From the publisher...

A.S. Waterman

June-July 2008

Filling Seats When Coffers are Empty

I've heard a lot of talk about sparse attendance lately. A third, or even two-thirds of a room, goes unsold. Or everyone in the theatre seems to know each other because they're all friends of the cast or crew. In some cases, there are more people in the cast than in the audience.

The consensus seems to be that while local productions keep getting better, audiences keep getting smaller. Why?

This year, theatres were plagued by a lot of problems beyond our control. Snowstorms. Tornados. Road closures. However, for most of us, filling a room still comes down to two things — marketing and scheduling — and these are two areas in which we could be doing a lot more.

Among the general public, most people look to ads in the Courier-Journal to find out what's going on. Unfortunately, the C-J has priced its advertising out of most theatres' reach, and it makes no apologies for that. The paper will print your free listings (if it has room — there are no promises), but not until the weekend of the show, by which time much of the potential audience has made other plans. Meanwhile, C-J reviewers ignore most independent productions.

LEO has paid significant attention to independent theatre in the past, but (as of this writing) LEO's future is uncertain, following its sale to a Tennessee publishing group. The paper and its commitment to the arts are in turmoil.

We can't beat this challenging relationship with the print media, but we can try to turn it to our advantage. For most of us, a new season is in the works. Perhaps Theatre Alliance of Louisville and others could pool their resources to purchase a sizeable "new season" ad in the fall, at least pointing readers to the various theatre web sites. We also need to remember that Extra and Scene are not the only sections of the C-J. Press releases geared toward news may get us coverage in Neighborhoods, Business and Features. Area TV stations have also been known to showcase theatres on their morning and noon broadcasts, although these give new meaning to the words "early call." Heck, it's only a night's sleep, and it reaches an untapped sector.

As for that other topic, scheduling, I can see the feedback forms pouring in now — but, friends, this is where we have seriously dropped the ball. At least 13 shows went live during the second and third week of May, some with very short runs. That isn't even counting the touring and specialty shows. No one can see them all — and chances are, we theatre professionals can't see any because we're in one. Is it any wonder that seats are empty?

This confluence of openings was completely preventable. Yes, there is a little thing called Derby that wreaks havoc with our schedules. However, staggering openings by an additional week or two could only help all of us. Meanwhile, we're hurting ourselves and each other.

Last year, Theatre Alliance attempted to draw up a master schedule for the year, but too many theatres never sent in their info, and then it was too late. TheatreLouisville will be glad to create an on-line calendar if theatres will use it. However, as only a few have sent us their new season listings, that prospect appears bleak. Meanwhile, we're all headed toward another contest to see who will have the emptiest room for the finest production.

We can't change everything, but let's start changing what we can. Let's work together and talk to each other. In so doing, we'll continue to make Louisville the kind of successful theatre community that other cities only dream about.

— A.S. Waterman

Copyright © 2008 A.S. Waterman. All rights reserved.



Artwork and text are copyright © 2006 and 2016 A.S. Waterman.
All rights reserved.