Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ontario’s Theatres Adapt to the new Marketing Reality

By Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator

In our conversations with theatre companies, the challenges of engaging with audiences comes up over and over again.  Theatres find it hard to focus, hard to prioritize, hard to measure results of specific activities.  A year ago, people from five different regions in the province, representing both community and professional theatres, came together to learn from Cheryl Ewing on how to adapt to the new reality.

East Side Players' production of The Hypochondriac.
Daryn DeWalt, Publicity Director at East Side Players in Toronto, found that the research presented in the workshop has helped him identify where to concentrate his energies.  “We had spent considerable amount of advertising dollars in local community newspapers,” Daryn explained.  “But the market trends towards more spontaneous ticket buyers.  As an experiment, I focused more on my email campaign, promotional flyers, Facebook notifications …  and encouraged cast and crew to spread the word.”  The production of The Hypochondriac broke box office records.

In Oakville, Micki Clemens, President of the Burl-Oak Theatre Group, took away numerous ideas from the workshop.  They purchased new video camera equipment to create video to help promote their shows.  They also emphasized their membership—“We initiated a section on the website for Member Profiles,” Micki said, “to give credence to the fact that ordinary folk can volunteer in theatre and take enjoyment and pleasure from it.”  Burl-Oak recently received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for further marketing work.  Micki is also looking forward to an event in September that will introduce their subscribers to Burl-Oak’s new season, featuring a panel on the subject of comedy, and a reception to thank their subscribers for their support.

Stratford Community Players' production of Seussical
For Adam Gardiner, President of the Stratford Community Players, he was reminded to think about the audience and why they valued SCP’s shows.  “We already consider this when choosing our annual play,” said Adam, “but the workshop served as a useful reminder to make sure we appealed to those values in our marketing.”  For their 2013 production of Seussical, they made an appeal both to new families and also to “the nostalgiac angle of rediscovering the favourite characters of one’s past in an entirely new light” for their core audience of middle-aged theatregoers.

Adam found he also benefited from the networking at the workshop.  “One of the other theatres shared a practice of offering dress rehearsal preview seats to local charities to give back to the community and build connections,” he explained.  Inspired by that idea, Stratford Community Players reached out to residents of a local women’s shelter and their families, giving them a night out at the theatre.

The new reality poses unique challenges for every theatre company.  There is no “one size fits all” solution.  But by thinking creatively, listening to new ideas, and understanding audience values, Ontario’s theatres can be smarter about their marketing.

UPDATED October 3, 2013: Our next workshop - "Targeting Your Audience: Surviving and Thriving on Less and Less" - is coming up on December 7, 2013 at 9:30am at The Grand Theatre in London.


  1. very helpful as I work on the business plan for the Port Burwell Periscope Playhouse!

    1. Glad to hear it - always happy to help!