Student POV: Katherine Charleton

By Katherine Charleton

It’s been a whirlwind semester, and now we are in the final week!  You may wonder whatever became of my audience development project.  It happened and was a wonderful experience for all involved!

If you don’t remember, or never heard anything about it at all, I organized a tour of the Tufte performance facilities for the UMASS Boston chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  OLLI provides members with homework, test, and grade free courses.   As noted in the name, the OLLI mission is to foster accessible lifelong learning, individual growth, and social connection for mature learners age 50+ by providing stimulating opportunities to enrich the intellectual, social, and cultural lives of members, regardless of educational background.

I coordinated with my friend, colleague, and OLLI Theatre Committee Chair, Barbara Truscello, to create the Inside the Production at Emerson Stage: Theater Desserts Tour.  The goal of this tour was to meet the OLLI mission and to establish Emerson Stage in a community outside of Emerson College.  I also wanted it to be an intimate experience, so that each OLLI member felt that I was reaching out to them individually.  Mission accomplished!

The tour focused on the process of theater, from the page to the stage.  It began in the Semel Theater, with an introduction to Emerson Stage’s NewFest and the playwriting process by NewFest director Joe Antoun and winning playwright Kirin McCrory.  From there, the 37 participating OLLI members split into two groups (to keep things intimate) and visited the costume shop, make-up suites/dressing rooms, Design Tech Studio, and Greene Theater.  Stationed at each stop was a member of the Chops creative team, who each explained what position they held, what the responsibilities of that position are in theater, and what they were doing on Chops.  They scenic, lighting, and costume designers each presented their models, concept boards, and sketches, like they did at production meetings.  Stage Manager Justin Silverman gave an incredibly in-depth tour of his binder.  The tour ended back in the Semel with a Q&A led by Dramaturg Gina LeDonne.

We received rave reviews, both on the tour and on Chops.  The OLLI members were absolutely fascinated by the amount of work that goes into one production.  One woman remarked, with a huge smile, that she would never look at theater the same way again.  Barbara tells me that that woman has been telling quite a few people about the tour.  Another member, Sharon whom I was introduced to at a performance of Light Up the Sky, told me that she was impressed with the tour.  She remarked that she could tell “no one was winging it.”  That made me happy.  I spent a lot of time creating informational guide packets to help the Emerson Stage participants.

At the end of the tour and Q&A, we offered two complimentary tickets to their preferred Chops performance.  This was not only the cherry-on-top of a great event, but it allows us to track OLLI member ticket purchases.  Or at least I can; I work in the box office.  I know that quite a few of the tour participants brought three or four people with them to their preferred Chops performance, and that several of them even bought flex passes with only two productions remaining in the Emerson Stage season.

I’ve now written a manual on putting together an audience development project like this in the future.  I think that Emerson Stage has benefited from this immensely, and I know that my goals were achieved.  There are two quick points I would like to hit before I leave you.  Several people along the way wondered why I was targeting OLLI members for this project and not high school students from a school in Boston.  I would like to direct you to this blog post written by Michael Kaiser.  Kaiser writes about how valuable older audiences are, and how they are being treated today by marketing departments.  “Looking to diversify our audiences does not mean we should turn our backs on, or reduce service to, seniors or other mainstays of our audience.”  Barbara and I have had several discussions on this topic, and I am happy that Emerson Stage was able to treat the OLLI members.  Please take a look at the post when you have time, it brings up an interesting conversation.

I would also like to turn your attention to another post written by Kaiser in the last week and a half.  This entry is all about targeting audiences to market to, and how important it is to be accurate in this economic climate.  This resonated with me, especially after organizing this tour and writing a manual on audience development.  And, I think, in terms of my overall goal for this project, his last paragraph hits the nail on the head.  “Some people may fear that by focusing our marketing efforts we will fail to reach new audiences, especially from diverse communities. I believe we need to address these potential audience members with special outreach efforts — targeted programs that do far more than simply advertise our programming.”

And now for my final paragraph, I would like to thank again everyone who helped with this project to make it the success it was.  Special thanks to Barbara, Tyler, and Julie for their support.

Katherine Charleton is a a BA Theatre Studies major.  She was also Company Manager of NewFest Chops.

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