Thursday, October 22, 2009

metaDRAMA: Parabasis on Younger Audiences

Isaac Butler recently wrote about what it takes to attract younger audiences:

  1. Do work they want to see.
  2. Endeavor to do it well.
  3. Offer it at a price point they will find reasonable.
I bring it up because I'm reminded by the press release for Soho Rep's latest season that 75% of their demographic hits the 18-40 range. Not sure specifically how much of that is in my demo, 18-26, but it's still impressive. Last year, they had two of my favorite shows--Sixty Miles to Silver Lake and Blasted, and this year, they'll be producing Young Jean Lee's new play, Lear, and work from Cynthia Hopkins and Gregory Moss, both of whom I'd love to be exposed to.

So what exactly is Soho Rep doing? Well, for one--their price point is $30 during previews, $40 during the run, and with instantly-sold-out $.99 Sundays (which beats NYTW's $20 seats). For two, they do their work exceptionally well. Their aesthetics are remarkable, and they're not afraid to mess with our conventions of a theater space, as they did with last year's Rambo Solo. For three, not only do they do work I want to see, but they've convinced me that their work is work I need to see. I mentioned before, in defense of bloggers-as-critics, that everything boils down to a matter of trust; you keep reading my words because you trust that they're at least coming from a genuine place, even if you disagree with them. The same goes for theater companies: you need to trust that even when they produce a show like Philoktetes--which you may dislike--you're still better off having had the experience. (I would argue that BAM has a similar mission, albeit a much higher price point. St. Ann's Warehouse and The Kitchen might be better analogs; how do those spaces do?)

Isaac followed up his post by talking about "the internets." Well, Soho Rep's on that, too, producing work that's meant to support, enhance, and enrich their season, rather than to simply advertise the hell out of it. Wittily enough, they've called this program FEED, and they've extended it, too, to actual live events--which reminds me of the program David Cote ran for a little while last year, in which he'd do a pre-show conversation that would help to contextualize the upcoming show.

I would add that the marketing Soho Rep is doing is also incredibly smart. They're selling the scripts to each new, contemporary play--in a nicely bound (collectible, even) book form. Did I mention that these are only $5, a price so affordable that I actually bought the scripts to Philoktetes (which I didn't like) and Sixty Miles to Silver Lake (which I did), even though I already had a printed copy of the script (so as to review the shows)? I don't know what sort of partnership they've entered into with Samuel French, but this seems like a win-win for everybody, artists and audiences alike, and it's just one more way to carry the conversation out of the theater. And on a level that's more than just touting art as a product, i.e., those "witty" one-liner T-shirts that you buy at a Broadway theater so that you can brag about what you've done on your vacation. On a level that's meant to help you revisit and relive moments that Soho Rep genuinely hopes you will enjoy. Now that's investment.

In other words, Soho Rep has more or less followed Isaac's steps. Now we'll see if it works.


DPS said...

I think selling the scripts is an incredibly smart thing to do. When I was living in London around '99, I found that many of the theatres' programs included the script of the show. Yes, it meant that you had to buy the program instead of it being free, but the price was comparable to what Soho Rep is doing, and so incredibly worth it. I think it's a great step forward.

Sean said...

This was fantastic, I hadn't really done the math. You're totally right, this is a theatrical model that's being really aggressive about appealing to the younger demographic.

It's so weird, turning 40, and slipping out of that demographic myself...

Dave said...

Hi Aaron,

Thanks for bringing the work Soho Rep is doing to our attention. I'm most impressed with this:

"Soho Rep's on that, too, producing work that's meant to support, enhance, and enrich their season, rather than to simply advertise the hell out of it."

The difficult thing to remember with all this 'stuff' is that it should be considered part of a long term strategy. Over time these types of things build on one another. You may not see an immediate benefit.

But every time you publish this supporting content you are doing something to build the excitement around the work.

Thanks for the post.