How do we grow audiences?

Jen Thornton, 11 July 2012

This is a really big question, and one that encompassed pretty much everyone for the last session of the day. We discussed a huge range of things, which I noted under headings as follows:

What do ‘They’ Want?

('They' being audience in this case)
• Do people even know themselves what they want?
• Do we know?
• People may change what they want by becoming involved in a project and having ownership
• Surveys say people want ‘drama’ but ticket sales don't reflect that. Some confusion over terms may be causing this, e.g. what does ‘drama’ actually mean.

Developing Audiences

• Instead of programming to them, communicate and share why they might like it
• “We'll better you” is not the right attitude for us to have!
• Conversations and personalisation are important
• Are we competing with our fellow arts organisations? Could we collaborate more?


• We're creative people, what's stopping us being creative marketers? • If we had more money/time/staff would it actually help?

• Many small population centres with their own small venues find out about everything by word of mouth

Ticket Pricing

• It can't always be free
• How to assess? Do we need new models?
• About matching to value: is it
worth £20. Evidence and statistics show that the actual cost doesn't matter.

Measuring Success

• Engagement doesn't always mean income
• It's important to record results in quantities other than £ pounds
• Is it essential to make £ for organisations?
• Is ‘beneficiaries’ a better word than ‘audience’? Public funding actually makes people stakeholders, investors and beneficiaries.


• Different experiences come together - this could be good or bad, people get a specific experience when they e.g. book a ticket through a company
• Suggestion of a ‘All Wales Box Office’ system - Wales possibly too big for this. Do people in Bangor want to speak to someone in Cardiff about a ticket?
• Lots of trust is required for organisations to partner up on audience experience

The Passion - A Case Study

• National Theatre Wales produced The Passion in Port Talbot in April 2011.
• 12,000 people saw it because the show was by/from/with/for the community so they felt ownership

• How many of them have continued to engage?
• There was a ‘One Year On’ event which was attended and supported by large numbers of people
• People from the Port Talbot/Passion community are now working on other National Theatre Wales shows


• Art galleries with a main curator benefit from a consistency of style so it's easy to like a gallery no matter which particular exhibition is on
• Could this model apply to a venue/theatre company? Do audience members associate things in this way with artistic directors?

• Co-creation of theatre work can make the work valuable to its community and audience (rather than just rocking up with an ‘out of the box’ tour)

Audience Experience

• The experience starts from picking up the phone or seeing the brochure
• Each venue/company has a particular ‘experience’ and people want that
• Audience members are investing their time in us, we in turn should invest our time getting to know them (e.g. segmentation)
• Language can be a big barrier: can potential audience members understand what's being offered?

Democratic/Collaborative Programming

• If you just ask ‘what do you want’ you get an answer like Tom Jones, which is too expensive
• Need to start the conversation, explain the issues/parameters and involve interested parties and audience members

Season Tickets

• Is theatre run in a clear season?
• Is planning that far ahead a bigger risk for the audience?
• Price is not necessarily an issue (lots of people buy football season tickets) but is loyalty a problem?
• What are people loyal to? A writer? A company? A venue?


• ACW and Pontio to collaborate on an open space event for producers and programmers across Wales to meet and work together, giving time and space for something that's often rushed or driven by the need for contract terms
• Lots of people are thinking about exploring democratic and collaborative programming.


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