According to census data, the percentage of the American population with college degrees keeps rising, with 28% of all workers over the age of 25 reporting having completed their undergraduate education.

According to Broadway League statistics, 76% of our audience has completed college.

Here’s my bullish thought of the day:

If college degrees are rising, and people with college degrees go see theater more than others, isn’t there a tremendous opportunity for the expansion of our audience instead of the decline?

And if there is such a overwhelming correlation between higher education and attendance at the theater, perhaps our audience developmental programs should focus on colleges and universities around the country.

Here’s what I do for the next survey.  I’d find out if there are certain schools sending more people to Broadway shows than others.  If we found a few, I’d develop partnerships with those institutions to continue to expand on what we know is working already.

I call this sort of technique fan-the-flame marketing.  You find out where the spark of your audience is.  Then you go blow on it, until it turns into a roaring fire.

  • Meredith says:

    Thanks for participating in the TRU panel. It was great to have you there. Thanks for speaking so candidly about the biz of marketing for theatre.

  • Cedric Yau says:

    If you look at income distribution data, it makes more sense to believe that college graduates are more likely to be able to afford Broadway tickets.
    This data is older (Circa 1998-2000), but the comparisons hold.
    Average Annual Earnings
    Professional Degree $109,600
    Doctoral Degree $89,400
    Master’s Degree $62,300
    Bachelor’s Degree $52,200
    Associate’s Degree $38,200
    Some College $36,800
    High School Graduate $30,400
    Some High School $23,400

  • I actually went to my first Broadway play in college. And when I was in grad school, we took full advantage of student rates. But City Theatre, one of the most successful theater companies in Pittsburgh, did an awesome job of reaching out to the college community. They were in personal contact with our theatre department, invited the grad writers to intern during play festivals, and usually used one or two of our senior actors in meaty roles during their seasons. In return, we invested the our limited resources in seeing plays there, b/c we felt involved and engaged with the company. I’ve always thought that this was a terrific model for local theater.

  • Jere says:

    Audience development hinges on two things: 1) audiences knowing about the play; and
    2) audiences being able to afford to go to the play.
    What needs to happen in the industry in general is that we have to find a way to lower the cost of theatre tickets generally, so that theatre can be a popular entertainment again (similar to movies now), rather than a cultural touchstone of the elite.
    If parents can take their kids with them to a Broadway show for less than the cost of a babysitter, they might actually do that and encourage their kids to develop a lifelong theatre habit. And this might be something that a family could do several times a year, rather than, perhaps, once every year or so.
    Going to the theatre can’t be a once-a-year special occasion if we’re to develop new audiences.
    Sure, there are discounts available for some productions if you have the time to search out various websites or pick up those stubs coupons, but people have to KNOW about those to find them. They have to be interested. And do we really want to require potential new audiences to work hard to find affordable tickets? Chances are they’ll just go to the movies instead.
    We have to make this easy for people. We need for Mom or Dad to see a poster at the train station or a window card at a restaurant and know that, if the show catches their fancy, they can plan an evening out without spending $500 doing it.

  • Thom says:

    I agree that commercial theatre should be looking to colleges for audience development. I’d love to see a system where $1 of every commercial ticket sold is donated back into a pool distributed to university theatre programs. In return, these universities would be obligated to create partnerships with professional artists (actors, playwrights, composers) to sponsor readings, workshops, etc., at their universities for their students. (As a side note,I believe its almost a moral obligation for any university that has an MFA program in theatre to also have a resident professional company in their facility. These institutions rake in millions a year turning out graduates, the least they can do is create some jobs after graduation. But i digress.) If colleges create and nurture the habit and love of theatre going, it can only transfer to the commercial theatre and create lifelong customers.

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