To create a national subscription program for traveling theatregoers
Make subscription ticket prices available to subscribers of other participating theatres
Finding participating theatres and interested patrons
Tracking the patrons utilizing the benefit
Expanding the program
Get theatre folks together and new ideas are likely to be born. That’s what happened at the 2015 Theatre Communications Group Fall Forum on Governance in New York City, when Martin Miller, executive director of TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Ark., was chatting with colleagues from other theatres and had a kind of group epiphany.
“Sometime in the break between the sessions, we were talking about how enviable it was that various museums can offer their members discounts and free admission at their partner museums all over the country,” says Miller. “It tends to be a benefit to the companies, because they still get the membership from their local folks, then they also get traffic from people coming from out of town who might not otherwise come see what they have to offer.” The conversation quickly turned to, “Why don’t we try this out with professional theatres and get a beta group together?”
By the end of the day, Miller had 20 theatres on board and two partners to help launch a pilot for the program: Meghan Pressman, managing director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and David Schmitz, executive director of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
The National Stages Program, as it’s called, has participating theatres offering subscription discounts and perks to travelling subscribers from other theatres. For example, Triad Stage in Greensboro, N.C., offers 25 percent off single seats, and Oregon’s Portland Center Stage offers $30 seats for all performances, to other participating theatres’ subscribers.
“It is kind of ridiculously simple,” laughs Miller. “It is basically a free benefit that you can give your patrons that also might attract some out-of-town patrons.”
Another upside: A theatre’s participation in the National Stages Program might incentivize their patrons to become season subscribers.
“I was interested in the idea, because I’d love to know that our audiences here at Woolly can find opportunities to attend theatres in other cities when they travel for pleasure or work,” says Pressman. “I’ve always felt that introducing our audience to other work is a way to build interest in live theatre, and I don’t consider it a competitive disadvantage. We’ve all seen reports that show that encouraging theatre attendance to any theatre, and not just our own, builds loyalty.”
Schmitz says that it “was a snap” to integrate the National Stages Program at Steppenwolf. “We have been happy to participate in a national program that incentivizes audiences to see theatre across the country,” says Schmitz. “The National Stages Program represents a collaboration across theatres and across various markets, and it is a true testament to how things get done at TCG conferences.”
Martin took the reins on the operational set-up and logistics, and the pilot group—which currently has 22 participating theatres—is now underway with the program. Now participating theatres list their subscription benefits on the National Stages website; patrons can enter a special promo code when purchasing tickets online or call the theatre’s box office to arrange discounted tickets.
The pilot group spans the country, extending from California to Florida, achieving the goal of making the program geographically diverse. “As a trial we wanted to limit the number of theatres in the first year and also be careful to not oversaturate any markets, so at some point we stopped soliciting participants,” says Pressman. (That being said, theatres interested in participating can still join in.)
One caveat to the program: patrons cannot reap the benefits of two theatres located within a 90-mile radius of one another. For example, subscribers of South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., are unable to also receive subscriber rates at La Jolla Playhouse, located less than 80 miles south, through the program (they would still have to subscribe to both theatres separately).
Moving forward, the only maintenance required of the program is to update the promotion codes every year and add new participants to the website.
“It is the kind of program that will only be sustained if theatres tell their patrons about it, patrons use it, and it is viewed to be of value to the theatre,” says Miller. “It is up to the patrons and the theatres participating to keep it going.”
While participating theatres can track the number of out-of-town patrons using promotion codes for discounts at their theatre, it is harder to quantify the reach of their own travelling subscribers. “We’d need a report out from all the other participants to get a real number, or we could survey our subscribers to get a sense, but that would likely be unreliable data,” says Pressman.
Ultimately, the goal of the National Stages Program is to expand the national theatregoing community. And even without hard data, the impact of the program on the field is being felt.
“Finding as many ways as we can to build loyalty to theatre and live performing arts is one of the most important tasks we all need to undertake to build a strong future for the field,” says Pressman.
Adds Miller, “TheatreSquared has a lot of folks who tend to travel—being in the middle of the country as we are—and knowing that they can get the subscriber rate when they call up the box office at the Public or Steppenwolf, or elsewhere, is to them something that makes them feel that they are part of a national community.”
Participating theatres include Alley Theatre, Houston; Arkansas Repertory Theater, Little Rock, Ark.; Asolo Repertory Theatre, Sarasota, Fla., Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Denver Center for the Performing Arts; Geffen Playhouse Theater, Los Angeles; Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis; Huntington Theatre Company, Boston; Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Kansas City, Mo.; La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, Calif.; Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, Conn.; Seattle Repertory Theatre; South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago; Portland Center Stage, Portland, Ore.; Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake City; the Public Theater, New York City; TheatreSquared, Fayetteville, Ark.; TimeLine Theatre Company, Chicago; and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington, D.C.