If You Build It, They Might Come


The 80's classic Field of Dreams is about a man who builds a baseball field in a cornfield. He keeps hearing the idea that "If you build it, they will come" and eventually he builds the field and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Yankee's show up. He is promised that if you he builds this baseball field, then they will come. Eventually, people show up from out of nowhere and they, because he built the field, show up. 
It's a baseball fairytale, and it is extremely misleading. Mainly because people don't just show up to a thing you create. But we expect them to do so. And we are not happy when they don't. 
As a theatre artist for most of my life, I have tried on more than one occasion to build something that people would show up to. I constantly try to affirm the idea that this is great and that they need to be here. And hope that the magical word of mouth will do it's job and make whatever I'm doing a viral success. 

Because, hey, it worked for Kevin Costner.....

To fill a theatre performance, you have to first of all have something that people want to see. The performance has to be a legitimate piece of theatre. Something that is timely and that is interesting, but also something that is good. Basically, you have to have an amazing product that is worthy being seen by a group of people in your area. But that is just half of the battle. 
You've got a great show, how do you get people to see it?

Promote Your Show Heavily Through Social Media
Everyone in your show has a phone. Everyone has a different perspective. Everyone has the ability to talk about what they are doing from the original audition, all the way to the last performance. And every social media message acts as a warrior for your cause of getting a ton of butts in your seat. But how do we tell the story through social media? We are natural storytellers when we are taking plays and putting them on stage, but when we have to talk about our work, we say it's good 9000 times. We need to figure out more things to say about our plays. That means, just write it out in a list, or get a calendar....I need to post this on this day, and this on this day. Better yet, get an excel file and plan it out. The average play cycle is 2-4 months from Audition to Performance. Find an amazing part of your story to tell every day. 

Offer discounts or promotions to encourage early ticket sales.
Can you imagine having a sold out house when someone hears about your show? Or a sold out week the first week the show. If you buy advance tickets, you tend to get a discount with airline tickets. Why doesn't that happen with theatre tickets? We want people to not wait until the last minute to buy their tickets. How about we give you a free t-shirt for you and all your friends. Maybe I give tickets to waitresses and beauticians. Maybe I have a service night where everyone gets in for free on the invitational dress rehearsal. Whatever promotion or discount you get early, this will start the ball rolling on your great show. 

Collaborate with local businesses or organizations to reach new audiences.
When your theatre community doesn't have full time actors on your staff, and is working with the community, it's a pretty good idea that everyone has a day job. So your show probably has at least anywhere from 15 to 50 people that you could potentially market to. As you start to realize this, you can also realize that our networks have connection with many different people as well as they all work somewhere too. If you don't have a marketing business plan, then you probably are missing a huge opportunity to get audience members. 

Offer VIP packages or special experiences.
Ever spent any time talking with a travel agent? If you're going to New York, you'll see a Broadway show, eat somewhere amazing, stay at an awesome hotel, and maybe go shopping at a great landmark. Our theatre performances don't usually connect with restaurants, or shopping centers, or anything. Just see the show, and you can't go anywhere you want to go. We don't care and we don't want to connect with any other business? Why? People plan trips and while they watch your show, they are planning where they want to eat. Why not have any amazing night, and raise your ticket price? That would be great. 

Use targeted marketing to reach specific groups of people who are likely to be interested in the show.
Who do you want to come to see your performance? The same people who have loved theatre every time and will show up to every show? Sure, it's great to get loyal followers who will see every show, but sometimes they are out of town. Maybe I want to target students to see this amazing performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird" or maybe I want to find elderly individuals who would love "Arsenic and Old Lace". Whatever the case may be, their are concentric circles that would love to have an opportunity to see your show, and if you don't market directly to them, you'll never get their patronage. 

Offer discounted tickets to students, seniors, and other groups.
Speaking of these concentric circles, there are definitely some great opportunities to work with the groups that are already there. The Red Hat Society, AARP, RSVP, Democratic Parties, and many other social groups. They all want to provide more opportunities to their members. And it's a win win for you. 

Encourage word-of-mouth marketing by asking people who have seen the show to share their experience and invite others to attend.
If you don't realize that our world is in the midst of a video revolution, then you have not been paying attention. Video is a great way to promote your show, and it's been democratized more than any other medium to reach the masses. So what I am saying is that you have an opportunity to talk directly with your audiences in a personal way. Through Youtube, TikTok, and Instagram, you can show pictures and videos and reach a ton of people. And get people talking! Word of mouth is one of the most successful ways to get your word out, but it's important that you control the conversation, because the conversation can turn sour, really quick. So make sure that you're leading the conversation with topics and ideas for discussion. It's a great way to create some word of mouth. 

In conclusion, filling a theatre performance requires a combination of having a great product and effective marketing. To sell out a show, it is important to promote heavily through social media, offer discounts or promotions to encourage early ticket sales, collaborate with local businesses or organizations to reach new audiences, offer VIP packages or special experiences, use targeted marketing to reach specific groups of people, and encourage word-of-mouth marketing. Additionally, it is important to have a solid business plan in place and to be willing to think outside the box in order to attract audiences and sell tickets. By following these strategies, you can successfully fill your theatre performance and give your audience an unforgettable experience. 


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