Theatre in Wales

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Empty Theatres- it’s the Audience’s Fault (part 2)

Theatre: the Talk in England

Comment , Theatre in 2015 , December-24-15
Theatre: the Talk in England by Comment There are only a few basics of marketing. Look first to brand and product. “Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is as good as anything I’ve ever done”. Trueman adds the phrase “uncompromising and unflinching”. It appears as if the journalist has not seen the show so in effect it is a cut and paste of what he is told. He thinks for instance that it is about sport and politics- it isn’t. It does not fit the company brand. That brand does “the Big Fellah” (reviewed here 13th November 2010) or “Testing the Echo” (reviewed 17 June 2008). On a personal note David Hare’s “the Absence of War” pulled in a good house at Liverpool. On its exit the audience was handed leaflets for the upcoming visit of Out of Joint. Any decent sales manager could take a look at the Hare and Labour Party audience and know they are not going to head for a sports documentary. It all comes back to having a rounded management team and honesty to yourself about the product.

The online commentary for this piece, fifty pieces, included the usual bile, cursing and irrelevance. But some of the comment informed. “It’s had reviews as good as any show we’ve done” is the official company line. But a professional is of the view that “reviews alone don't make a huge difference on tour outside of London. A little but not much. Subject is a bigger factor.” From the Tobacco Factory: “a number of plays about sport…have not done well for audiences in the last twelve months or so, including this one, the World Cup show at Bristol Old Vic and the Nuffield / Southampton football club tie-in.”

Other commentators are blunt “sports fans don't tend to be theatre goers.” It’s a simple Venn diagram: “if they're trying to attract non-typical audiences via the sporting angle the gay theme likely won't help that…I can see the gay issue putting a potential sports audience off, and the sports putting the gay and supportive-issue audiences off”. One veteran venue manager wondered why the show was so yoked to theatres anyhow. With no great sophistication of design it could have borrowed from the National Theatre of Wales and played at rugby clubs. The reasons surmised are conservatism, possibly fear.

Given the locations where it was chosen to play everyone else is to blame. Theatres “have got their pricing structures badly wrong”. “The industry is having to take safer and safer decisions.” Given the welter of innovation this is nonsense- in character the journalist makes no comment. “Audiences are taking safer and safer decisions, too.” It’s all the fault of the customers. “Quite often, Saturdays are the thinnest nights of the week.” It is a culture of profusion and theatre has to compete. Intuitively there is quite likely a high cross-over between an Out of Joint and a BBC4 audience. But then market research is not apparent as a management tool at the company. It takes a younger generation to spell it out. Graeme Farrow (Sunday Times June 7th) is aware of the challenge for live performance- “how it can sell itself as being as exciting an offer as sitting in and watching “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men”.

Like the book the article is a sad closure to a luminescent career. Critics and venues are as one. “We all have to fight for audiences these days…If the public wants to see something and pay for a ticket - it comes. If they don't come - don't blame the audience.” Mark Shenton, in another context: It seems outrageous that an artistic director should blame the failure of a play on a failure in the It seems outrageous that an artistic director should blame the failure of a play on a failure in the audience.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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