by Candelaria Silva-Collins, copyright 2011
The audience is there, we just have to build it. I will share a few ways that I have built appreciators In both my dedication to home-cooking/breaking bread with others and in bringing people to theater.
Invite people – consistently, frequently, in a variety of ways.
I invite people to meals cooked by me at my home regularly. A lot of the invitees have been surprised because they are not my friends, they are acquaintances. Nearly everyone comes.
I never go to theater without a companion – from performances at Huntington Theatre, by Company One, Wheelock Family Theatre, Speak Easy Stage Company and the African-American Theatre Festival (to name but a few) – I bring someone with me.
I share recipes and theatre reviews & information both informally through emails and more formally through blog posts. If I like something, if I find something provocative or interesting, I share it.
Throw the net widely/reach beyond usual comfort zone
When I was Director of ACT Roxbury, I informed broad networks of people about our events. I didn’t presume to know who would or would not be interested in our events and initiatives. I didn’t let geography hamper me. So I invited Roxbury residents, residents of surrounding communities and people in the metropolitan area. I participated in the Multicultural Committee of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to inform visitors about the plays we produced and the Roxbury Film Festival, for example.
Organizations like StageSource, Underground Railway Theater, and Bank of America Celebrity Series were open enough to have events at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, coming outside of their usual territory to meet the audiences we attracted. Similarly, we hosted events featuring Roxbury-based artists in other communities including National Heritage Museum (Lexington) and Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (Boston seaport).
There is strength and expanded capacity in collaborating with other organizations on joint projects and in promoting each other’s events. No organization is ever the only game in town. No organization ever has an exclusive hold on or right to an audience. People like variety, choice and to try new theater and food on for size. We have to make it as effortless as possible for this to happen.
Educate and Nurture Future Audiences
Exposing children to well-prepared food and excellent theater prepares them to get hooked on these kinds of experiences. We have to create future audiences and artists by going into the schools and community centers where young people are.
And don’t forget adults. Go to where adults are – community organizations, churches, gathering spots like restaurants, hair salons, and the Super Stop & Shop in the South Bay Mall, for example. There are communities of seniors who would relish the opportunity to attend theater. (I work with Door2Door to the Arts to bring senior citizens to arts and cultural events using the vans that were previously mainly used to transport them to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping. In one year, we have brought seniors to nearly 50 events!)
In addition to the pay-what-you-can performances, ticket give-ways, discounts to community organizations, and ticket discounts through Bostix, we need to empower venues and staff to aggressively market unsold seats in the moment.
We need to pretend that no one knows who we are and what we do and inform them through public theater in places like South Station and Copley Square.
Food and theater connect people in a world where many people are becoming more comfortable with the remotely connecting through electronic portals than face-to-face. We all need food, we all need art in real time and actual space.