Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reaching out is catching on

On the same day that Interplayers announced that it was doing some outreach to the community, Bobo unexpectedly found himself sitting in the City Council chambers and listening to an artist of international renown talking about much the same thing.

During “Classical Chat” at City Hall last Thursday afternoon, Jean-Philippe Collard recounted his efforts to do classical outreach in small French towns -- sometimes several nights in the same village church, with just 200 in the audience and an opportunity for genuine discussion of the music before the concert and after.

If a world-class recording artist who has plunked the ivory keys with just about every major orchestra can pull into St. Etienne-sur-Loire (or wherever) for (he says) 10 consecutive nights (so as to bring down costs) and charge the equivalent of $12 or $15 for people to hear him close-up, then certainly local theaters can devise innovative ways to solve the problem of they-won't-come-to-us.

Well, bring it to them. Put on snippets of scenes in schools, at restaurants, at shopping malls, on street corners, at Auntie's Bookstore. (And now I'm naming what local theaters are, in fact, already doing.)

But we need to work at familiarizing potential audience members with our playing spaces, too. People go where they feel comfortable; they tend to stay away from places they don't know.

I remember Jack Phillips telling me about longtime subscribers at the Civic who had no idea where the Firth J. Chew Studio Theater was.

Once shown, they actually took in a show or two. And liked 'em.

When Bobo taught at NIC in CdA and taught plays like Sideman and Art so that students would go to Interplayers (for the first time) and see live theater (often, again, for the first time), what was interesting were the anxieties their questions revealed: Could we carpool? Was there any parking? What am I supposed to wear? Where is it, exactly (because I tend to get lost downtown)? So you go in and then you have to walk upstairs to get into the theater?

Once a carload of students had ventured forth and encouraging reports came in, then there was a bit less reluctance. And a handful of students (well, one or two) actually admitted to returning to the place the next semester (even when it wasn't academically required).

People go places where they're comfortable, where they know where they're headed. Is there a airport shuttle van service out there that theaters could coordinate with? (Meet us in Post Falls at such and such a time; we'll provide the hot dogs and a couple of actors to talk to on the ride in. Make it inviting for folks. Then they spread good word of mouth.) No doubt Interplayers is working on its 65-people-on-opening-night problem.

But arts marketing -- Kate Vanderwende dressing the runner statues across from City Hall in boxer shorts to advertise The Underpants, for example -- can work. And we have good people in town right now fighting the good fight on that front. Ferociously. And my alliteration in F has gotten out of control.


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