Do You Know the Way?
BY: Terry S. Davis, UNM Center for the Arts
What do you do on a Monday night in Montgomery, Alabama?
If you had been like a lot of locals this week, you would have gone downtown to see the touring production of Fiddler on the Roof. On a Monday night. In Montgomery, Alabama.
I got to the Montgomery Performing Arts Center, pictured above, about 20 minutes before curtain surprised to see a crowd of people in the lobby. So many people were there that I could not make my way to the Will Call window to pick up my ticket.
They had not opened the house yet — some minor technical difficulties with the show that had arrived that morning and would depart after the curtain came down — which meant that all of us were packed into the lobby, which was quite large. A lot of people had come out on a Monday night in Montgomery, Alabama, to see a show.
What brings us out of our homes to the theater?
If I knew that answer, I’d be a featured speaker at the National Arts Marketing Project in San Jose. (It’s been a week of travels.) Several dozen arts marketers are going to gather in a room today to start discussing that very question. As long as I’ve been in this business, I confess I don’t always know the answer. Nor do the others who I will share a room with today, experts though many of them are.
Certainly we understand that people come out for the shared stories of theater, to hear, for example, the tale of a poor Jew in Russia struggling with maintaining balance and traditions in an ever-changing world. But why on a Monday night? Or, more to the point, why not?
In spite of the packed nature of their lobby, the Montgomery Performing Arts Center (MPAC) had not sold out the performance. The question for those of us in San Jose today will be what might we have done, had we been marketers for MPAC, to fill those seats that went empty that night.
Or the seats that went empty on Sunday night in Kansas City’s Music Hall for the performance of Cats I saw. Or the vacant seats in Bass Hall in Fort Worth for Spring Awakening on Tuesday. Or the unsold seats in Popejoy Hall we will have for many of our shows yet this season.
We will puzzle through the questions about audience composition and the competition in all forms for meager disposable income. We will debate the relative merits of using social network and network TV to tell people about performances. We will listen to the stories we each have to tell about our successes and failures in selling different shows.
What it all boils down to is why some of you decide to attend a show and others of you decide to stay home. Or do something else.
It’s the decision to not attend a show that puzzles us most. Because you’re not there, we can’t ask you. What’s more, all of us in the room today will have one thing in common: we love the performing arts. We know that all those people in Montgomery this past Monday shared our passion. What we don’t easily understand is the people who don’t share that passion, or whose passion is tempered enough by the rational attraction of staying home on a Monday night instead of going to the theater.
If you have an answer for any of this, you’d be a welcome guest on the podium today in San Jose.