From the publisher...
Filling Seats When Coffers
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
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.