Catching up: fun shows, connecting with audiences, & the demographics game.

We closed Around the World in 80 Days a few weeks ago – with a lot of lessons learned.

Around the World in 80 Days, Lt to Rt: Nolan Palmer, Ryan Childers, Alyson Scadron Banner, Andrew Litzky, and Bill Johns.

Around the World in 80 Days, Lt to Rt: Nolan Palmer, Ryan Childers, Alyson Scadron Banner, Andrew Litzky, and Bill Johns.

Now we’ve just opened Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming and we’re building on successes.

Around the World in 80 Days

Around the World in 80 Days, Lt to Rt: Andrew Litzky, Nolan Palmer, Bill Johns and Ryan Childers.

For one, our “Under-25” campaign to capture the interest of the under 25 year old market surged and nearly tripled the average number of those tickets sold per play. I’ll credit the “Pizza & Play” package (every second Thursday of each show), the in-roads made to younger bloggers (even high schoolers) who loved the show and young attendees who used to attend with their families. (Kudos to the Marketing team)

We also had a 90-sec YouTube clip that hinted at the setting seen in the second photo. How do 5 actors do 34 characters, and ride on trains, a sledge, ships…and an elephant! Creating anticipation for the show’s theatricality was very much a key to its success. (Kudos to my awesome Designers & the Marketing Team!)


Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Lt to Rt: Brent Ashton, David Anthony Lewis, Theresa Holmes, Edd Key and Candace Vance.

Now we’re off to Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant NC, in October 1945 for a night of song and celebration with the Sanders Family Singers in “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.” Traditional hymns meet bluegrass via banjo, mandolin, guitars, piano, string bass, accordian, washboard and tamborine. The setup is like a very traditional Saturday singspiration service with announcements, testimonies, medleys, solo songs, prayer requests and greetings.

Smoke-Homecoming will likely attract a huge body of people who love bluegrass and old time gospel music. Offhand, that sounds like a reversed trend from 80 Days! So are we gearing up for the over 60 if not over 70 year old theatre-goer? Or the odder “church-attending / hymn-loving / theatre-attender” niche? Is this Good, Bad or does it even matter?!

My hunches…

1. Subscribers know what’s coming and will love the show. They’ve already bought into the whole season and trust us to select shows that will engage them. Plus, in our case this is the third and final part of a trilogy about the Sanders Family Singers. Our folks love this exceptionally talented and quirky family as if they were real family!!

2. After subscription sales are done, virtually everything else is a marketing effort to find people who want to see the play you’re offering now. Don’t talk about the next one, don’t talk about the last one: they want to know if THIS ONE is what they want to see tonight. So while the demographic goals are important – especially in attracting the next generation of theatre-goers – if  Smoke sells well to people over 60 yrs old that’s great!! With every new audience member or repeat attender there is the opportunity to win a fan for the next play(s). But you need to get them in the door first and show them a great time. Then, trusting us to attend another show will follow.

3. What sinks in to the attendee’s mind and heart and soul? Why is this worth the time and money? It’s just a story enacted in the dark over the course of two hours while you sit with a couple of hundred strangers. Having directed both 80 Days and Smoke-Homecoming I’m placing my bets on two things: Wonder and Community.  By Wonder I mean the bit of awe and magic we experience when presented with excellence, story and joy (like 80 Days) or beauty, celebration and spirit (like Smoke-Homecoming).  These aren’t any more or less attractive or mutually exclusive according to an arbitrary demographic category, but the story or theme in each play may have an easier time attracting one group over another. When confronted with Wonder we are smitten with ideas and emotions that force us to think, discover, confess or celebrate. By Community I mean that we need to leave our homes, workplaces and caves to be with other seekers, family-members and fellow-citizens. We need to be reminded that we all have much to learn and to share. Theatre is a safe zone to become aware of people unlike ourselves and to leave with deeper understanding, compassion and respect for others.

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Lt to Rt: Theresa Holmes, Candace Vance, Brent Ashton, Kevin Brady, Edd Key, Jenny Cross and David Anthony Lewis.

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Lt to Rt: Theresa Holmes, Candace Vance, Brent Ashton, Kevin Brady, Edd Key, Jenny Cross and David Anthony Lewis.

So, in a perfect world a ton of 16-25 year olds will turn out for Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, and a gazillion seniors will turn out for the next hip, edgy rock musical we do (sorry, nothing in mind, but you get the point).  People who care zip-zero for old time hymns or church will love Smoke and tap their toes to the great music. And men will turn out in droves for Enchanted April in the fall, even though its mostly about four British women on vacation away from…Men! But the real point is that a good theatre experience is greater than entertaining escape from reality … it’s a wondrous adventure to places and realms we need to visit with eager co-passengers.


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