Beyond a full house: 8 factors for getting the right people in the door

An important bench mark in the marketing of any show is to get a sell out. At that point you know you are maximizing both your revenue and the number of people you are touching with your art. So once you know you can sell out a show your marketing work is done, right?

Nope. It isn’t just a matter of getting warm bodies in the door (although that is better than empty seats). If you know you can meet your financial obligation of selling tickets, it’s time to really start thinking about who is coming in the door.

Is your art available to everyone? With the exception of showing adult themes to minors, yeah, probably. I’m not suggesting you try to exclude anyone. But suppose your theatre seats 500 people. Wouldn’t you like the 500 people who will most value your show be the ones that get those tickets? I know I would.

Why it really matters

No matter how dedicated and talented the performers are, sitting next to a chatter box is going to affect your enjoyment of a show.

The truth is when we watch a performance we are affected in part by the audience around us. If everyone else is laughing, we are more likely to laugh, too. If people are whispering to each other during the dramatic scenes, it’s a struggle to stay in the moment and go on that journey with the actors.

There’s even a ripple effect long after the curtain falls. For every production I’ve ever been a part of word-of-mouth and reviews have been almost indescribably important to tickets sales in the later part of the run. If those early crowds are great, that often means people have a slightly rosier picture in their mind as they describe your show to their friends the next day.

No matter how dedicated and talented the performers are, sitting next to a chatter box is going to affect your enjoyment of a show.

Set expectations

There are steps you can take to make sure your audience is really going to be satisfied by the product you are putting up on stage. These ideas involve both attracting the people that are going to be engaged in what you are doing and getting them in the right frame of mind before the show starts.

Incidentally everything mentioned here is also a very good strategy if you still have tickets available, so there’s no need to wait for a sell out to pull the trigger on these.

1.) Name of the show and your venue. There isn’t much flexibility with these two, but it is important to consider what expectations your audience is going to have. If your show is named Bear Hugs are people expecting a show about teddy bears or grizzly attacks? What sort of preconceptions are your working with?

2.) Design aesthetic in posters. You can really set the tone for your show with your posters. Since these might very likely be seen repeatedly by your audience in the weeks leading up to the show, the impression that you convey with this visual element will carry a lot of weight.

3.) Where you advertise. If you are putting up posters at the local Boys and Girls Club, that sends a pretty clear message that this show is kid friendly. If you buy a spot on your local horror film blog, that sends a different – but no less clear – message.

4.) Quotes from reviews. When you are pulling quotes from reviews of your show to use in promotions, the words and even who is saying them is going to color your audience’s perception of the show. Make sure you are using quotes that covey the right impression.

5.) Time of the show. Pretty straight forward here. A curtain time of 6pm and a curtain time of 10pm will attract very different crowds.

6.) Sharing images and audio over social media. If you really feel like you need to be clear about what people can expect from the show, you can upload photos or even audio to social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Don’t give away the farm, but you should be able to give people a sense of whether or not the show is for them with a few well chosen pieces of media.

7.) Tell it like it is. Still worried about being too subtle? Then just come right out and say it. When you are giving an interview on the radio, speak up that the show doesn’t shy away from certain controversial issues. Let people know that if they are sensitive about a particular topic that they might want to skip this and come to your next production.

8.) Last chance: preshow music and programs. Once someone gets to the theatre, there’s only a few more things you can do to set the right mood. The music playing before the show can do a lot to set expectations, and you can even give background or introductory information in the program if that is appropriate to engage the audience even before the curtain goes up.

How do you make sure you have the right people in the right mood at your shows?

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