Hat tip to Artsjournal.com linking to an Arts Professional article all performing arts professionals should read.
Hull Truck Theatre in Hull, England started regular pop-up box office hours in local retail chain locations to help address barriers to participation people had.
(By the way, the barriers were exactly those identified in the US studies like Culture Track – “time, cost, lack of awareness of what’s on, childcare and a sense of it being ‘not for me’”)
Magda Moses, who is the Community Projects Coordinator at Hull Truck Theatre Company started out with a trial visit to one of the stores and had conversations about their past, present and future experiences with theatre, following the theme of an upcoming production of A Christmas Carol.
Members of our box office team then joined us, enabling customers to buy tickets from an ipad.
We now run these pop-up box office and community engagement sessions in four Heron Foods stores once a month, and having other staff in attendance has helped the project become more embedded across the theatre.
One of the things we’ve learnt is to visit on regular days and times so that we can promote our visits in advance and people expect us and get to know our staff.
Since some of the responses they have received have dealt with being intimidated by the theatre building, an opportunity to interact with box office staff provides a point of contact that likely would have never occurred had they not gone out in the community.
In addition to the oft mentioned concerns about how to dress and act at a performance, a number of people identified being concerned that the experience would not live up to the expense of tickets. When the theatre produced a show about local woman advocating for fishing industry reform in the 1960s, Hull Truck Theatre offered “pay what you can” tickets exclusively through pop up box offices at Heron Foods.
Moses writes, “…we received positive feedback that people were thrilled to be able to afford to see a play that was directly relevant to their community.”
It sounds like the feedback they got from these efforts might be better than any paper survey and they have gained some insight into their audience segments. Yes, it is probably more expensive and labor intensive than more conventional approaches, but I am sure there are some intangible benefits that can’t be easily quantified in an ROI analysis.
Every time we visit Heron Food stores we ask about what sorts of events they like to come to, which informs out future programming.
We’ve identified differences in audiences across the city. Shoppers on Orchard Park are likely to bring the whole family, so they want affordable shows that everyone will enjoy. Hessle Road shoppers are likely to be older and are interested in local history and Hull stories. This information helps us make sure our marketing is relevant to each area.
Our pop-up box office sessions are about much more than selling tickets. They’re also about building relationships, trust and familiarity in order to spark the idea that someone can go to the theatre.
The sessions are an important part of the Community Dialogues project and the theatre’s wider commitment to welcome new audiences. So once we get to know someone, we can direct them towards tours, coffee mornings, family events, access performances or workshops, depending on their interests.