Why a lobster roll gave me an upset stomach.

I love a nice summer lobster roll.  It must be my “wicked” New Englandish roots.

The other day, I found myself at a lobster roll place (can’t really call them restaurants – in fact they shouldn’t be restaurants – they should be shacks, or huts, or the aforementioned “places”) that had a few different types of rolls to sell:

  1.  The classic “original” roll
  2. The spicy roll with cajun spices and a special sauce.

So, here’s the thing, and why I’m taking up some blog space talkin’ about lobster meat on a hot dog bun . . .

See, I love a spicy something.  But I also love what I know – and when I want to eat a lobster roll, (which ain’t the cheapest thing in the world, mind you) I want to make sure I enjoy it . . .

So, when faced with the decision of what I knew and what I didn’t know, (even though I thought I miiiiight like it) I went with the comfort of what I knew would leave me satisfied.

And that’s what made me a little sick.

I may be a little food-risk adverse, I know, but something tells me a lot of people feel the same way about their food dollars . . . and their entertainment dollars.  (See, here’s where I’m going to try to bring it together and wrap it up in a take-out box for you.)

If a person who loves movies is faced with the decision of seeing a flick or seeing a musical,  guess which one they are going to choose over and over again?  They are going to go with what they know they love over experimenting with something new.  If a person who loves classical music is faced with going to the philharmonic or going to a play, they are going to go with what they know they love over experimenting with something new.  You get the point.

It’s basic human nature to live within our entertainment comfort zone, especially when live entertainment is so dang expensive. 

So, if we know all that . . . how do we get people like me, who are locked into their patterns, to “try the spicy lobster roll”?

Sure, you could say “discount”, but that’s just become our go-to answer for everything.

If we really want to build a new audience, we’ve got to get a friend to give us a bite of theirs.  

See, you and I will devour theater first, and other forms of entertainment second.  We are the biggest weapons the theater has in building a new audience.  We’ve got to find a way to get the devotees to do more of the audience development for us.

Because if my buddy who had been to this lobster roll “place” had offered me a bite of that spicy sandwich, I would have jumped all over it, because if I didn’t like it, I hadn’t risked anything.

What I’m saying in this crazy food-based analogy . . . is that we need more “bring-a-friend” initiatives for Broadway.

What about bring-a-friend-for-free?  Or, let’s find a way to reward people-like-you (cash? prizes?) when you bring someone to a play that has never seen a play before.  How do we get it into our theatrical social conscious that the future of the theater depends on new audiences, and it’s all of our responsibility to not just encourage, but to bring, new people to the theater?

You and I can agree that the theater is the best party in town.  And luckily, every show is “plus-one”.

Oh, and at this party, they are serving all different kinds of lobster rolls.  (See how I brought that around full circle?  🙂  Phew, that was a doozy.  Thanks for staying with me.)


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  • Daniel says:

    This is also why reviews and cast albums and such are so important. I’m more willing to risk entertainment dollars if I’ve heard the music and like it, and if other people I respect have seen it and like it. This is one reason why I write up on my blog *every* live theatre event I go to (see http://cahighways.org/wordpress/?cat=51 ). This is why sites like Goldstar events encourage people to post reviews and ratings of shows they see. How do you leverage this? Create a page — both for the show and for the theatre hosting the show (in regional, those are different pages) with links to reviews from all the people that have seen the show, ** and publicize to attendees how to add their opinions to this page **. Of course, you need to moderate the entries to keep out the internet crazies, but such a collection should create the virtual “bring a friend” factor.

  • J says:

    Loved this blog – some great points here that I would love to see put into practice

  • Ellen says:

    What about adjusting full price for the show/theater, etc. from the beginning? For example, I could have seen making the opening price point lower for a show like Godspell so it wasn’t directly competing with the bigger musicals. Same with plays…make them lower in price from the beginning so that heavy discounting isn’t as necessary later on. Get people to try something new without the stigma that immediate and steady discounting can bring to a show…

    When friends ask for recommendations, I find that they don’t want to pay the same price to try a new play that they would pay to see the big hit musical. Accurate or not, the perception is that you get more for your money if you’re seeing a “big” show with bells/whistles.

    I understand that costs are what they are…but if, in the end, deep discounting has led to a shorter run at a lower average price, then maybe starting out lower might be a reasonable option.

    And to get really out there…I’d love to see a “preview center” in Times Square where folks could peruse the options, see some video of the shows, read a bit more, have some staff to help guide people before they commit.
    Just a thought :).

  • Jordan Rosin says:

    What if – like making airline reservations online – ticket sellers were required to collect information on all the attendees of a performance, not just the buyer. This, combined with your standard database of past buyers, could create a mechanism wherby you could actually offer discount or free tickets to first-time theatre-goers while still being reasonably certain that it was in fact their first time seeing a play (at least their first time seeing one that you’ve produced).

  • Phyllis Buchalter says:

    When I was 10 my parents took me to the theater for the first time. The show was “My Fair Lady” and I was hooked for life. In high school and college there were always discount tickets for students and what I loved most, discount subscriptions to ANTA Phoenix Theatre (this hooked me on dramatic theatre). I did the same for my children, my daughter was also 10 when she saw her first show (“Porgy and Bess” with the Houston Grand Opera at Radio City Music Hall). My son, on the other hand, was introduced to the theatre at the age of 8. His first was “Big River” and all he wanted to know was how the scenery moved and the river flowed. My kids are now married and they all are avid theatre lovers. My Granson saw his first off-Broadway at 3, it was the Gazillion Bubble Show. By the time he was 6 he was going to Broadway shows and especially loved “Godspell.”

    There you have the next generation of theatre goers – all you have to do is show them the way and they will follow.


  • Nanette says:

    This is what “Kids Night on Broadway” is all about. I was eight years old when I went to my first show and I have since introduced my kids to live theater at an early age. My grandkids are now hooked on Broadway due to their introduction through “Kids night…”

  • Stacey says:

    Okay…what if all Broadway theaters worked together on this…and theater-goers were given a card, like those little cards you get at coffee and cupcake shops, “buy 10 and get the 11th one free”…but the number was 6 or 5 instead of 10, and you had to prove that each time you went to a show you went with a different person…and the reward for a full card was, of course, a free show?

    Since we usually go to shows with the same person or two, wouldn’t this all but guarantee that we brought someone to the theater who didn’t normally attend? I love the idea of rewarding theater lovers for bringing people to the theater.

  • Eva says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Nanette about Kids Night. But you got to be careful. I took my Kid to so much theatre that now he is jaded and dosesn’t want to go as much. Too much of a good thing

  • virginia vanderbilt says:

    I LOVE your blog, I always take the time to read your blog and pass it along. I am involved with a group of die hard theater goers, and YES we keep bringing NEWBIES into the fold.

  • diane uniman says:

    Brilliant analogy. Brilliant idea. I love how you take every day experiences and realize the metaphor in the “metier.”

  • Janis says:

    I too LOVE this blog. I learn a lot here and it makes me think!

    Today’s blog reminded me of a trip around the world. I was astonished at how elated I was to find a McDonald’s in the middle of Hong Kong. I’m not a big McDonald’s fan, but after weeks of taking the risk of ordering exotic food never knowing what would be served, I couldn’t wait to order a Big Mac and know exactly what I would get. The familiarity alone made that Big Mac delicious.

    An epidemic of entertainment insecurity seems to have infected the population and is squashing artistic adventurousness. Our insecurity causes us to fear the unknown and leads us to trust the entertainment choices of others. More people attend movies and discuss them on TV and elsewhere so they become the familiar. Rather than take the greater financial and artistic risk of attending live shows, we choose the familiar out of fear of the unknown.

    Like any fear, facing it is the only cure. But how to get more people to invest in an artistic choice when they are insecure in their taste is a mystery.

  • Lou Scarpati says:

    I think the idea has merit, and I’d love to see it work; but I’m not sure how to ferret out the “friend who has never (or even very rarely) seen a play”.

    My theatre company struggles with audience every show, and we’ve tried many kinds of promotions. So, if something like this could work, I’d jump all over it. We already give away nearly all the seats to one show per run to several local senior centers, as a kind of “give back” to the community. So, I’m not opposed to giving away tickets if it builds awareness and audience for the future.

    That said, I think the place to go is the young. If you can get teens to develop a love for theatre early enough, I think you’ll have at least a fighting chance. Of course, that’s for future theatre producers…but we have to start turning this trend around. It’s not a cure all, but I think it’s a place to start.

  • Shannon D. says:

    I’ve been a “plus one” alot of times when friend’s get comps, etc. and I ALWAYS try to get new people to go to any type of show; whether it be a play, musical, Off-Broadway, etc. especially if I have seen it before.
    It does make people more comfortable knowing their friend has seen it and liked it. But I do always say, “I really hope you enjoy it – please don’t feel bad to tell me if you didn’t – I won’t judge you for it or argue it, I’m just glad you’re going” 🙂
    I actually went and got my coworker excellent seats for “Once” after I got to see it in previews and him and his wife were lucky enough to go on the night Steve Kazee returned and they truly enjoyed themselves! It felt so good to have given them the opportunity!

  • Jennifer J says:

    I saw our church PF youth group production of “Annie Get Your Gun” when I was four. (Ken Howard made his theatrical debut in that show as well!)I can still tell you what the set and costumes looked like and I remember a bit of some of the choreography. Oh, yes, hooked for life.

    So much so that I have now been working in Non-profit and Academic theatre for 35 years.

    My FAVORITE days are when students begrudgingly attend a show (because they have to or they need the extra credit)and at the end they are grinning from ear to ear and plan to come the next day to see it again…and bring their friend (Mom, family, you name it).

    AND!!! when our international students attend with the English as a Second Language class – I have been asked if they can come to a show on their own or do they have to attend with a teacher.

    Some other day I’ll tell you about my nieces and nephew who all so their first shows by age 4…and what they are doing now!

    Right now – I’m going to figure out how to adapt these ideas to a “Bring a …(dare I say it)…Theatre Virgin and earn a …..” hmm, that’s the part I haven’t figured out…I like the idea of a punch card.


  • Excellent analogy!!

    To get people into the theatre, you really do have to start them early. That’s why I believe so deeply in getting students of all ages into the theatre.

    In LA, I’m hooked up with a lot of big LORT houses that have student matinees. When I acted, I could live without them, but as a teacher/director/producer of theatre, I now know how profound the impact on students can be. What’s especially important is the very important fact that kids learn at a young age that they have to GO TO the theatre. It doesn’t come to them.

    The problem: All the big broadway musicals that come to Los Angeles, and of course students want to see, only come to the Pantages or “profit houses”. And they NEVER give student performances (not even one) during a run. And their group/student “discounts” don’t live up to the word discount. Too bad, so many potential future theatre goers lost.

    Keep up the good work Ken!

  • A Contrarian says:

    I remember a talk by Terrence McNally a few years ago. He said (something along the lines of) that if the theatre habit isn’t developed by the time kids go away to college, it just won’t take. Seems to be accurate to me. Like learning a foreign language later in life, it’s possible but a lot harder.

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