Finding an Audience

Ned & Felix 2Recently I sat on a panel for the Producing School,  a project spearheaded by Mike Abramson of DOMA Productions and Schoen Smith of Venture Hill Entertainment.  There were about 25 people in attendance looking for insight into producing theatre in Los Angeles.  Some were fresh off the boat, and a few had some experience, but what all of them wanted to know was, how do they get butts into seats. Wow, what a surprise, producers or producer hopefuls wondering how to fill a theatre.

Eight different panelists, Nan McNamara, Heather Provost, Schoen Smith, Ty Donaldson, Leigh Fortier, Evan Ballard, Ren Casey and myself, all offered up our opinions on how to market a show.  Virtually without exception, every answer was prefaced with “depends on your show”.  So as I sat listening it occurred to me, that while every show needs marketing, and every show is unique, what do they have in common?  It is the need to reach an audience.

Invariably, all roads lead back to that simple question, “How do I reach an audience?” I know, kind of a simple idea. In places like London or New York City, people often go and once there, think about what show do they want to see. When they go to Ashland or Stratford, it’s because they know there are shows to see there. These locations only have a leg up on LA, because they are branded as theatre centers. The reality is that until LA is known as a theatre town, individual shows will always struggle to find an audience. Yes, individual shows will always need to be promoted, but until there is an audience to promote to, a lot of energy and money is misdirected.

The need for marketing goes much deeper than the need to promote a single show. The need for marketing goes to creating a need for people to see theatre as an answer to, “what are we doing tonight?” So how do we brand Los Angeles as a Theatre town? How do we create an environment where Theatre becomes a high option of things to do?To most people theater is an eclectic event that lives amongst inteligencia and the well heeled.  But we in the world of theatre, know that is not the case.  We who live for theatre know that theatre is intimate and evocative and entertaining and suitable for anyone and everyone as an art form.  The reality is that most of the public, those unfamiliar with the intimate-to-midsize theatre scene in Los Angeles, aren’t even aware that there is a scene.

What we need to do as a community, the Los Angeles theatre community, is to establish Theatre as a brand. LIVE THEATRE in LA.  Call it what you will, the message needs to go out that going to a play is a great opportunity and a great way to spend an evening.  And the best way to do that is to get the message out – there is an abundance of choice.

Independently, every production in Los Angeles, or anywhere for that matter, expends countless hours of effort in messaging about their show. Sending out postcards, emails, building a website . . .  and most of these efforts result in the message going to the same people that already know about show.  With little exception, it’s the same people who have been reached before. The same database tapped over and over. That’s a model that worked when subscribers was the goal, but that is changing.

What if we created a central point of information?  What if every time we sent out a message about our show we included a note or link for people to find out about other shows?  What if we could spend our marketing dollars more pointedly to a broader base, and messaging what makes our show interesting, important, or special?

That is what we at FootLights are striving to achieve. The idea is to help audiences find you, rather than you going out trying to find the audience. That is the basic principal which prompted the creation of FootLights, and now we’re working diligently to expand that opportunity to the digital realm.

Give us a call, help us to build the greater LA Theatre Brand.

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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