#TBT: 3 Things Theaters Do That Are so 20th Century

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: 3 Things Theaters Do That Are so 20th Century.

I’m not referring to all theaters, and not only to theaters, but these are things that venues with a varied “program” of shows do that might be keeping them in a Live 1.0 world.

1. Charge the same for every seat. You get a pass on this if your house is less than 40 seats, otherwise you’re in trouble if you’ve got one price for every ticket. Having every ticket cost the same is like saying that every customer values what you do equally, which can’t possibly be true. You have avid fans and you have first-timers, and they’re sitting next to each other, having paid the same thing.

Does this make sense? Wouldn’t it be better to give more to your better customers and get more from them in return?

And it’s not just about where the seat is. It could be about access or recognition. Maybe some people get to sip champagne with the cast after the show. Maybe they get to drop by during rehearsals or get a walk-on nonspeaking part sometime during the run.

Maybe those specific things are crazy, bad ideas, but the basic direction isn’t. Think about it.

2. Disappear when the show’s over. At the end of a great show, there’s a strange sense of letdown when the house lights come up. The sounds and images of the show are still playing in your mind, but suddenly the doors are open, and you’re let out into the lobby.

Harlem Globetrotters do their show and then they hang around.

Harlem Globetrotters are masters of cementing their brand. They do their show, and then they hang around.

“That was good,” you say.

Is that it?

If, on the other hand, there’s something to keep the feeling going, it makes a big difference to the overall experience of the show. The masters of doing this are the Harlem Globetrotters. They do their show and then they hang around — all over the venue. It goes on for 30 or 45 minutes, and thousands of fans stick around to shake hands, get autographs and take pictures with them. It’s electrifying, and it really cements the brand.

I’ve also seen children’s theater do this, but I’ve never seen ‘grown-up’ theater do it, but I can’t understand why. Beneath the cast’s dignity? Nobody’s interested in meeting the performers?

I don’t think so. So do it.

3.  Pretend the audience doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that every show has to be about audience participation.

But if it makes sense (and much more often than it actually happens), producers should bring the audience into the show or at least acknowledge their physical presence.

Have you ever been in a show where a performer momentarily wanders into the first few rows and starts talking to members of the audience in some way that connects with the story? I have, and it always draws the audience in like a tractor beam.

But I’ve never seen this done better than by Slava’s Snowshow. The audience becomes part of the show in so many unexpected and dramatic ways. Not to give out spoilers, but there’s a moment in the show when a clown on stage begins to pick at a spider web attached to a piece of scenery, and the more he picks at it, the more it grows. Gradually, it grows, the clown keeps pulling it and pulling it, until eventually it makes its way into the crowd and, ultimately, covers the entire audience. Amazing.

You don’t need to cover your audience in spider webs, but there’s not much downside to finding ways to acknowledge their existence and bring them into the show in a way that contributes to the production.

Read more of Jim’s articles about frame-breaking:

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