Friday, October 20, 2006

Free Night of Theatre (a bust?)

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 10:22 AM
Last night we participated in the first-ever Los Angeles "Free Night of Theatre." According to the LA Stage Alliance website:

"Free Night of Theater 2006 is produced nationally by Theatre Communications Group, and is regionally produced by LA Stage Alliance, serving the performing arts in Greater LA. Free Night of Theatre is a national campaign aimed at attracting new and returning audiences to live theatre."

We, along with 40 plus other companies in town, participated by offering up an allotment of tickets to be made available for free via the LA Stage Alliance website. We chose to make 25 tickets available for our Thursday, Oct. 19 performance. Patrons were able to reserve their free tickets online, and were sent a reminder of their reservation 48 hours before the performance. Apparently the program was an enormous advance success as tickets quickly "sold" out for most if not all participating theatres. All 25 Furious tickets to Grace were gone in a few days at most. Pretty exciting right? Again, from the LA Stage website:

"Wow! We feel like rock stars! We’re thrilled that Free Night of Theatre 2006 has had such a tremendous response. All tickets are sold out."

Of course, we were excited too. Why not have our house padded by 25 new patrons obviously eager to be introduced to our work? In fact, we were in danger of having a true sell-out with 64 of our 72 seats reserved as Thursday evening approached. Thankfully, we can accommodate approximately 80 patrons in our space with the creative addition of folding chairs in the back row. We therefore decided not to block or inhibit sales in any way. We could handle the overflow seating in the event we had a large number of walk-ups and last minute purchases.

Enough background. Here are the results we experienced:

25 Free Tickets Reserved
17 No-Shows
That's a 68% No-Show Rate. Wow. We feel silly.

Fortunately, we still had 47 in the house last night. In a 72 seat house, 47 feels plenty 'full' actually. It was a great show, and there was a wonderful energy in our theatre. And the 8 Free Night of Theatre patrons who did honor their reservations contributed to that. We were glad to have them. This post is in no way meant to be any kind of attack on LA Stage or the great sponsors who made this program possible. I'm sure many if not all other participating theatres did better than our 32% turnout. We just wanted to share our results.

Anybody care to comment on their company's experience with this noble experiment? What's it say when people no-show in numbers to a well-reviewed play they volunteered to attend? What's it mean when people don't use (value?) their free tickets that they know could have gone to someone else who might have used them?


Anonymous Kimberly Kroll said...

Well, obviously I am not another theatre company ready to compare numbers as requested - BUT I do have a few thoughts! People hear the word FREE and get ready to jump - but when asked how high five minutes later they can't respond because they are fixated on the next shiny object that passes by, enjoying the moment without any commitment to its re-occurence or its predecessor. It is a great, fabulous, altruistic, change-the-world idea (no sarcasm intended, honestly) to offer on a plastic-tray-platter a night of intellect, emotional, provocative and entertaining theatre experience! However, the reality is that people not already invested in the concept of theatre are subject to a generalization of fickle human nature - and without a commitment as simple as a couple of dollars invested in a ticket, the event never really gets marked in their mental calendar. It's sad but true. Any psychological or business theory will tell you that any consumer needs to be invested in their product in order to maintain or eatablish loyalty - and this investment can come in many forms, I have no doubt that once a new theatre-goer were to SEE a Furious show the impact alone would be a strong investment, but prior to this undoubted consequence it is important to secure a mutually beneficial commitment on both sides considering the limited supply of product (seats). To be slightly cliche and dramatic: empty seats can't tell their friends, and empty seats can't change the world.'


11:55 PM  
Anonymous terence said...

While your experience was not unique and we're compiling the results region wide and comparing ours to national figures, let me take a quick moment to say I'm taking a 30,000ft view of our experience/success.
$150,000 in free advertising in the LA times, 5 new sponsors to LASA and our programs, 3700 people who expressed interest in attending theatre in Los Angeles, 49 companies collaborating, the abiluty to market our message and shows to those 3700 folks, and if last year's results were any indication, those that did show up will show up again and pay.
more to come, but glad to have a chance to say a few words. i look forward to seeing the show.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Brandi Flowers said...

I am terribly disappointed to read this post. I participated in Free Night as a theater-goer and can't believe that anyone who took the time to reserve tickets wouldn't show up. I realize things come up, but come on!
"Grace" was my first choice to attend for that night, but was unable to come because of the supposedly taken tickets. I plan to see the show anyway, but those 17 people wasted a wonderful opportunity.

1:18 PM  

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