Opening night banner

It’s opening night! Are you using it as the audience development opportunity it is?

I’ve worked with many performing arts organizations over the years and have helped them build their audiences through the strategic use of opening night, not as a money maker, but as an investment. This applies to those organizations who are running a show over at least a few weeks, as it will help build the audience of that run, and hopefully build your reputation within your greater community.

First, considering that opening night is when the critics are invited to attend, you want as many people in that audience as possible, and especially people who love your organization, who understand the niche and style of your work, and will be boisterous in their enjoyment of the show.

Second, for opening night you want a crowd that will enjoy the performance to such a degree that they will talk about it, to everyone they know, all over town.

Third, it’s great to utilize the exciting nature of opening night, when the audience tends to dress up, enjoy the show as part of a larger evening, indulge in wine, bring flowers and more, to also invite influencers to join in the festivities.  The mayor, business leaders in the area, other arts organizations leaders, key donors and others.  This is the night to make them feel special and to expose them to the most exciting evening at the theatre.

All these things point to the key aspect… Give them all a personal invitation, and tickets for FREE.  Play up the excitement and exclusivity of this event and in receiving an invitation.  Hone your opening night invitation list before each show.  This is a powerful tool for developing your audience and your organization within your community. It builds your brand and creates buzz.  Change up the list regularly.  You don’t want the receiving of an invitation to become old hat to anyone either.  Keep all those people on your marketing list, but any who have not attended after receiving 2 or more invitations should be removed from the invite list, and others should be rotated or giving individual consideration.  If someone does attend, and always is an advocate for you, then by all means keep inviting them!

Some organizations use the Arts People promo pass system to build their invite list, then send out an email en masse communicating their personal invitation and unique code that is valid for 2 tickets to opening night.  Seating is first come, first served.  The recipient then can follow a link in the email to that specific performance, select their seats and during checkout enter their special code to bring their total due to $0. They then finish off their order and print their tickets, making the RSVP process simple!

Whether you use this type of method or go for a more formal invitation process with phone RSVP, you want to make the guests feel very special, using your invite list as a very strategic tool.  Some companies will include all actors they have cast for the season as a way of honoring their work with you.  Pad your list with more people than the venue can hold, knowing that many on the list will not attend. You really want every seat filled for opening night.  This is what will help create the energy needed to propel your show forward with strong buzz in the community.

Obviously, make sure your show is of the highest quality.  Preview performances can happen before opening night (no critics until opening!) often at a discounted price, in order to help the cast and director polish the show and make any adjustments so that on opening you have a show that is outstanding.  Prepare a press packet for any critics that will be attending, with press release, playbill, high quality photos for their use, bios of the actors, even background on the creator of the play or featured material, etc.  Be as professional as possible in every aspect of the production, performance and presentation of the evening.  The board should be in attendance, dressed formally, with name tags, ready to schmooze the guests.  Staff should also be dressed and facilitating an exceptional evening at the theatre. Put your best foot forward in all aspects so that those attending experience a truly exceptional evening and performance.

Opening night is about a grand presentation of the new show to your audience and to your community.  Use that opportunity to wow the movers and shakers of your area and send them out to spread the word far and wide.  It will benefit you in added sales for that show, as well as build your audiences over time.

Patrick Spike – Marketing Director – Arts People
Board Member of PATA (Portland Area Theatre Alliance)
Former Audience Development Director and Board Member of Bag&Baggage Productions, among others.




online ticketing

Help your patrons discover the benefits of online ticket purchase

As our client organizations, who may not have had online ticketing in the past, now transition their organization and the patrons over to the wonderful world of online ticket capabilities, there can be a learning curve that you can help facilitate.

If your organization has not offered online ticketing in the past, or if your former system charged high fees or was confusing to use, it may take a bit of time and exposure for patrons who were not satisfied with that former system to now discover how simple your new Arts People system is to use, giving them the ability to buy online at any time, with a simple step by step process, and then print their tickets themselves, or put them on will-call to pick up at the theatre.  This learning and discovery process is one that you can assist them with in various ways.

In order to help them better understand the new capabilities you’re offering, and to encourage them to give it a try, here are some possible tips for you to consider:

  1. If you typically sell lots of tickets at the door the night of the show, make sure you have separate lines for those who are buying, and those who already printed their tickets at home, and those picking up at will-call.  Clear signs to guide them, and perhaps an usher to make sure those waiting in line know of the other lines, provides great customer service and will help buyers understand how advanced purchse online might have saved them from waiting in that long line.
  2. Buy tickets online now. Admit one. As with the above, put a large sign on an easel next to the line that says “Don’t want to wait in this line?  Next time buy easily and securely online at (website address).”
  3. Send out email blasts to your patrons as you start promoting your next production.  Remind them specifically of online ticket purchase, and consider offering a bit of a discount for online purchase only, maybe within a limited time frame, to encourage them to buy through that channel.
  4. If you’re used to charging fees for online ticket purchase, consider removing this.  With the Arts People system online purchase is more desirable and saves you staff time and gives you more sales predictions, knowing what your audience is looking like in advance.  Encourage your patrons to buy online. Some organizations actually charge a fee for phone or in-person transactions, since that’s where the staff time is involved.
  5. Make sure your voice menu system guides patrons to online buying options.  If you are offering a discount there, make sure that is clear as well.
  6. buy tickets nowEmphasize the online buying button options on your website.  Make sure that every page has a clear call to action to buy tickets online, with a button that is consistently placed and consistent in appearance.
  7. Emphasize online buying on your posters, postcards and brochures.  Use the same button graphic that appears on the website (above) so patrons can recognize it easily in all marketing materials especially during this transition period to better online purchasing capabilities.
  8. Post repeated reminders via your social media channels reminding patrons to purchase their tickets to the show, and use links to directly take them to online purchase of the show you’re promoting.  The more directly the link takes them to buying the better.  Don’t make them have to take extra steps when they don’t need to.
  9. When you talk to patrons who are not buying online, ask them what their reasons are for not doing so.  It could be they have a valid reason or choice for not doing so, or they may be unaware of the security of the system or the ease of Arts People that you may have transitioned to recently.

You’ll never get completely away from phone and in-person transactions, but the benefits of more ticketing being purchased online is clear, and you can actually communicate that to your patrons as well.  Let them know that you honor their choice to not buy online if they prefer, but that having sales done in advance saves your staff time, helps you to marketing better to help fill up less sold performances, to even plan for concessions supplies and volunteers, and more.  When they understand the reasons, they might be more willing to try it out as well.

Happy ticketing!

Patrick Spike – Marketing Director, Arts People