By Christine Toohey
In mid-September, I attended two opening nights in the same week. Monday night was Boston Marriage at New Repertory Theatre, and Thursday brought a punk-rock version of Romeo and Juliet by the Independent Drama Society. As you may expect, the Boston Marriage opening was greater in scale (bigger audience, better production values, better food), while Romeo and Juliet was edgier (mohawks, stamped hands, exposed fluorescent lighting). Both openings, though, had same exciting energy. As theater professionals, we love to go to the theater on opening night–partially for the free food and drinks, but mostly to meet people and discuss the show. We love being part of the action.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to build an audience who is invested in your company, who feels the same excitement going to the theater that we feel on opening night. For a small company like IDS, it’s easy. Yes, we advertise, send out press releases, and hand out flyers, but the biggest reason people come to see our shows is because they know someone in the production; most of our audience are friends and family of actors, designers, or staff. We can make audiences feel like part of the action simply by inviting them to stay for a reception with the cast and crew after the show is done.
At New Rep, it’s a little harder. Yes, audiences will come see a show if it features an actor they know, but usually that’s not enough to fill our houses. We have to build a reputation for consistency, for electrifying, compelling, and poignant productions, so audiences will come out to Watertown even if they don’t know the actors or the play. We also hold post-show talkbacks and behind-the-scenes tours to give audiences an exclusive opportunity to learn about the show and the company. Perhaps more importantly, as Rachael Donnelly said so eloquently in her post a few days ago, we strive to build personal relationships with New Rep patrons, so they feel a closer connection to their theatre.
What about you and your company? Why do people come to see your shows? What connects your audience to your company? For that matter, why do you go to the theater? What makes you feel connected to the theatres with which you work and play?