The Entitlement Trap
This morning I stumbled across an article that does an excellent job of articulating a vague feeling I’ve had for the last year or two. Too many performing arts organizations (and artists) feel they are entitled to an audience. They feel that it is the responsibility of their community to support the arts. Some days I am guilty of feeling this entitlement, too, but Shoshana Fanizza over at Audience Development Specialists nails it:
“We have gone through centuries of feeling that the arts are supposed to be supported, and in many cases have rested on this laurel. We have forgotten how to do the good old fashioned work that results in successful arts businesses.” (emphasis mine)
I’ve been in really good productions where the house was mostly empty, and I scratched my head over why people didn’t want to support the arts. I can admit that’s naive, though. The crowds do support the arts, but that support doesn’t extend to buying a ticket to every production that passes through. That’s not realistic. They’re still going to select which shows to see and which to skip.
Your audience has limited time and a limited budget for entertainment. With good marketing we can shift more of their disposable income to live theatre in general (and your show in particular) but no one is going to see everything.
To a lesser extent every local business is vulnerable to this trap. Ever hear the owner of a local restaurant griping that so many people spend their money at chain restaurants? It isn’t enough to complain about it. If you want standing room only crowds, you have to earn them. Usually that means hitting people over the head with why they can’t miss your show a few dozen times.
Marketing isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is necessary.