If I Build it, Will They Come?

My goal throughout my graduate courses is always to embrace new discoveries that will help my business to thrive. As the Artistic Director of an independent theatre company, I’m finding important lessons every week as we build this new venture together. Brelby Theatre Company is close to wrapping up its sixth season of production, and I can’t help but wonder where we would be if I’d understood the importance of getting out of the building.

We spent the first few years producing shows that we wanted to see. We assumed that our tastes were universal, or that the fact that we were creating art at all was what mattered. Linda might refer to this as the “Field of Dreams” complex aka just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.

We’ve had to learn the hard way that not all shows will resonate with audiences. Not all shows will even draw in an audience. Some of the productions that we’re the most proud of have had a low turnout, some for obvious marketability reasons. Our 2014 production of Beckah Brunstetter’s Be a Good Little Widow was a challenging sell, but I was confident that our audiences wanted to see some more challenging dramatic pieces.

When choosing the next season, I decided to survey our audience beforehand. Had I done so before our current season, I would have known that our audience overwhelmingly favors light hearted comedies and musicals.

We’ve been working for the last year to get our classes to take off in our community, to little avail. I decided that it was time to implement some audience surveying in more aspects of our organization. Reaching out to our artists and our fan base for feedback on what they would like to see, instead of just guessing provided us with some great insight about how to move forward with this initiative. Surprise, surprise. They wanted to see a lot of things that we aren’t currently offering.

I think it’s time for a pivot.


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