Arts Marketing, the blog of Chad Bauman, director of communications at Arena Stage and always a must-read, is posting some inconvenient truths about the demographic challenges facing live theater. (“Demographic challenges” is the euphemism for “fewer young folks are attending the theater and the average age is rising faster than the federal deficit.”)
First, I recommend CFR readers check the post out in full. But one aspect particularly intrigued me. The title is “The Truth About Attracting Younger Audiences,” and Bauman briskly contextualizes his discussion in terms of the four marketing Ps: product, price, place and promotion. It’s all about debunking received wisdom:
“If your core artistic product is not appealing to younger audiences, then you will almost assuredly fail to get them to fully engage with your organization.”
“…many younger audience members have money, and are not as price sensitive as some of us assume…”
“Video + Facebook + Podcasts does not automatically = younger audiences. You should think of new media tools as just a means of communicating. Nothing more, nothing less.”
But he really touches the third rail when he alludes to the holy grail of etiquette:
…we should be asking ourselves if our institutions are welcoming to younger audiences. Churches and theaters are both struggling to attract younger members, and I believe are failing for many of the same reasons. Things to ponder: 1) what is the average age of your ushers? if they are the first people to welcome your audience, would someone in their 20s be welcomed by a peer or by someone that could be their grandparent? 2) Gen X’ers can barely remember a life without computers. Millenials have never been without the Internet. Yet we expect audiences to disconnect and remain in a dome of silence when they are at our institutions….
So here’s the question: What is Arena Stage specifically doing, offering or permitting in the realm of welcoming younger audiences? What is the average age of an Arena Stage usher? Must Arena Stage audiences remain in a “dome of silence” when they attend performances? Should they, for example, be allowed to quietly tweet?
To be clear, I’m not criticizing Bauman at all. He’s really quite right. But is Arena Stage leading the way? A case study, I think, would be extremely welcome by the regional theater marketing and PR communities.