Examining Barriers to Theatre
What is Triple Play?
Triple Play is a national project created by TDF and Theatre Bay Area that investigated the relationship of audiences to new plays. In an attempt to create a new understanding of why people do (and don’t) see new plays, the project placed audience members in direct conversations with playwrights and theatre staffers. The results of those conversations- along with the results of nationwide surveys and other research about new play attendance – guided conversations in the field about how theatre professionals can more deeply engage with their audiences. Our goal is to provide theatre makers in all areas with insights about building audiences for new plays and possible tools with which to do that. The project, which occurred in two phases between 2014 and 2017, yielded a rich body of findings. We are happy to share them with you here and hope that you will find some or all of them useful.
The full report, representing the culmination of the project, was released in the fall of 2017. This report synthesizes data from 289 one on one interviews with single ticket buyers in seven cities across the U.S. as well as the results of an online survey distributed to recent single ticket buyers from 33 theaters across the U.S. which yield a total of 7,213 responses.
Full Report Executive Summary
Triple Play unfolded over several years and while the final report is the capstone document, the project consists of a host of material that will prove useful and enlightening to folks who want to dig deeper. There were two phases to Triple Play representing an initial exploration followed by additional funding and a deeper dive into the topic. We are pleased to share the material from both phases with you here.
Phase One started with a review of some of the existing research material looking at the topic of new plays, audience appetite for risk and attitudes of playwrights towards audiences. The research can be found in these links: Fostering an Appetite for New Work | Schwimmer-Voss | P. Carl Bright Spots
As part of Phase One we visited theatre artists and leaders in six cities around the country to discuss the audience’s appetite for risk in new work. In addition we facilitated one on one interviews between single ticket buyers and playwrights as well as focus groups with single ticket buyers and theatre staff members. An overview of the findings from those conversations is here:
You Know That Audience We Rarely Reach? It Really Wants to Talk
If you are interested in digging more deeply into these conversations these are observations and recaps from the meetings as well as the protocols for the individual interviews and the focus groups.
Summary of interview process
Focus group protocols
Focus group reports
In January 2015, as the culmination of Phase One, TDF and TBA partnered with HowlRound to host a convening of playwrights and theatre staffers in Boston. Over a long weekend, participants explored the existing Triple Play research -- including the one-on-one conversations with audience members -- and discussed how it could be translated into concrete actions in their individual communities.
HowlRound video of the convening
Encouraged by the responses from the field at the convening but in total agreement with the concern expressed by the convening attendees that the survey pool was way too small for the findings to be reliable, TDF and TBA sought additional funding to expand the research. In order to keep the conversation going while we sought funding, TDF and TBA again partnered with HowlRound. HowlRound hosted a series of online conversations about Triple Play’s work in progress and the ideas the project was exploring.
Marketing Beyond the Bottom Line – Alli Houseworth
An article that raises questions about why marketing and engagement efforts are often separated at theatres and suggests that engaging playwrights in these efforts is key to building an audience.
Testing New Waters of Audience Engagement at the Goodman - Neena Arndt
The article discusses ways in which the Goodman Theatre is creating activities and materials to increase the audience appetite for new work. It is interesting to think about the activities in the context of the spectrum of engagement outlined by Wolf Brown (New Play Affinity Score).
Creating Lasting Connections with “Radical Hospitality” – Lisa Mallette
The article focuses on ways in which City Lights Theater Company builds a relationship between its audience and the company. While not highlighting activities closely linked to individual productions, the theatre’s activities provide a model for building ongoing connections between audiences and the theatre’s artists and staff.
New Plays, New Conversations - Leda Hoffman
A discussion about the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s Act II program. Act II is an audience dialogue initiative which aims to create positive social change through curated post performance discussions which then move a play’s themes beyond the theater into the wider community. The article provides a lens for understanding how to build on audience members’ appetite for engaging with issues.
A Space Where People Can Be Their Bravest Self – Torange Yeghiazarian
An examination of Golden Thread’s commitment to creating a space where artists and audiences can be their “bravest self” and question assumptions and stereotypes about Middle Eastern stories. Space for conversation between artists and audiences is a core value and the company’s perspective is helpful in thinking about ways to engage artists in conversation with audiences.
Courtroom Drama: the Politics and Poetics of One Community Immersion Experience – Karen Hartman
A playwright discusses the process of creating a play rooted in a specific community based on the true experiences of women who were victims of commercial sex exploitation. The article provides insights into how understanding a playwright’s process informs the final event and how that affects the way issues are presented in the final story.
To Fear or Not to Fear: Community and New Play Producing
A consideration of the ways in which theatres can reduce the stigma of “risk” around new work by providing direct connections between audiences and playwrights and ways in which playwrights can come to know the audience as an ally and not as something to be feared.
In late 2015, Triple Play received generous funding from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This funding ensured that Triple Play could enter Phase II, radically expanding the number of audience members who could be interviewed by playwrights and theatre staffers.
From August – November 2016, we went back to the cities where we had conducted interviews in Phases One and structured significantly expanded interviews. Triple Play had playwrights and theatre staffers across the country sit down for one-on-one conversations with audience members about why they do (and do not) choose to attend new plays. Modeled after those held in Phase I, these conversations were held in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. They involved dozens of artists and almost 300 theatre patrons. In each city, TDF and TBA representatives held debrief sessions with the playwrights and theatre staffers who conducted the interviews.
In addition to the one on one interviews, Triple Play partnered with the National New Play Network to reach even more audience members. NNPN, a national organization dedicated to the creation, production, and support of new plays, enlisted its member theatres to talk to their patrons in two ways. Eight theatres held in-person focus groups with audience members, asking about their relationship to new plays. Meanwhile, almost two dozen NNPN theatres sent electronic surveys to their patrons, asking many of the questions from our focus groups and one-on-one interviews. When the surveys were complete, we had over 7,200 responses.
Phase Two culminated in the full report found at the beginning of this article. They also provided an Executive Summary.
As the final part of the project, TDF and TBA went to each of the cities that served as research partners and hosts for the many conversations that comprised Triple Play . In each city we presented our findings and facilitated a conversation among the participants. The conversations were designed to elicit responses and possible innovations to address the findings in the report.
TDF DANCE INITIATIVE
TDF is introducing a research and development project headed by Mary Madsen, a long time performer in the NYC dance community, to help it better understand ways to build dance patronage. Collaborating with artists, presenters, current dance audiences, and non-dance goers is essential to the success of this project. Through interviews and research across all of these groups, TDF will develop new outreach programs that highlight dance as an approachable and attainable art form and in turn, expand audiences for dance beyond the scope of current attendees.
This research has been underwritten by a generous grant from The Howard Gilman Foundation. For further information about the project, please contact Mary Madsen at MaryM@tdf.org.
When TDF was founded in 1968, the serious new play on Broadway was in jeopardy. John Booth, one of TDF's founders and its first president, said that a primary motivation for the fund was the realization that rising costs had caused producers to become risk-averse, stating in the announcement article, "We cannot permit the worthy play to become extinct." That conviction has been in the organization's DNA from that point on.
And finally, Todd London and Ben Pesner have written Outrageous Fortune, the Life and Times of the New American Play. It is our deep hope that the book will be both a culmination and a beginning. It is the culmination of years of work and the beginning of a new conversation.
Buy Outrageous Fortune
COUNTING NEW BEANS
From philosophical to practical, the role of the audience in the performing arts has been parsed, debated, and interrogated left, right, and center. This is the central concern editor Clayton Lord has unleashed in the sprawling database that is Theatre Bay Area’s recent publication Counting New Beans, an almost-five-hundred-page compilation of essays, research, and statistics that attempts to measure the intrinsic impact of live theater.
Read about Counting New Beans
EXPANDING TOMORROW'S AUDIENCE
Infinia report In the fall of 2008, Theatre Development Fund commissioned the Infinia Group to do a study examining barriers to theatre participation among New Yorkers. TDF was interested in understanding the forces at work that were keeping New Yorkers from attending the theatre. We needed these insights to be able to create new programs which would be effective in building audiences. The study involved quantitative surveys and qualitative (focus groups, in home meetings) research as well as a culture scan. At right, click to read an extract from the findings.