You did it! Your marketing worked and you’ve built up a great audience for your production. The stage is set, the actors are ready, and it’s time to release your show into the world! But wait, does the quality of your art match the quality of the entire audience experience? Because what happens between the front door and the house door is just as important as what happens on stage. Here are a few ideas and strategies to upgrade your audience’s night out at the theatre.
Ask and Overdeliver
Surveys are your best friend. Poll your audience and ask them what would enhance their experience at your theatre. It could be phrased as simply as, “What can we do to make your experience better at [name of theatre]?” Another favorite is “How can we exceed your expectations?” See what the most common suggestions are or if any themes emerge. Then figure out a way to overdeliver on this upgrade. It could be as simple as adding window signs or opening the lobby fifteen minutes earlier than usual. You might consider an annual survey or polling your audience in a follow-up survey after they’ve attended a show and get ongoing feedback.
A little hospitality goes a long way
Is your Box Office located far from your main entrance? Consider a door greeter who can point people in the right direction. This is especially helpful in larger performing arts facilities with more than one auditorium. Can you add a small Will Call table near the entrance so people who do not need to make a transaction can bypass the Box Office altogether? Or perhaps your season ticket holders or other VIPs have a separate and more high-touch check-in process?
We’ve all been out to eat and had a manager randomly approach the table and ask if everything is alright and then proceed to make their rounds through the dining room. Adopt this similar principle for your lobby before curtain and during intermission. Do you have friendly and outgoing staff or leaders on your team that can mill around and introduce themselves to audience members they don’t already know and strike up a short conversation with the patron? Think how exciting it could be for an audience member to get special attention from someone at your theatre. This is also a great way to do some informal polling.
While you may not have the staff or space for a coat check, perhaps you have the space physically and fiscally for long coat racks and nice hangers? And regardless of the weather or season, house temperature can be quite cold if you’re not standing under the stage lights. We know of at least one theatre who offers blankets upon request for use during the show.
Are your restrooms freshly cleaned and overstocked on show days? If you don’t already do this, consider hiring a cleaning service to come more often during the run of your show. Also, assign a staff member or volunteer to check the restrooms for tidiness and any restocking right after curtain and again right after intermission, in addition to before opening the lobby.
Are your seats clearly labeled for assigned seating? Are your ushers walking patrons all the way to their seats or simply gesturing in a general direction? Ushering your patrons all the way to their row makes them feel well taken care of. If you can, consider adding ushers that are stationed throughout the house, covering certain rows and sections for more localized audience assistance.
If your theatre doesn’t have a robust volunteer corps to enhance your hospitality in the ways mentioned above, that might be something worth exploring. Consider the high schools and colleges in your area (particularly the performing arts students). Volunteer work and community service are often encouraged and sometimes required of students in order to graduate. Contact the school and see what kind of partnership you can arrange for your season.
Enhance the Intermission
Can patrons buy drinks ahead of intermission that will be ready for pickup when they get to your concessions stand? Can they purchase intermission concessions when they buy tickets online, or are drink tickets a season subscription perk? Because they could be!
Is your intermission long enough for patrons to refresh for the second act? You may have to do some math based on a typical house size and your restroom size and by asking the person who is (or often acts as) the House Manager.
There’s always the possibility of programming your season with ninety-minute shows that would require no intermission at all. This is another question on your audience survey. Do they want a longer intermission or a shorter night out?
All things considered, any way you’re able to upgrade your audience’s experience at your theatre will ensure that they keep coming back. And next time, they’ll bring friends.
At On the Stage, we are committed to enhancing your experience as a theatre leader. Our tools for ticketing, marketing, and fundraising are easy to use (really!) and have built-in best practices so you can refocus your energy and time on your art and your audience. Find out more and book a demo of our audience engagement tools today. It could be the upgrade you’ve been looking for.