I like to joke that with all the theatre that I attend, I’m a professional audience member. On April Fools day 2015, I took that a step further, and announced the formation of a union for audience members: the League of Audiences, Fans, and Others Organized for Los-Angeles-Theatre. After a recent discussion with Colin over on Bitter Lemons, building off my post on how the Fringe Festival might treat its audience better, perhaps I shouldn’t have been joking.
In every business, you will have a producer, who produces a product or service, that is sold to the customer. You can often gain insight into the business, and the problems and risks, by understanding exactly who that customer is. Often it isn’t clear. For example, take Facebook? Who is the customer. If you think it is you the user, you’re wrong. Customers pay for goods and services. You get Facebook for free. So who is the customer? That’s right: the advertisers. Now ask yourself: What is the product? The answer is: your user data.
In terms of the theatre, it is an interesting question to ask. Let’s look at the Fringe Festival. To hear the lead organizers talk, it is the producers and actors. That’s pretty clear when you see all the workshops, and all the resources made available to the participants. When you go to the Hollywood Fringe website, and click on the big “Schedule” button — it asks you to schedule a show. Ticketing is at the single person level. Again: All geared towards the producers and actors. Where is the audience — and I should clarify, the TICKET PAYING audience — in the equation? Does Fringe central open up with the very first production for the audience? Can pins be obtained in advance? Is there a mechanism for people buying tickets for couples? Have arrangements been made for parking, or even recommendations? What information is provided to audience members before they arrive in terms of where to eat, where to park, where to pass time between shows? I think you know the answer. The Fringe Festival does not consider the audience their customer, at least at the present time.
How can the Fringe solve this problem? That’s easy: devote dedicated staff time to improving the audience experience.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have services like Goldstar, which Colin railes against in a recent post over on Bitter Lemons. His complaint there is about Goldstar’s skew towards the audience, where they provide loads of services. I note quite a few of them in my comments on that post:
- An easy way to find shows of interest, from a wide-variety of venues — often, much wider than is available from either Footlights or LA Stage Tix
- The ability to see reviews and recommendations about the shows and venues
- The convenience of an easy to use online and app interface.
- Discounted seats. Everyone likes to save money
- For red-velvet members, the easy ability to cancel a show, without penalty, if plans change. That’s often priceless, and often makes me use Goldstar over another service where — if reviews indicate a show is a stinker, I’m stuck.
- The ability to “star” shows and venues, so I can easily learn when a company or theatre I like has a new show, or when new tickets are available.
- They cover lots of cities. I’ll be in the San Francisco area next week, and I’m seeing two shows. One I have tickets to from a Kickstarter (otherwise, it’s on Goldstar) — the Boy from Oz from Landmark Musicals. The other — ACT San Francisco’s Last 5 Years — is from Goldstar. I didn’t have to hunt around to find how to get discount tickets — or tickets at all — in a different city.
The primary complaint against Goldstar is that they often strong arm theatre to give large blocks of tickets to the service, and there is a push to make many of the complementary, which brings no income to the producer. He also complains about Goldstar’s fees, but as I note above, they do provide a lot of service for their fee (certainly more than Ticketmaster). Note that the Fringe is that the other end of the spectrum: low fee, but low additional benefits for those ticketing through the service.
So, to bring this all home, what can we learn from all of this?
The Fringe has a producer and artist focus — and makes it difficult for the customer. Goldstar has great customer service, but with a big cost to the producer (of aggressive discounting). What is needed is balance: a complete understanding of all the customers — producers, artists, and audience. The successful approach — one that brings customers in and keeps them coming back — is one that understands the need of all of them and benefits them all. I’m not sure yet that intimate theatre has found the right balance.