Filling the Seats: How to Successfully Market Your Community Theatre

It is no secret that stage acting and live plays cater to a specific demographic. Although the talent level is high on the stage, movies have largely taken the place of plays in the mainstream. In fact, most people don’t know that their favorite actor or actress likely came from the stage first, and probably still participates in live productions.

It is an odd phenomenon–plays currently on Broadway tend to sell out very quickly, while off-Broadway productions–often only a few blocks away–can have trouble filling seats. This can be attributed more to materialism than anything–many wealthy people consider attending a play somewhat of a status symbol, or statement about how cultured they are. On the other hand, there is a fast growing culture of youth that has embraced the stage in ways that have not been seen in years. This can be illustrated by the success of primetime television shows like “Glee” and “Smash”, which have helped to remove the stigma around the theater.

Even with plays moving slowly back into the mainstream, it can be extremely difficult to fill the seats of a community theater to watch a local production. There are a few very important things that can prove to be integral in the success of your production:

Visibility: It is very important to make sure your production is advertised properly. This does not always include the traditional practice of stapling up posters on telephone poles, although that can be effective as well. Social media marketing is not only free, but also allows you to reach the highest number of people.
Get the performers involved: There is not one actor or actress who wants to see empty seats when the curtain opens. Enlist the help of the parents of performers as well as the performers themselves for school-sponsored theater productions to market the production, as well as sell tickets. Offering discounted tickets when purchased directly through a performer can significantly drive up audiences. Social media can play a large role here as well–if the entire cast uses their individual social media connections to advertise, the possible audience is limitless.
Enlist the help of the community: Most small business owners are more than willing to help promote almost any community organization or event. Not only does promotion help their own business, it keeps them involved and in good standing with the larger community. At the very least these places will allow you to place a poster in their window. Some may assist in selling tickets for a percentage, which can prove to be very profitable.
Use local press: Most small newspapers need stories to cover as it is, and promotion of community events is one of their major functions anyway. It takes very little time to email the editor of the newspaper with a humble request for exposure–in many cases this is the most effective way to fill seats with the older crowd who may not use social media, or even know any of the performers. If possible, a good review in even a local newspaper can make a large difference.

Putting on a successful production with a small theater company or school can prove to be a very challenging venture. In addition to casting, costumes, and choreography, filling the seats is probably the hardest thing to do on a consistent basis. Using the four tips provided above can significantly raise ticket sales and attendance to your community theatre production.

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