Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Million Dollar Question: Getting New Butts in Seats

How do you get people into a theatre? How do you get people, who are otherwise oblivious to ads for some crazy show called The Drowsy Chaperone or that show they’ll never get tickets for anyway but saw on Martha Stewart, Wicked, to actually take out the debit card and order the tickets?

When I was teaching high school, I organized three trips to see Broadway tours. One was a class field trip to the second national tour of Beauty and the Beast, which was an amazing experience for my kids. Most of them left exhilarated and thrilled. One of my boys, not one you’d expect to say it, was practically jumping out of his skin wanting me to organize a trip to see Kiss Me, Kate the following fall (a show I had talked much about in class since my then-recent trip to New York; I ended up resigning the position before I could take them, though, because I wanted time in my life to write). My second trip was an after-school activity where I brought 20+ students, teachers, and parents to see Aida, another thrilling event for the students. My third was bringing a smaller group to see Les Miserables, which was a great trip, with the girls wearing their prom dresses because it was a chance to use them a second time.

As long as kids have an iota of understanding of the arts, they like the big Broadway shows. The question becomes, then, how do you get them to form a bridge between liking musicals and actually dishing out the money to see them? Shows are quite expensive, but people are willing to dish out money for what they really want—be it a $75 video game, $50 concert tickets, or $65 baseball tickets (and another $25 for the soda and hot dog).

The more that we can get young people attending the theatre—without pandering to them in content and, therefore, cutting off the older bread-and-butter crowd—the stronger roots we’ll have in the years to come.

One significant aspect of this is making Broadway an all-important part of pop culture, which is slowly happening with Legally Blonde, Hairspray, and High School Musical. Producers need to find ways to make people aware of their shows outside New York and to generate a must-see aura about their work, such as through music videos, pop versions of songs, and strong MySpace and Facebook presence (as in links and video clips on member sites).

I was recently at a well-to-do suburban school, and I had a student telling me how much she loved the OBCR of Sweeney Todd; however, when the John Doyle show came to town, she didn’t even know it was here until I told her (and also warned her it probably wasn’t the best production for her to see). That’s a problem.

So, it’s a dilemma, getting people of all ages to find enough value in making the trip and spending the money. But solving it holds the key to, perhaps, a Second Golden Age.

the Broadway Mouth
March 5, 2008

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