Attracting New Audiences in Theatre

How to attract new audiences (post - pandemic)

Covid seems a distant memory -- almost. While we've learned how to navigate around this new virus with vaccines, masks, and care, a glance at the empty seats during recent performances proves that the effects are lingering. In fact, the New York Times reports that attendance across North America has fallen by 40-60%. Season subscribers quit renewing en masse. It's important to attract new audiences to make up for these losses.

As a theatre subscriber myself, I weighed the decision on whether to renew. We did, yet virtually all of our acquaintances failed to subscribe for the upcoming season. This was evident in the last two performances we saw where phenomenal productions ("The Sound of Music" and "The Inheritance, Part 1") did not play to a larger and deserving audience.

So, where do we begin in engaging our pre-pandemic audience, and how do we attract new ones? It goes without saying that the basis for any growth starts with convenient online ticketing. (You already have that, right?) Let's look at 5 steps you can take to bring more folks to your events.

Pay-What-You-Will Pricing

Alternately called pay-what-you-can (PWYC) or pay-what-you-want (PWYW), this type of ticket pricing allows theatres to reach a spectrum of theatre goers by allowing them to choose the price right for them. You may either set a minimum contribution or leave it wide open for patrons to choose a suitable amount. The benefits can be threefold:

  • Many of our clients report that PWYC ticket pricing provides even higher revenues than set ticket pricing. Patrons recognize the challenges faced by their favorite venues especially during the pandemic and often are more generous than usual.
  • Consider inviting patrons to pay what they can to fund tickets to attract new audiences. For example, you may wish to reach a cohort of non-traditional theatre goers or reach more diverse audiences unaware of the thrill of theatre. Giving patrons the chance to help fund that outreach can be a reward in and of itself.
  • For some communities, the price of a ticket may mean a tradeoff that cannot be justified. Imagine the thrill of bringing a new audience member into your theatre simply because you gave them the chance to attend based on affordability!

PWYC pricing may attract new audiences and it provides patrons the opportunity to give generously based on either a perception of value or a sort of pay-it-forward mentality. Let this be the first tool in your audience growth arsenal.

Discounts for Season Subscribers

Season subscribers are the lifeblood of any organization, and these subscribers provide both important up front revenue and a gauge of head-count prior to the show for pre-show planning. Let's invite these important patrons to the subscriber rolls with discounts or special benefits such as first pick of seats for the season.

There are multiple ways of packaging events and performances together for discounts. You might have special performance nights (discussed below) that you group together such as "Opening Nights" or "First Fridays" giving set performance dates to calendar at the time of purchase. Alternatively, create open packages for a mix-and-match approach to nights. For ultimate flexibility, consider flex-pass or punch-pass options to redeem ticket vouchers for future dates.

Bundle events together with different discount options, then let patrons choose their seats for the season. For your slowest nights, continue reading about packaging events into themed performance dates with added benefits.

Create Theme Nights

Theme nights offer lots of creative opportunities to bring new people to the table such as "90's nights", "All Hallows Eve", or even "Champagne Openings". Invite patrons to dress up, and be sure to have Instagrammable elements for them to share over social media. Take it a step further and reward one lucky poster with tickets to an upcoming show.

Theme nights can also be part of a package such as "Pride Night" where you cater to LGBTQ audiences. For season subscribers and when the budget allows, add hors d'oeuvres for a special pre-show celebration.

What special community might you reach? In Austin which is home to Texas School for the Deaf, theaters often have ASL nights for those with hearing loss. Look at your community and understand how you can reach underserved audiences.

Easy Exchanges

Since Covid still is a thing, we need to ensure that customers can easily cancel or exchange tickets. Make your policy clear, so patrons recognize that they will not lose their seat and money when illness strikes. Even better, permit customers to process exchanges on their own.

ThunderTix provides you with tools to let customers self-exchange tickets. This saves the box office time, and it's convenient for patrons. Alternatively, use our "refund to a gift card", so patrons can pay for future tickets with those gift cards. We even track redemptions and balances automatically!

Limited-Time Discounts

Coupons such as buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) bring additional patrons. This is especially important for slower selling dates or times. Create coupons that apply only to opening nights, or provide limited time discounts that motivate immediate purchase. Further, consider adding coupons to confirmation emails that inspire patrons to invite friends.

Prepare in advance for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and share coupon codes that are good for only one day. These holiday deals inspire quick purchases for those that wish to give the gift of theatre -- and those gifts may attract new audiences.

This too shall pass

Yes, audiences are down, and yes, we're going to have to be patient while the effects of the last couple of years wane. In the interim, employ any or all of these five ways to attract new audiences. By the time we are back to pre-pandemic audience sizes, your efforts will have brought you an entirely new cohort of people to your theatre.


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