascinating part of this survey is when the statistics are isolated by male respondents only:

1. How would you rate:

Male Rep

The male-only response follows the same trends as the mixed response, with representation in marketing materials perceived to be the strongest area and the large majority noting poor representation for actors, writers and directors. Although there is a higher portion in the male-only sample that believe that representation in these areas are above average or excellent. 

2. Would you be more likely to attend theatre if:

Male likely

The male view is much more apathetic towards women in all positions. The large majority have said that a female director, writer or protagonist would have no effect on them and an encouraging minority have said that it would make them more likely to attend. The conclusion is that promoting gender parity is unlikely to lose any significant portion of the male audience.

3. Are your needs as an audience member being met by current main stage programming?

Male Needs

And finally, while a higher portion of male needs are being met by current programming, the large majority of needs are only “somewhat” being met and there is a very significant portion of needs not being met at all.

The data shows that as a whole, the needs of the theatregoing audience are not being met. This is an obvious indicator to a marketer that a change needs to occur within the product itself. The current offering is not enough to satisfy customers and there is a risk of losing market share is operations continue in their present state.

Furthermore, Promoting Gender Parity Makes Sense Because

1 – Customer Needs Evolve

Very few industries can satisfy customers with the exact same product over a long period of time. This is particularly true of the performing arts. Current theatrical practices have successfully won a large female market share, but companies need to keep track of the needs of their audience. Right now those needs are being expressed with groups such as Women in Theatre and Screen emerging as well as the clear results of the above survey. 

2 – New Audiences

If women currently hold the majority customer base of a product that isn’t strictly targeted towards them then this base should only expand with a product that does meet their needs. The risk of losing the a large portion of the male audience due to gender parity is unlikely because (as the word parity suggests) half of all voices and representation in theatre will still come from the male gender. 

3 – The First Mover Advantage

This is a marketing concept whereby the first company to enter the market with a unique product will win a large market share and higher brand recognition than it’s (slower) competitors. The theatrical landscape is currently ripe for a pro gender parity company (or perhaps even an all female company) to step in and take that first mover advantage.

4 – The Essence of Risk

One of the big selling points of theatre is the element of risk. Delving deep into topics untouched by other mediums with no guarantee of the outcome of the product. Theatre is absolutely the natural medium to pioneer gender parity and it would give marketers a lot to work with. It would be particularly embarrassing for theatre to not have achieved parity by the time one of the less risky mediums of storytelling have.

5 – More Money

Broadway statistics have reported that plays written by women earn an average of 18% more than their male counterparts, while an exercise in analysing the highest grossing films over the last decade indicates that films about women make more money than films about men. I would take the latter study with a grain of salt due to the methodology of taking a film’s domestic gross and subtracting the production costs. Primarily because the production costs only account for how much it takes to make a film and does not include marketing, advertising and distribution. Even so, the trend uncovered in film shouldn’t be ignored. Unless theatre companies subscribe to The Notorious B.I.G.’s philosophy of ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ then it seems like a natural financial move to encourage parity.

mo-money-mo-problems_50291a5a15b9a_w1500

6 – Because Economics Says So 

Special thanks goes to my fiancee for pointing out to me that a report published by UNESCO in 2007 found that gender discrimination inhibits socioeconomic growth. This is thinking very long term, however what this essentially means is that promoting equality in all industries (theatre included) would result in higher socioeconomic growth. Basically, women on average would make more money and therefore have more disposable income to spend on activities such as going to the theatre. Admittedly, this is stepping way out of the bounds of marketing and into economics, but promoting gender equality has long term benefits for the arts in general. 

Main Stage vs Independent Theatre

While I can’t back this up with any comprehensive statistics, it would appear that gender parity is significantly more present in the realm of independent theatre. Of the independent shows I have designed over the last four years, 14 were directed by men and 12 by women. 78 acting roles were filled by men and 81 by women. The highest disparity I’ve observed is in the field of writing with 16 shows written by men and 9 written by women. These numbers don’t add up together nicely for a variety of reasons (i.e. Some shows were devised works and may not have a featured a director and/or writer) but the basic statistics of my personal experience indicates that gender parity exists in the independent world, at least in regards to directing and performing.

Conclusion

Not catering a product to your core audience is unusual from a marketing point of view. Although from a theatre company’s perspective, there is currently little motivation to change what is already a financially viable model. Yet promoting gender parity may yield huge benefits in terms of meeting consumer needs, building a larger audience and expanding a production company into a new era. Furthermore, the first company to truly achieve this will benefit greatly through a first mover advantage. 

Theatre is a natural medium to present a reflection of society. If it isn’t serving that purpose then it makes a marketer’s job difficult and narrows the potential customer base of a company. 

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts.

64780277

What Your Program Says About Your Company

The Program

stacks_image_1362A program serves as the only tangible aspect of the theatrical experience. In some cases they become cherished memorabilia while in others they get thrown out or left behind the moment the show concludes. Programs for independent theatre are often an afterthought, something to be printed on the morning of opening night. Which makes sense as the producers will have their hands full ensuring that people actually come to see the show rather than focusing on the supplementary materials people receive once they have already bought a ticket. However, the humble program can say a lot about a company.

An Introduction

It is important to note that the program falls in between the following steps:

Customer ProcessThe customer encounters the program before they see your show. It is the first impression they have of your work. My high school modern history teacher used to emphasise the importance of an opening paragraph in essay writing. He said that regardless of how you feel about the rest of the essay, it must start off with a high distinction introduction. That way, you begin with an HD and get marked down as necessary. Whereas if you start off with a credit level introduction, you have to claw and fight your way up. The theatre program is the opening paragraph to your show and your company. If your program is average then that may reflect customer expectations and increases the burden of the performance to deliver.

Identity

The program is a very powerful tool in building a brand identity and a unique program can assist in placing a company firmly in the customer’s mind. Every aspect of a program is a potential statement about a company’s identity. For example: The quality of paper (Glossy, matte, thick, thin), colour or black and white, typography, care taken with visual layout, the presence of images (Logo, headshots, rehearsal images, the brand image for the show used on the poster) and information available (Bios, directors notes, show history, facebook page). 

All of these factors and more are completely under a company’s control and may be sculpted as they see fit. Choosing any of these factors arbitrarily can lead to a company not being seen the way they wish to be. For example, it’s pretty difficult to convey that you are a brand new and exciting group of theatre makers with Times New Roman printed on so-so quality paper with poorly placed images or no images at all.

BirdieSeasonBirdie Productions use a signature black stripe containing their logo and the date of production to build an identity.

 459958251_640warhorseprogramThe program for War Horse uses desaturated colours and slightly rough paper to evoke a sense of the period that the show takes place in.

iLuminateProgramThe Off-Broadway hit, iLuminate uses a simple program consisting of only two double sided pages with the bare essential information. However, it’s neon design elements provide a fantastic and exciting first impression for audience members.

file-not-foundThe typical A5 black and white booklet used widely by independent theatre. Unfortunately I was unable to include an example of one because I don’t keep any of them, regardless of how much i enjoyed the show. These are the print outs that get left behind in the theatre or thrown out immediately after the show finishes.

A unique program can also act as a business card for the whole company. A theatre practitioner who decides to keep a program now holds details of all cast, crew, creatives and producers for future opportunities. You want people to keep them so take the time and effort to design something sensorily appealing.

The Most Successful Program In The World - Playbill

Matilda-Playbill-03-13First printed in 1884 for a single theatre in New York, Playbill is now in every broadway theatre and is synonymous with the broadway identity. The level of cult status they have achieved allows them to branch out into all kinds of merchandise including their own pyjamas (Updated annually with new productions, of course).Playbill pyjamas

They are printed on thin glossy paper and staple bound together. They look good and importantly, they feel nice to hold. 

The greatest thing that Playbill has achieved is forming a common link for the Broadway community. In addition to being in every theatre, it advertises other shows and contains articles that are updated monthly. It is the glue that holds that Broadway entity together.

Now here’s a crazy idea. Forget everything I’ve said about the program being part of a unique brand identity for a second. Imagine that every independent theatre venue in a given city forms a coalition, much like Broadway. For the sake of where I live, let’s say that city is Sydney. All of these venues come together and decide on a common program brand that will be distributed at every theatre, able to accomplish everything that Playbill does. All of a sudden independent theatre in Sydney has a brand on it’s side that may able to compete with larger theatre companies. Individual theatres become a larger entity capable of supporting each other through advertising in a cohesive manner (Because let’s face it, postcards on a table in a corner don’t quite cut it) and setting a standard for program quality that influences first impressions. The cultural identity of Sydney’s theatrical landscape evolves into a hub and it all begins with a program.

For many reasons, this will probably never happen, but it illustrates how powerful the program could be.

This Is All Well And Good But What About The $$$!?

And now we come to the biggest factor that stops independent companies pursuing the art of the program. There is no denying that producing a quality program comes with costs. The cheapest printer I was able to find in Sydney charged the following for a colour 8 page booklet (Four double sided pages including front and back covers):

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 10.15.47 pmNote that these prices are exclusive of GST.

Other printers charged around the same area while some charged significantly more. If I had spent some more time searching, I may have even been able to find a better deal than the offerings of Ready Steady Print, whose prices once you’ve ordered above 50, seem incredibly reasonable for an 8 page full colour booklet. Although in independent theatre, these amounts can certainly be a budget breaker. In which case we can examine two ideas for offsetting the cost:

Option 1 – Selling them

Let’s say that we have a two week run of six nights a week in a thirty seat theatre. The maximum amount of programs you will need is 360 if you are sold out every night and everybody wants one (Which they will because we’ve made this program pretty damn fantastic). However, instead of buying 360 straight up, we’re going to play it safe financially and invest in 150 at the above cost of $172. Let’s examine a couple of pricing options:

  • Sell them for $1 at the door. You can’t regain all of your costs and in the best case scenario where all of the programs are bought then you’re still at a $22 loss, however managing to recoup some of the costs is never a bad thing. 
  • Sell them for $2 each. In this scenario we would need to sell just over half of them (86) to break even. Sell more and there’s potential for some profit.
  • Sell them for $5. Now things are getting expensive, however you only need to sell 35 to break even.

But let’s be clear, it needs to be a pretty good looking program for anything over $2 to fly as a sale price and the unfortunate aspect of attaching a price at all is that we’ve put up a barrier to access. This will instantly turn many customers away from the program, which is not what we want. There are certain promotional tools at our disposal to encourage sales. For example we could run a raffle for tickets to another show that is entered upon purchase of a $2 program. The prize could be any number of other things easily acquired by the company (Wine, signed poster ect..) but that small bit of encouragement will go a long way to covering the costs of our amazing program.

Option 2 – Compensate Through Crowdfunding

Given the prevalence of crowdfunding, it may be that you allocate that couple of hundred dollars within the campaign. However, the marketing of these campaigns is an entirely different beast that requires a significant amount of time and effort.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, programs in independent theatre are a bit of a non-event. More of a compulsory dump of information compiled at the last second to keep in line with theatrical conventions. Which is a shame given that they are the first thing your audience encounters and the only thing that remains long after your show has evaporated. An independent company has a lot of potential to develop a brand through careful construction of a program. They are also able to act as a theatrical business card and there are strategies available for recovering the cost of printing them. Programs can do a lot more than they get credit for. 

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts.

 64780277

Time and Place: The Most Important Decision You Will Make In Theatre

Decisions, Decisions

The world of marketing is filled with complex and detailed decisions that require heavy research and analysis in regards all sorts of intimidating sounding topics such as brand awareness, market share and customer relationships. In contrast, there are also some extremely simple core decisions that any independent producer can make to instantly invoke the power or wrath of marketing. The most prominent of which is time and place.

The Right Place At The Right Time

jesterLet us imagine that you are a highly successful court jester who has put together a brand new act guaranteed to have people telling tales of your hilarity all across the kingdom. Your venue of choice for this world premiere act is, of course, the king’s royal court. Most of the humour relates to the trials and tribulations of being a nobleman, which you are sure will go down a treat. You perform your act that night and brace yourself for the relentless tsunami of applause that is guaranteed to crush you at any moment. Instead, you are met with silence. This is the moment you realise that the kingdom was conquered by barbarians last week. Not only are they unable to relate to your nobleman humour, but they really did not appreciate all those barbarian jokes you threw in. They make an example of you by placing you in hanging cage outside of the court and you are left to lament your broken jester dreams.

Being at the right place at the right time is critical. What the audience desires changes very frequently, as does the audience itself. The key to time and place decisions lies in three questions:

Why this show?

Why now?

Why in this space?

If your answers to these questions are something along the lines of “because I really love the script and this is the only time and space available” then you are already giving yourself a massive marketing setback, resulting in having to fight an uphill battle to make the show relevant to the audience. This fight requires a serious amount of time and energy with no guarantee of success.

The trap that the independent producer can fall into unfortunately coincides with their greatest asset, passion. There is nothing more powerful than artists passionate about a project, but that passion can potentially be blinding. Below are two cases where time and place decisions made all the difference: 

Case In Point: The Hot Shoe Shuffle

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In April 2015 a new independent company called Birdie Productions burst onto the Sydney theatre landscape. The inaugural production was to be The Hot Shoe Shuffle by David Atkins, starring Daryl Somers and to be performed at the brand new Bryan Brown Theatre in Bankstown. I was brought onto the show as the lighting designer. The production was a promotional machine, securing a spot on The Today Show, radio interviews, a slew of newspaper attention and coverage on many major theatrical hub websites. The show received a standing ovation on opening night and incredibly positive reviews from the critics. With all of that in mind, it was still exceptionally difficult to find an audience due to the fault of time and place.

The Hot Shoe Shuffle was first produced in 1992 and it is very much a product of it’s time. The show is about seven tap dancing brothers who have to perform their father’s old routine in order to be eligible for their inheritance. The script, the music and the tap dancing create a very solid identity, leaving little to no room for a modern interpretation. The world’s longest running musical, Les Miserables manages to keep itself relevant with universal themes of social injustice and human nature. The Hot Shoe Shuffle is a pure celebration of tap. It meets the needs and desires of an audience from 23 years ago, but to stage it in 2015 may be an out of time decision.

bbtThe Bryan Brown Theatre itself is a beautiful space, presenting a lot of potential and holds a capacity of just under 300. The issue is that it is located in Bankstown, quite separated from the established theatrical hubs of Sydney. The regular theatregoer must put in effort to get there and has no guarantee of quality as it is still a new and relatively unknown venue. The local demographic is highly diverse in terms of ethnicity and according to the 2011 census, almost half of residents were born outside of Australia. The median individual income per week is $377 and the median household income is $950. With this in mind, the local population is probably unlikely to identify with a show about seven snappy dressing caucasian brothers earning their million dollar inheritance. It is out of the way of regular theatregoers and irrelevant to the local population, so it was an out of place decision.

Case In Point: A Quiet Night In Rangoon

quiet-night-in-rangoon-webimageIn August 2011, I became the lighting designer for A Quiet Night in Rangoon by Katie Pollock, produced by Subtlenuance and performed at the New Theatre in Newtown. The story followed an Australian reporter uncovering the truth of the military dictatorship ruling Myanmar (Prior to their dissolution in March 2011). The production was absolutely relevant as Myanmar had only achieved democratic status five months prior to it’s opening and ex military officers still wielded enormous political power. In addition to this, the play’s symbol of hope, Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of the National League for Democracy) had been released from house arrest and speculation was mounting that she would run in the 2012 national by-election. The timing of this show fit smack bang in the middle of this colossal social and political change in Myanmar. It could not have been more relevant if it tried.

So why perform this show in Australia? The 2011 census recorded 21,760 Myanmar-born people in Australia, an increase of 75.8% since the 2006 census. In addition to attracting a hoard of regular theatregoers to a very relevant story, the production received large attendance numbers from the Myanmar community who had found a rare platform discussing the future of their people. The show was an unmitigated success because it found an audience outside of traditional theatregoers through superb timing and placement.

The Conclusion

Choose your time and place carefully. Ask yourself why this show, why now and why here? These simple decisions can set in motion a self marketing machine or they can doom a production before it even opens. It is very tempting as an independent producer to follow your passion and take the first available slot in a venue when it pops up, but think twice before taking an opportunity just because you can.

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts. 

64780277

Two Strategies for the Impossible: Marketing Theatre

The marketing of intangible products and services is exceptionally challenging and is subject to high levels of perceived risk from customers. Theatre in particular is not a straightforward transfer of value in exchange for money. Two people can see the same show on the same night and have entirely different experiences. The only constant factor is that every customer is left with nothing more but their memory of the experience. Not that there is anything wrong with that and in fact the idea of an experience is one of the most powerful tools that a marketer has at their disposal. What radically separates the marketing of theatre from other intangible goods and services is the fact that the product being sold usually does not exist until well after the marketing campaign is designed and implemented.

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