A theatre I’ve worked with over the years built a very successful program that had clear benefits both for high school students, as well as for the theatre itself, by giving away tickets to the students… for FREE.
Called originally their “10 for 1” program, this is how it worked.
First, they would collect donations from individuals, businesses and granters to support the program. For every $10 dollars donated, they would then give away a free ticket to a high school student in their area.
In their case, they were performing in venues that had plenty of seats, where they rarely sold out. So the seats they gave away for a given performance likely would have gone empty without the high school students occupying them. With this in mind, this program would likely not work well for performing arts groups that do not have the extra inventory.
Obviously for the students, this was a wonderful offer, especially since the arts programs in their own schools had been cut back to the bone. Their theatre programs were mostly extra curricular in nature, and the school did not have funding to bring theatre, English or humanities (or any) students to shows on field trip type of arrangements.
For a few years the theatre struggled to facilitate the students coming to the theatre. They tried to work with the principals of the schools, with the school districts and even with the individual teachers. They also tried advertising in the school newspapers, and tried placing posters on the grounds. They even tried booking school buses on a weekend to bring the students from a meeting place at the school Each of those efforts proved mostly ineffectual, relied on overworked school personnel, or were taking too much manpower to be sustainable. The board of directors discussed ideas and finally decided to try using social media to spread the word. Instead of requiring a reservation, they communicated that students could just come to the theatre, show their active student ID, and get a ticket as long as seats were available. The word spread via social media from student to student, parent to parent, was shared on the school pages and others, and it finally worked. Students began taking advantage of program more and more, to the happiness of the theatre board and staff.
As for the funding, the donations that came in required really no special handling. Again, since the inventory was readily available, the funding simply went into the general operating budget, helping the theatre to fund their season productions and everyone wins.
The program is imminently fund-able by granters and sponsors, since it falls under the category of arts education, and helps the schools with their clear desire to include the arts in the lives of their students. They would do occasional asks of their patrons to contribute, would have businesses help underwrite the program, and grantors who favor arts education loved to help. A paddle raise at their gala event also would add to the funding as well. If they ever needed evidence of the effect of the program, they could call up the ticket counts in their Arts People system, flagged with a comp ticket code.
The theatre also prepared a study guide with accompanying teacher lesson plans in pdf form for those who might want to use them for a specific show. Unfortunately they found that in most cases the teachers didn’t have the budget to even photocopy them. So for organizations who might want to try this type of program, you may need to take some of the funding that comes in to help the teachers with these. In some cases the students were also given a coupon code on a flyer to take home to their patrons that would give them a discount off tickets to the show, creating some additional sales revenue, and possible new patrons for the theatre.
High school students, seeing outstanding theatre for free, gaining an appreciation of the art form, or encouraging their existing passion for it, and the theatre gaining much needed capital toward funding their season expenses. The program has been a huge success!
Patrick Spike is the Marketing Director, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. His work with clients has helped them to increase their revenue while streamlining their box office and back office operations. www.patrickspike.com. He is the former Audience Development Director for Bag&Baggage Productions, and is a current board member of PATA – The Portland Area Theatre Alliance.
Arts People, software for the performing arts, serves theatres, music and dance groups, choirs and opera, high school, college and university programs, performing arts center facilities and more.