Thursday, May 29, 2008

Re: The Unattainable "Younger" Audience ('How To'- Points)

I thought there were some great points here and wanted to share them in this forum as well...

...from a recent post from Matthew A Sprosty, Resident Playwright at Fourth Wall Productions, Cleveland on the Northeast Ohio Performing Arts (NeoPAL) list...

Matthew writes:

"Dear Neopal subscribers,

I first want to say that what here-in lies in this posting is the sole opinion of myself, and myself alone. What I write to you does not reflect on any of the opinions by Fourth Wall Productions, a company I am Resident Playwright for.

Second- let me say- Pick up the book: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. You’ll find stuff in this book that will probably help you out. (if you can read between lines...)

At least once a year, maybe twice a year, a debate is started on NeoPal about getting younger audiences into the seats of our theaters. I have read all the postings, but never addressed them. Being a stereotypical writer (I’ll admit it), I like to just sit back and be shy about most things. Only offering an opinion of support if I feel it’s needed, but never throwing my hat into a conversation that could make myself appear disagreeable.

I do want to offer input, and help, for you- if you’ll let me- on how you can start the arduous process of getting younger people into theatre. What I’m about to recommend, and say, will take some out of their comfort zone. Because there are two types of theatre in this area- one where theatre people think is good theatre, and one where the younger generations think is entertaining. (And, under no circumstances, does this mean that the two can’t co-exist in the same production.)

I will be the first to say that I am not a theatre connoisseur. In fact, I find myself feeling like a fake when involved in an interview with the local media. It was never my intention, earlier in my career, to become so involved with theatre, and now that I am 25 years old, I feel blessed that the initial heads of Fourth Wall (Justin Tatum and E.B. Smith) took it upon themselves to make sure that I stayed with this craft.

I do feel I have a unique “in” with the younger generations when it comes to theatre. I find myself a movie-lover penning plays. I think to myself that I do not write for the older audiences, and that what they say (although the constructive criticism is always appreciated) is only trying to make me write another style of theatre that has become “the conventional” form (I can be close-minded sometimes, I warn you). The “conventional form” being the theatre that has underlying (sometimes OVERlying) themes, moral lessons, tales of struggle, and a language (filled with monologues) that gives actors a feeling like their lessons in Greek acting are being put to good use.

This theatre- is not the theatre that the younger generation will flock to. The underlying themes, moral lessons, should be there, but way more subtle than what we’re used to in this theatre world of ours.

Here's a breakdown of some points in finding that play that could entice a younger audience-

Let’s start first with casting-

To intrigue a younger audience, your principle players must be someone of their age. High schooler’s can connect with people ranging from their age to twenty-five years of age. Any older than that, and they will not feel like the person can be relatable to.

(observe the ratings of younger generations as the cast of “Friends” got older…)

You have to look at what these younger generations are watching. “Grey’s Anatomy”, “The Hills”, “One Tree Hill”, “Dawson’s Creek”. Even if it offends your artistic inputs- watch them if you want to get these younger people into your theatre. You have to know what they like.

Check out episodes of “Sex and the City” (HBO version- not TBS), or early seasons of “Friends”.

They like witty people. They like situations that aren’t “dire” by any means, but rather “relatable”. (They get their news from “The Daily Show” more often than not- watch it)

Rent “Garden State”, “Mean Girls”, “Clueless”, “Can’t Hardly Wait”. If you haven’t seen the Shakespeare “Taming of the Shrew” adaption of- “10 Things I Hate About You”- check that out. Rent “Moulin Rouge!” for an up-to-date “Camille”.

Going back to “Grey’s Anatomy”- the show, for it’s current season had to go back to “funnier, more fun” storylines, because they realized that their pathway of going to serious story lines was cutting into their ratings, and that the core audience base of the younger audience was losing interest. While Denny’s death in that show was heart-wrenching, and well-written, kids were more interested in the McDreamy/McSteamy storylines.

What does this tell us? A good plan of action when selecting your plays to intrigue the younger audience is to find a play dealing with young twenty-somethings dealing with a romantic issue.

(Fourth Wall’s “Just Shy of Closure” by David Allan, had the twenty-something female audience members gushing…)

Play picking-

I will touch on the fact of why you should look at One-Acts first for attracting the younger generation later. But, that’s point number one.

Two- Look for something with realistic dialogue. Dialogue that flows, with minimal monologues. If there is a monologue- make sure it’s comedic, or touches on good points, sporadically through it. The younger generation will tune out quickly if it’s a monologue of a character going on a diatribe about something only significant to them.

Remember- a good portion of the problem with the younger generation and theatre is that they are not exposed to it anymore. Most of these audience members I’ve come in contact with through Fourth Wall will say- “The last play I saw was Shakespeare in high school.” A Shakespeare play. After they studied Shakespeare, and were graded on Shakespeare.

They flee to movies to be entertained, because somewhere in their psyche- Theatre can be equated to Education. And why suffer that on a Friday night? We need to get passed this stigma. Find fast-paced plays dealing with issues relatable to them. Romantic issues. Money issues. Sinful issues. Keep it light-hearted.

Also, realize- the younger generation isn’t sitting in on a theatrical play and dissecting it like us (us students of theatre are). They are sitting back and wanting to be entertained.

The theaters-

The best theater I have seen so far in Cleveland that would not make a person of the younger generation nervous to go into is closed. But, Dobama’s theatre on Coventry was perfect. Half the time a “youngin’” goes to see a movie it is just to hide out from his life. Most of the time, it’s not a specific movie that intrigues him, but rather just going to the movies. To sit in a dark theatre, with his/her friends, and escape for a bit.

The biggest thing that bothers the younger generation is meeting with workers. If you go to see a movie with a younger generation in the audience, watch their eyes as the “Usher” comes in to do his rounds. Regardless of how into the movie they are- they watch the “Usher”- unsure if they are going to get into trouble.

Maybe One-acts are the way to go with these audiences members. Maybe the fact that at intermission they will have to run into theatre employees to get through the ten minutes is a turn-off. It’s something to consider… A one-act will ensure the younger audience members that once they are in- they’re in. And they can enjoy the play until they clap and leave. With minimal talking to theatre professionals as they go.

What could be a big help but a little suggestion? Arm rests. Arm rests provide a little sense of security for the younger I’s. Knowledge that even if someone is sitting next to them- they are not invading their space. Sounds stupid, I know, but it could go a long way. (Fourth Wall cannot afford arm rests, yet)


Even Fourth Wall’s $10 ticket prices ($7 with a student I.D.) maybe a turn-off because it’s more expensive than a movie ticket, but kids aren’t dumb. They know a deal when they see one. Bang and the Clatter have a good idea of “Pay when you Can”, but it’s a situation where most kids might not understand it.

If you ask a twenty-something if they have seen theatre- they will probably tell you they saw something at Playhouse Square. That theatre is too expensive to see on a regular basis. They still do not understand how the local theatres in the area actually offer cheap tickets. It might be an idea to enlarge your ticket prices in your ads. Especially the ones that speak to their wallets.

Howard Levanthal in the 1960’s performed psyche experiments on college students. He would give them booklets on the dangers of tetanus, and went so far as to say these students should be inoculated. He went so far to tell them that the University (Yale) was offering free shots for them if they wanted to. But, even after they read all the dangers, understood all the dangers, they still didn’t get inoculated. Only 3% did.

He did the experiment again- adding a map to the booklet, describing exactly where the University health center was- and the inoculations went up to 28%. Even though these students already KNEW where the health center was…

What’s this teach us? To get the younger audiences into our theatres- we need to spell out everything for them. It’s not enough to just send out flyers, but we have to find a new way to advertise… A new way which almost puts Theatre in their way. Where they feel, with all the information presented to them, that it’s almost foolish for them not to go…

Also, if you are going so far as to draw a map for these younger audiences, especially include where they can park their car. Pointing out parking will allow them to not have to roam around and find parking. Once their car is parked- you got them. So, make sure you make that hurdle as easy as possible for them…


This is a hard subject to approach. (I’ve heard through the rumor mill that) Tony Brown has his hands extremely tied at PD of how much he can do. How much space he can use for theatre and the arts. How much theatre he can see and review. In my opinion, the man is extremely spread thin with all he has to cover as far as the Arts go in Cleveland. Would it matter, though? The twenty-somethings I ask of what they view in the “Arts” section of the Plain Dealer is the movie times and the horoscopes.

Is there a way to make local theatre “exciting” in the local printed press? That’s an issue for a later date. But, right now, the majority of theatre coverage is just reviews of productions already going on. If you have a play aimed at the twenty-something audience, I would see if a local reviewer could help you out with a “Preview.” I’m sure the theatre critics support the plight of getting younger audiences in… Shouldn’t we all work together?

But, who knows, like I said- the Arts section of papers has suffered with the “migration” of younger-art-loving generations.

When you advertise your play- pick what parts of it will engage the younger generation. Create a one-sheet (slogan, logline) that will entice this audience you are looking for.

“A play about having a second chance with your first love…” (Just Shy of Closure)

Realize that these younger generations have never heard of most of the plays you might do even if they are published. Try and include as much information as you can in your publicity. Whether it be in the image you use, or just a paragraph on the back of the postcard- whatever. To entice this audience- you’re going to have to explain why they should come.

If you have enough money in your budget- see what it takes to run radio ads on 96.5 Kiss FM. Or Q104. Start your advertisement with something like- “Looking for something to do on a date?” (Being a high school’er in the Cleveland area- I was starved for new ideas to take my unofficial girlfriend out to. I had no idea about the theatre area here. You didn’t reach me. One way you could have is if you got onto my radio stations.)

Another way you can reach someone like me is through MySpace or Facebook. If you do not have a page set up for your theatre- do it now. It’s the easiest way to communicate with the younger generations.

Pickwick & Frolic made me love their establishment by getting me free tickets to come see their comedians. That might be a way to go. Regardless, a younger generation will word-of-mouth your production, your company, to their parents if they enjoy it. Also with their friends, and that might start an epidemic. If a parent of one these youngsters come- that’s a 40-60 year old audience member for you. Which is younger by standards than what we have coming to our shows now, isn’t it?

Fourth Wall does unpublished plays so we have the liberty to write and produce movie trailers for our plays. If you have the right to- you should think about doing the same. The trailer site is a go-to place for a bunch of people I know who just want a taste of everything that is out there.

For ideas on how trailers connect with the younger generation- go to .

You can view Fourth Wall’s at:
It’s definitely something you should consider doing if you can. It gives the “kids” a chance to take in the feel of the play. Most importantly- it gets them excited to see the production, more so than a postcard can. Or a camera aimed at the stage can…

Me, as Literary Manager, And Resident Playwright-

I pride myself on finding the plays that I think the younger generations will like through unpublished plays. While I’m writing you during the time when Fourth Wall is putting up my show “The Bank Guards”, I simply urge you to search the past productions of our theatre company (Just Shy of Closure, 2 Man Kidnapping Rule, Stained Glass Ugly, All the Way from China), or a theatre company like “Theatre Ninjas”. These companies in the area are searching out, and attaining, these younger generations of theatre go’ers by putting on productions that speak to them.

I realize we all have mission statements to adhere to, and current audience members that might not like the idea of changing up, at least, one play a season to play to these non-theatre go’ers- but I encourage all to take the chance.

Fourth Wall is a catalogue for your companies to see.

So, if you can, come see The Bank Guards. It’s a play I wrote for twenty-something men. The men that were dragged to Fourth Wall in the past by their girlfriends, and I felt- needed a testosterone riddled play. It’s my try at creating an “action” movie for the stage. The non-theatre-go’ers (the young, non-theatre-go’ers who you won’t hear from because they don’t have a voice in our community, yet) have said that it was extremely entertaining to them, and “played like a movie.”

You might not like my play The Bank Guards, but I wrote it to easily entertain the younger generation of theatre go’ers. It might be something for you to check out to understand what I might have meant through my verbose ramblings here… "

to which I replied:

Dear Matthew - Thank you so much for posting your thoughts on this very important subject.

I couldn't agree with you more. For a few years now I've been working to keep the dialogue going among various theatre groups on this topic. Some of us may still cling to the outdated notion that the theatre-going experience is some sort of sacred cow, with a hushed and almost reverant atmosphere. I think we have a stigma among people who don't normally go to the theatre that one must be dressed in one's finest and be on one's best behavior to sit for two (three?) hours watching sometimes, distant, dated and unrelatable material. While I do believe there are some traditional conventions that make the theatre-going experience unique to any other, I also think we must break any negative stereotypes about theatre, especially during these challenging times when people can get entertainment streamed into their computers in their own living rooms. And if there are any disposable dollars left over for entertainment (can you say $4 a gallon?) they ain't spending it in what they may perceive as some "weird" or foreign atmosphere.

If we're lucky enough to get new audiences into our theatres, we have to create an atmosphere they are familiar with, like the movie-going experience - noise, lights, signage, advertising, previews, concessions, etc. (which can also be revenue streams). I've always said if you like going to the movies you'll love theatre - it's the same thing only even more exciting because it's happening live in front of you! Either way you're still sitting in a dark room watching a story unfold in front of you. And I don't think I've ever come out of a really great movie and said " that was awesome! The only thing that ruined it for me was the posters in the lobby and the ads at the beginning." Of course it always helps if we produce a quality product too so they might not only come back again, but generate that most important marketing tool - good buzz.

So how do we reach them? We already know that we need to go to them, they won't automatically come to us. We need to be where they are - and you're absolutely right - MySpace and Facebook, video, podcasting, etc. It also makes sense to be present where people are already buying a ticket for theatres, malls, fairs, festivals, etc. This is why I started the outreach performance group Cassidy On-Tour at the Cassidy Theatre. We have performed at movie theatres, malls, arts festivals, etc. which has helped us introduce the theatre to new people. We even have an underwriting sponsor for the group that allows us to pay a small stipend most of the time for the performers' efforts.

You may be interested in a blog forum called "Theatre Tribe" where the focus is on changing the way we produce theatre. The link is :

The following is an excerpt from a recent thread I was involved in that I thought also speaks to a couple of your points:

I think these are really great ideas. My "full-time" career (as if I theatre directing and performing is only part-time!) has been as a media advertising and marketing executive. As such it is my job day in and day out to solve my clients' marketing and advertising challenges with the programming and audience reach my stations have. The same basic challenge applies to theatre and discovering new revenue streams. The ideas discussed here are wonderful, creative ways to develop new revenue streams, but if we don't think of ourselves as salespeople who can effectively translate the value of these ideas as ways to solve a particular clients' specific needs, we're wasting our time. We're so used to presenting and having an audience listen and watch us. We need to flip that around and LISTEN to what potential sponsors are telling us. Then we can use our wonderful creativity to create customized and specific programs that use our unique resources to solve their problems. Sponsors will pay for solutions to their problems. We just have to find out what those problems are and effectively sell OUR solutions. And believe it or not corporate America is more creative that we give them credit for....they ARE looking for new and different ways to market themselves to make their brand stand out among the ever-increasing din of advertising messages (can you say live pre-show "commercials" on the West End or Dove Soap's recent commission of a scripted play detailed in the article "I Don't Care if it Sells Soap" here:
As much as we artists hate to admit it..we have to become SKILLED sales executives and business people too.
That's exactly what the "Call-Back" series is all about. Reaching new audiences in new ways and offering exposure for corporate partners. The show airs each week on cable and documents the behind the scenes process of producing shows. I invite you to check out the following YouTube links of past "Call-Back Episodes:
Thanks again for continuing the dialogue. - Geoff Short

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