Putting a Face on Theatre
Not long ago, my wife and I attended a performance at a mid-sized (but growing) theater not too far from our home. It's a company we visit fairly frequently, not only because we have dear friends on staff, but also because we admire so much of what they do. We had a fine evening -- the story was well-told, the theater was quite hospitable, and we even won a bottle of wine from a drawing at intermission. Not bad.
A few days later -- by which time, given the ordinarily busy run of our lives, the experience had already started to fade into memory -- I got an email from the theater company. It wasn't anything fancy, really: just a simple thank you for attending, along with a few links to learn more about the show. But it struck me as a positively first-class, smart-as-heck move.
The first thing it did was reinvigorate, in my mind, the experience I'd had at the theater. I remembered sitting next to my wife, holding her hand, during the final act. I remembered bantering with friends before the show. I remembered admiring the space in which the performance had been held. I remembered a few particularly compelling moments from the production. I remembered having a good time.
Triggering all those memories made them sink into me a bit more deeply; the email cemented in my mind, a touch more fully, my positive associations with the company. Keep in mind, of course, that they didn't really *need* to market to me any more. I'd already bought a ticket. They had nothing to sell me, save for a ticket to another performance... and given how busy my life is, the odds of a return visit were slim. They sent the email to keep their relationship with me going long after the show was over. Isn't that smart?
The company in question prides itself, as it should, on the way in which it engages its audiences about the plays they've produced. They hold regular talkbacks. They host pre-show panel discussions. They ask cast members to mingle with audience members both before AND after every performance, talking about the play. They do whatever they can to bring audience members closer and closer to the art, which is (to my mind) an admirable goal. The email they sent me helped in that regard, too: it offered a small selection of content designed to help me think about the story I'd been told in new ways. An excellent decision.
Why don't all theaters make this a standard practice? This isn't a theater with a huge budget or staff; money can't be an issue. I'm not saying they're the only company from which I've ever gotten a similar email, but I don't get them as often as it seems I should. I wonder if perhaps we don't sometimes focus too exclusively on the work we put on stage, rather than on the entire theater-going experience we're creating for our audiences, from the way we greet them at the door to the way we check in with them after the performance is over. And I suspect our audiences would feel as warmly toward us as I feel toward this modest company if we did.
UPDATE: I wanted to mention (as I should have in my first draft) that the theater in question was the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. They deserve the kudos, I hope you'll agree...