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Theatre Party

Percival_1024 I have been lucky enough to be part of a show for the past several months called "Percival's Big Night."  I could try to explain what it's about, but it will probably be more fun if you just watch the trailer here.  

My point, however, is less about the story in the play, and more about what has been happening before and after it.  Because of the super-naturalistic feel of the show, we chose to stage it in an event space that would allow us make the audience feel like they were a part of the bedroom the play takes place in.  We also chose to take advantage of the bar in the space and advertise the show along with drink specials like hot toddies and cake shots.  Instead of inviting people to just come and sit through a play, we are inviting them to a party.

As someone who is obsessively curious about why it's so hard to get people to come see theatre, and why the experience is frequently so unsatisfying, I have been observing our Percival audiences pretty closely.  Here are some of my notes:

  • Most people seem slightly uncomfortable when they walk in the door.  We have servers and cast members standing around the space to greet people and let them know where they can hang their coats, get a drink, inform them that the show will probably be starting in about a half hour, etc.  Most people, however, want to go straight to their seat and seem to have to make some claim of their territory before they can do anything else.
  • People are very willing to spend money on alcohol, even though it might feel like pulling teeth to get them to drop $15 on a theater ticket.  Also, audience members become noticeably more relaxed once they have a drink in their hand.  
    • Thoughts about this - the general sentiment of the masses is that theatre is a difficult experience (it frequently involves lots of thinking, and/or emotional discomfort) while drinking is very easy.
    • People assign themselves roles in certain situations - when you go to a party or a bar, the general role is "having fun."  At the theatre, the audience doesn't know what their role is until the play is over.  By putting a drink in someone's hand before the show starts, you are assigning them a familiar role, thereby letting them relax and cuing them to sit back and enjoy themselves.
  • Inviting people to be part of the space gets rid of the idea that there is something intangible or unreachable about what's happening onstage.  Our set includes a Sega, various bop-its, a couch, a bed, a coffee table, and about a thousand novelty toys and knick-knacks.  The audience is invited to interact with all of them.  As people are mingling and waiting for the show to begin, they can also play NBA jam, have a bop-it tournament or just sit and chat on the couch with someone they haven't seen in a while.
    • This set-up also means that people linger after the show.  On the nights we have sold out, we have had audience members stay for a good hour after the show finished.  I have taken it as an indication that people are enjoying themselves, but it also means that we have been getting very constructive feedback.  People have the time and luxury to stay in a relaxed and casual space and have more complicated discussions about the show than the usual (and phony) "Hey! Great job! I have to go!" post-show wrap up that I always find particularly painful.  
  • People come back for more!  We have had several people come back for a second time with more or different friends in tow.  While this is to be expected of family members and significant others, the particular people I am thinking of fall into the general "buddy" or "acquaintance" category.

Right from the very first reading of the play, the goal was to have fun.  So far, I think we have accomplished that!  Cheers!

--Sarah Wharton

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